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Dinesh Raheja

In the rollicking sixties comedy, Pyar Kiye Jaa, a still adolescent Mumtaz played a naive starlet who dreams of seeing her name up on billboards.

In hindsight, the role seemed to have a few semi-autobiographical shades.

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Mumtaz started her career as a bit role player, made the transition to stunt hero's arm candy (Samson, Rustom-e-Hind), to vamp (Mere Sanam, Kaajal), to comedian's girl (Pyar Kiye Jaa), to second lead (Humraaz, Aadmi Aur Insaan), before finally striking it big as a much sought after leading lady who gave three hits with superstar Rajesh Khanna (Do Raaste, Bandhan, Sachcha Jhoothaa), in a span of just six months.

She oozed oodles of oomph, but the appeal of the bubblacious, button-nosed beauty lay significantly in her innate joi de vivre, dazzlingly expressed in sunlit smiles and sparkling-like-champagne eyes.

Despite the fact that Mumtaz had all the prerequisites of a made-to-order Hindi film heroine --- she could dance, pout, exude sex appeal and speak Hindi fluently --- she was relegated to supporting roles for a long chunk of her abbreviated-by-marriage career.

Born July 31 1947, Mumtaz, accompanied by her sister Mallika, began carrying her vanity box to studios when other children her age were carrying a lunch box to school. Her infectious insouciance, evident even in early films like Sehra and Rustom Sohrab, soon gave her an edge over her sister Mallika.

Famous songs picturised on Mumtaz
Song Film Singer
 Yeh hai reshmi  Mere Sanam  Asha Bhosle
 Balam tere pyar  Ram Aur Shyam  Asha Bhosle-
 Mohammed Rafi
 Aaj kal tere mere  Brahmachari  Suman Kalyanpur-
 Mohammed Rafi
 Zindagi ittefaq hai  Aadmi Aur
 Asha Bhosle
 Bindiya chamkegi  Do Raaste  Lata Mangeshkar
  Agar dilbar ki ruswai  Khilona  Lata Mangeshkar
 Hey maine kasam li  Tere Mere
 Pukar Ke
 Lata Mangeshkar,
 Kishore Kumar
 Maine dekha tune dekha  Dushman  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Kishore Kumar
  Duniya mein logon ko  Apna Desh  Asha Bhosle,
 R D Burman
 Le jaayenge le jaayenge  Chor Machaye
 Asha Bhosle,
 Kishore Kumar
 Jai Jai Shiv Shankar  Aap Ki Kasam  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Kishore Kumar
 Gore rang pe na itna  Roti  Lata Mangeshkar,
 Kishore Kumar

Mumu, as she was known, started zooming up the ladder of success, one rung at a time. She accepted small roles in big films like Mujhe Jeene Do and big roles in B-grade stunt films like Boxer, Samson, Tarzan and King Kong. In the 1960s, she starred in as many as 16 actioners with freestyle wrestler Dara Singh.

However, even while she held the audience's gaze captive with simmering sensuality in songs like Yeh hai reshmi (Mere Sanam), and Aye dushman jaan (Patthar Ke Sanam), she always kept her eyes open for the big chance. Lore has it that when the hazel-eyed beauty Rajshri gave her father V Shantaram a run around for the dates of Boond Jo Ban Gayi Moti (1967), the veteran maker decided to prove a point to his errant daughter and replaced her with second runger Mumtaz.

Also, the role of Dilip Kumar's sugarcane-chewing, fire-spitting lover in Nagi Reddy's Ram Aur Shyam (1967) proved a boon for Mumtaz.

Destiny delayed Mumtaz's success, but failed to deprive her of her share of limelight. While Ram Aur Shyam gave Mumtaz the A-level stamp, she had to wait two years before she was anointed the box-office princess.

1969 was the watershed year for Mumtaz. Raj Khosla's Do Raaste was a golden jubilee hit. Though Mumtaz's character was extraneous to the plot, she had four hit songs picturised in Khosla's inimitable style: a duet (Chhup gaye saare nazare), two male solos (Yeh reshmi zulfein and Khiza ke phool pe), and the solo (Bindiya chamkegi).

For the next five years, Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz went on to do eight films in all --- seven of which (Do Raaste, Bandhan, Sachcha Jhootha, Dushman, Apna Desh, Aap Ki Kasam, Roti) were immense crowd pleasers.

Mumtaz's Landmark Films
Year Film Actors
1967  Ram Aur Shyam  Dilip Kumar
1969  Aadmi Aur
 Feroz Khan
1969  Do Raaste  Rajesh Khanna
1970  Khilona  Sanjeev Kumar
1970  Sachcha Jhootha  Rajesh Khanna
1971  Tere Mere Sapne  Dev Anand
1972  Dushman  Rajesh Khanna
1972  Apna Desh  Rajesh Khanna
1974  Chor Machaye
 Shashi Kapoor
1974  Aap Ki Kasam  Rajesh Khanna,
 Sanjeev Kumar

Mumtaz never looked as glamorous as she did in Yash Chopra's Aadmi Aur Insaan. Mumtaz stole the thunder from heroine Saira Banu as she flung her high heeled-shoes and danced with abandon to the Sahir Ludhianvi-penned Zindagi ittefaq hai, while Dharmendra and Feroz Khan watched with admiration.

A year later, Mumtaz delivered a sensitive performance as the nautch girl paid to pose as a deranged man's (Sanjeev Kumar) wife in Prasad's Khilona. She won the Best Actress trophy for this film.

Mumtaz who had once played second lead to Sharmila Tagore in several films (Saawan Ki Ghata, Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi, Mere Humdum Mere Dost) was now her arch rival.

Unfortunately, producers frittered away spunky Mumtaz's talent in fare like Himmat, Jigri Dost and Roop Tera Mastana (all three opposite Jeetendra). Like Geeta Bali before her, Mumtaz got fewer performance-oriented roles than she deserved.

On the few occasions that Mumtaz was offered a good role, her dormant desire to prove her metier found successful expression -- witness her trio of meaty 'wife' roles in Tere Mere Sapne (a wife disillusioned by her husband's success), Aap Ki Kasam (an anguished wife of a suspicious husband), and Prem Kahani (a faithful wife traumatised by the return of her former lover). In Aaina, she played the all-sacrificing elder sister, but the film failed.

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Mumtaz's fairytale story had a prince in it too. At the peak of her career, Mumtaz married millionaire Mayur Madhwani. She quit films in 1974, even as her starrers Roti, Aap Ki Kasam and Chor Machaye Shor were creating a shor in the theatres.

Mumtaz busied herself with cooking for her husband, caring for her two daughters, Natasha and Tanya, and surviving a hiccup in her married life. An attempt to comeback to films with David Dhawan's Aandhiyan (1990) 16 years after she had left the profession proved disastrous --- the trousers-sporting, middle-aged mem was not the phataka the audience had loved in Dushman and Apna Desh.

For the last couple of years, Mumtaz has been battling with cancer. But she still retains that spirit that saw her rise from being Rajendra Kumar's sister in Gehra Daag to his romantic lead in Tangewala, from the heroine Shashi Kapoor refused to work with in Sachcha Jhootha (eventually Rajesh Khanna stepped in the role) to the heroine he sought out for Chor Machaye Shor.

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