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Madhubala: From Peshawar with love ...

Updated January 18, 2015


Madhubala. — Courtesy Photo
Madhubala. — Courtesy Photo

The Pakhtuns of Peshawar (and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in general) always took credit for producing Bollywood legends such as Dilip Kumar, Shahrukh Khan, Raj Kapoor, Amjad Khan, Surinder Kapoor and Vinod Khanna. But very few are aware that the most beautiful heroine that Bollywood has ever produced also has roots in the same province.

That’s right, the timeless beauty that is Madhubala (also known as the Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood and the Anarkali of the film, Mughal-i-Azam) parents are from Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Among the men, three of the biggest stars of the Indian film industry, Dilip Kumar, Shah Rukh Khan and Raj Kapur all hail from different streets in the famous Qissa Khwani bazaar, the historic storytellers’ market in Peshawar.

The ancestral houses of these legends are located within 300 to 400 meters from each other and are still intact. The house of Dilip Kumar in Mohallah Khudad has recently been declared a cultural heritage.

The house that belonged to Shah Rukh Khan’s father, Taj Mohammad Khan, is currently occupied by one of his cousins, Noor Jehan; Shah Rukh Khan visited this house twice in the 1970s. The haveli of Raj Kapoor near Asamai Gate was recently under dispute with the government wanting to declare it as a cultural heritage site.

Details of the exact location of her ancestral home, as that of Dilip Kumar and Shah Rukh Khan, are unknown.

Madhubala.—Photo provided by the writer
Madhubala.—Photo provided by the writer

Bushra Gohar, a former lawmaker from KP believes Madhubala needs to get recognition. “Besides her, we must also recognise the non-Muslims from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa who became super stars like the Kapoors and many others,” she stated.

Along with some of the finest actors that have graced the Indian film industry, such as Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor and Shahrukh Khan, the Marilyn Monroe of Bollywood, Madhubala also has roots in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Madhubala was born in Delhi, India on February 14, 1933 as Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi. Her father, Attaullah Khan was a Yousafzai Pasthun from the old Peshawar valley, which included the present-day Mardan and Swabi region as well.

He relocated the family to Bombay and then Delhi after he lost his job at the Imperial Tobacco Company in Peshawar. As a side note, Swabi still produces the best tobacco exported all over the world.

The family struggled in Delhi in its initial years before Mumtaz Jehan got a role as a child star in the film Basant which was a big success. She was the sole earning member in her large family which included her parents and her four other sisters.

Madhubala was born in Delhi, India on February 14, 1933 as Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi.— Courtesy Photo
Madhubala was born in Delhi, India on February 14, 1933 as Mumtaz Jehan Begum Dehlavi.— Courtesy Photo

Mumtaz Jehan was only 14 years old when she played her first lead role against Raj Kapoor (who was 22 at the time) in Neel Kamal in 1947. She adopted her popular name Madhubala (made of honey) after the film on the advice of a friend. Madhu played the lead role in around 66 films against all of the major male leading actors before doing her career-defining role as Anarkali in Mughal-i-Azam.

She had a very public relationship with Dilip Kumar (Mohammad Yousuf Khan) but he left her for Saira Banu. Madhubala then married noted Indian film singer and actor Kishore Kumar.

Madhubala. — Photo Courtesy:
Madhubala. — Photo Courtesy:

The popularity of Madhubala had reached Hollywood too but she missed any opportunity to work in an English film when her father turned down an offer by Italian-American film director Frank Capra.

She was well versed in Urdu/Hindu, spoke Pashto at home but couldn’t speak English. Madhubala began learning the language at the age of 17 and gained fluency over it quickly.

Madhubala.— Courtesy Photo
Madhubala.— Courtesy Photo

While filming for Bahut Din Huwe, Madhubala discovered she had Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD) or a hole in her heart. She also suffered from pulmonary pressure in her lungs and had to be given oxygen several hours a day.

She was eventually confined to her bed for nine years and attempts at acting or directing failed miserably. She eventually passed away at the tender age of 36. Madhubala was buried along with her personal diary at the Santa Cruz Muslim cemetery.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 18th, 2015

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