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April 4, 1997


'Madhu loved only one man and that
was Dilip Kumar, till the day she died'

It began in bliss. It ended in acrimony. Madhubala and Dilip Kumar's long romance is one of the enduring legends of the Hindi screen. Khatija Akbar reveals for the first time why this tryst between two fascinating people ended in disaster.

Given the nature of her beliefs and her inherently emotional temperament, it was really no surprise at all that when Madhubala fell in love, she committed herself totally and for life. "Madhu loved only one man," confirmed her sister Kaneez Fatima, "and that was Dilip Kumar, till the day she died."

Dilip Kumar, who set many a girl's heart aflutter with his slow smile and the quiet intensity of his eyes, was not the frivolous, flippant kind; he was drawn, on his part, to his lively and vivacious co-star of Tarana and it was the depth and seriousness of his feelings for her that made Premnath decide to step aside willingly and relinquish his own suit.

The stage was set for the unfolding of a love story that began in an idyllic state, then turned sour, and plunged into a morass of acrimony, estrangement, hurt and despondency but emerged, nonetheless, as an immortal saga and a tribute to a young woman's enduring love.

The early fifties were Madhubala's best years. She was rapturously and ecstatically in love and exuded happiness. Recalling those days, Gulshan Ewing writes: 'For a while, she thrust on me the mantle of 'confidante'. Many were the whispered conversations she had with me, all rustling with the same rhythm -- Yusuf, Yusuf, Yusuf. She was so in love, the light leapt out and dazzled everyone. She would squeal when his name was mentioned, she would blush and perspire when his presence was imminent.'

During the making of Mughal-e-Azam, Dilip Kumar was in the habit of dropping by to see Madhubala even when he was not required for the day's shooting. He came on her sets and, if she was working, nothing was said. He stood watching; wordless glances were exchanged and he left, but his very presence was enough to transport Madhubala to a world of happiness. She looked forward to these few moments with all her heart, her eyes searching for him. When she saw him, her day was made.

The immensity of her affection seemed to permeate her whole being with a glow and radiance, prompting Film India to comment: 'Madhubala has found her soul at last in the company of Dilip Kumar.' Her moorings still intact, life moved on an even keel. Meetings with Dilip Kumar took place discreetly, well away from the public eye, at times in the homes of friends like Sushila Rani Patel, or K Asif and his wife Sitara Devi. According to Sitara: "They used to come over often. Asif and I used to go out so that they could have some privacy."

Shammi Kapoor remembers that when they were shooting for Naqab at the Prabhat Studios in Poona (now Pune), Dilip Kumar would drive down from Bombay to meet Madhubala. He even flew to Bombay to spend Eid with her, taking time off from his shooting stint for Gemini's Insaniyat in Madras.

It was an age when even film stars were not entirely denied their right to a certain amount of privacy, but while overt publicity was successfully avoided, the romance was all too apparent on the screen, where it was reaffirmed in Madhubala's expressive eyes and smiles, and in Dilip Kumar's equally eloquent intensity. If the romantic scenes of Mughal-e-Azam stand out as a class apart and continue to weave their spell on viewers even today, it is largely due to that spark of truth which runs through them, manifesting itself in a palpable undercurrent of passion. The same could be said of Tarana, Amar, of Sangdil in varying degrees.

As love stories go, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala's had one essential difference. There were no obstacles to speak of and the usual encumbrances and thorns in 'the path of true love' were hard to find. Both were Pathan Muslims, both at the peak of their careers, their ages were compatible and, most important, each was single and uncommitted. Ostensibly, there was nothing to stop them from getting married if they so wished. Yet the two became alienated with a completeness that was unambiguous.

Excerpted from Madhubala, her Life, Her Times, by Khatija Akbar, UBS Publishers Distributors, 1997, Rs 160, with the publisher's permission.

Madhubala, continued