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There is an apocryphal story that says the secret of Madhubala's gasp-evoking beauty lay in her drinking water only from a certain well in south Mumbai.

Thirty-three years after her death, Madhubala's inordinate allure continues to evoke legends and inspire superlatives. Indeed, hers was no ordinary beauty. When Madhubala fired up that oxygenating smile, she had the hotline to every Indian heart. Remarkably, even now, the star continues to have gazillions of fans. Incredibly, her posters are still sold at urban street corners.

In all the brouhaha about Madhubala's porcelain exquisiteness, often side-stepped is the fact that she was a mature, intuitive actress. She could display dancing-eyed comic electricity in a Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi as well as radiate lambent anguish in Mughal-e-Azam. Madhubala could be the embodiment of seduction while swaying to Aaiye meherbaan and in the same year, carry off rustic threads in the Phagun song and dances.

Rarely is one human being blessed with so much professionally, only to have it cruelly snatched away in her personal life.

Madhubala's Landmark Films
 Year  Film  Hero
 1949  Mahal  Ashok Kumar
 1951  Taraana  Dilip Kumar
 1954  Amar  Dilip Kumar
 1955  Mr And Mrs 55  Guru Dutt
 1958  Howrah Bridge  Ashok Kumar
 1958  Kaala Paani  Dev Anand
 1958  Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi  Kishore Kumar
 1960  Mughal-E-Azam  Dilip Kumar
 1960  Barsaat Ki Raat  Bharat Bhushan

Madhubala's life was marked by disappointments, including a heart ailment that resulted in the star passing away at the young age of 36!

In her short life, however, she notched up a legion of achievements. She started working at eight. Father Ataullah Khan had a large brood of children and the family needed the money. As Baby Mumtaz, she was first seen as a child star in Bombay Talkies's Basant (1942). She was one of the bones of contention between her warring parents, Ulhas and Mumtaz Shanti. Madhubala even sang a snatch of song in this golden jubilee blockbuster.

Subsequently, she did a few unremarkable films as a child artiste, until Kidar Sharma cast her as a heroine in Neelkamal (1947) opposite another newcomer Raj Kapoor.

Madhubala was barely in her teens and nowhere as beautiful as she grew to be, yet filmmakers flooded her with contracts. Mohan Sinha alone directed her in four films in the 1947-1948 phase.

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Keen to secure herself financially, Madhubala worked in as many as 24 films in the first four years of her adult career. But the film that catapulted her to stardom was Mahal (1949), in which she was cast opposite superstar Ashok Kumar, 20 years older than her. Madhubala played the enigmatic gardener's daughter and gave lip sync to Lata's immortal Ayega aanewala in this fascinatingly complex Kamal Amrohi psychodrama. She made a crowd pleasing will o' the wisp.

Barring a few stray successes like Baadal and Beqasoor, Madhubala had a string of commercial disappointments in the early 1950s. She even ventured into production and made Naata for herself.

Mehboob Khan's Amar (1954) was arguably Madhubala's first truly mature performance. She had worked with Dilip Kumar in Taraana and Sangdil and turned in sensitive interpretations; but the quiet romantic despair and steely moral resolve she displays after realising her lover Dilip Kumar's dark secret (he had seduced Nimmi and now wants to back out) in Amar was heartbreaking.

The next year she showed a flair for comedy while playing the modern miss in Guru Dutt's diametrically different Mr And Mrs 55. She was then diagnosed with a heart ailment that was potentially fatal. Further, talks of the end of her association with Dilip Kumar escalated when she was replaced in B R Chopra's Naya Daur (1957) and had to suffer an acrimonious court case.

Songs with Lata Mangeshkar
 Song  Film
 Aayega aanewala  Mahal
 Seene mein
 sulagte hain
 Taraana
 Tere sadqe
 balam
 Amar
 Guzra hua
 zamana
 Shirin Farhad
 Sab kuch
 lutake hosh
 Ek Saal
 Jab pyar kiya toh
 darna kya
 Mughal-e- Azam

Fortunately, at the box-office, Madhubala finally realised her full potential soon thereafter when she starred in a row of successes in the second half of 1958: crime thrillers Howrah Bridge and Kaala Paani (Nalini Jaywant may have had the more dramatic role in the latter, but you could not ignore Madhubala as the crisply efficient crusading journalist), the musical Phagun and the rollicking comedy, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi.

Known to be an inveterate giggler in real life (it unnerved costars and directors till they got accustomed to it) Madhubala displayed a rare comic electricity with Kishore Kumar. Her full-lipped smiles and mischievous coquettery perfectly complemented his inspired antics. Eager to be a bride, she had a low key marriage with the singer-actor.

For a decade, Madhubala had invested her best efforts into Mughal-e-Azam, whether it was posing as a veiled statue in a heavy zari outfit for hours under the sweltering sun to get the perfect shot or willingly being shackled with heavy chains. It all paid off when the film was released in 1960 and declared an instant classic.

She was stunning in the glimpse we had of her in colour (Jab pyar kiya toh darna kya), and she spoke her brilliant lines in perfectly pitched cadences with the bruise of heartache in her voice.

Songs with Asha Bhosle
 Song  Film
 Piya piya na
 laage mora jiya
 Phagun
 Aaiye meharbaan  Howrah Bridge
 Achhaji main  haari  Kaala Paani
 Haal kaisa hai
 janab ka
 Chalti Ka
 Naam Gaadi
 Janu janu ri
 kahe khanke
 Insaan Jaag
 Utha

After Mughal-e-Azam, the best of times ironically coincided with the worst of times for Madhubala. She could have had the best of roles but was advised not to overwork and exert herself. She valiantly tried to make a comeback in the mid-1960s by completing Chalak but she was soon confined to her bed. Finally, on February 23, 1969, within days of her birthday, Madhubala succumbed to a heart attack.

Music
Save for Geeta Dutt's Mr And Mrs 55 hits like Thandi hawa kaali ghata, most of Madhubala's memorable songs have been voiced by Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle. Madhubala proved lucky for both. Ayega aanewala picturised on Madhubala in 1949 was one of Lata's earliest superhits; nine years later, Asha's vocals for the actress in four 1958 hits sent the singer's career in 'zoom' mode.

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