Tragic Life: Heart breaks and a fatal heart ailment took Madhubala away just at 36

It is impossible to judge a celebrity’s life from what he chooses to broadcast to the world at large. Beneath the perky personalities and sunny smiles, they maybe hurting, and you may never know.

Today we explore the tragic life of Madhubala who registered herself in our collective memory as “Anarkali”.

Madhubala in Mugha-e-Azam


None of us know how this character from far off history looked, walked, smiled, or cried. But, every time we hear this name, our mind, inadvertently pictures the unparalleled beauty of the jewellery laden Madhubala in the iconic sea-green regalia. Such was her magnetism; we still get drawn to her. Apart from her celebrated beauty, what equates the actress with the royal courtesan from the Mughal era were the poignant stories of their transient lives and failed loves.

Born on February 14th, 1933 in a family of meagre resources; her father Ataullah Khan moved to Mumbai after losing his job at the Imperial Tobacco Company. After failing to put a square meal on the table, Khan took his young girl to the film studios in search of work. His beautiful daughter, merely 9-years-old, was offered a role in the 1942 cinema, Basant, as a child actor, and shot to fame with films like Mahal, Chalti ka Naam Gaadi, Barsaat ki Raat, Howrah Bridge, and Half-Ticket. Often likened to Hollywood’s Marilyn Monroe for her beauty and appeal, it is a fond belief that the Indian film industry hasn’t seen another actress like this beauty with a tragedy.

Though she had been the sole breadwinner of the family since a tender age, she was controlled by a dominating father who forced his decisions on her life. When Academy Award-winning director Frank Capra expressed his interest in introducing this Indian beauty to Hollywood, Ataullah Khan declined.

Madhubala & Prem Nath in "Badal". Screengrab from YouTube

Madhubala, though born on the day of love, remained eternally heartbroken. Kamal Amrohi was her first known relationship. Amrohi was a married man and suggested that Madhubala become his second wife; but the actress refused. It is reported that she even offered him a good sum of money to divorce his first wife, but Amrohi snubbed the offer and chose to break-up with Madhubala instead.

Madhubala found love again with Prem Nath, a co-star from her movie Badal. They went steady for a brief moment before parting ways. Religion had come between them.

The most painful period of her life perhaps commenced with the arrival of Dilip Kumar. He was a powerful actor, the biggest star of his times, and a perfect match for his Mughal-e-Azam co-star. She fell hopelessly in love with him, he responded to her with a warm smile of affirmation. Their families were happy also, and, it is said, the two got engaged as well.

Madhubala & Dilip Kumar in "Mughal-e-Azam"

But things turned sour when Ataullah demanded the shooting location of Naya Daur be changed, and director B R Chopra didn’t concede. When the altercation reached the courtroom, Dilip Kumar stood against Khan’s arrogance. Madhubala was eventually replaced by Vyjayanthimala in the movie.

Dilip Kumar had once revealed that Madhubala’s father wanted to capitalise on their love by starting his own film production company, and this didn’t sit well with the actor. The ego clash between the two led to the end of Madhubala and Dilip Kumar’s love of nine years. The actor had offered to marry her anyway, but she couldn’t go against her father.

Madhubala in "Mughal-e-Azam"

Dilip Kumar was that one true love of her life, which left a huge dent in her life and heart. Tending to her broken heart, she was shortly diagnosed with cyanosis and poor oxygen perfusion; in layman’s language, she had a hole in her heart. But she was hopeful of finding treatment.

During this time, she met singer-actor Kishore Kumar, with whom she went on to deliver several successful movies. Whether it was his melodious voice or his sense of humour that attracted the love-sick beauty or was she just looking for a rebound, it is open to speculation.

The two tied the knot in 1960, but not before the singer converted to Islam to please his would-be father-in-law.  Kumar flew her to London for treatment, but doctors informed them that her heart was beyond treatment, and they gave her two years. Madhubala was a fighter; she perished a little every day but defeated the doctor’s assessment by living for nine long years after her diagnosis.

Kishore Kumar’s career was skyrocketing and keeping him busy and away from his ailing wife who he had dropped at her paternal home. She felt ignored, reduced to bones and skin, she felt jealous wondering if Kumar was with someone else. When she insisted to be with him, her wealthy husband bought her a house but was never there for her. Madhubala’s sister alleges that Kishore Kumar would disconnect Madhubala’s phone and meet her only once in months. She kept longing for him, as the sea breeze kept decaying her little by little.

Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam

Fighting her ailment, surrounded by desolation, the most beautiful woman in the history of Indian cinema left this world on 23 February 1969. “He was flying to Kolkata for a show. He feared the organisers would lose money. But Abba said, ‘You’ll never see her again,” said Madhur Bhushan suggesting Kishore Kumar wasn’t near when Madhubala died a quiet, painful, and desolate death, at the age of 36.  

Earlier, we have covered the tragic life of SulakshanaMeena KumariVinod MehraParveen BabiZeenat AmanRaj KiranKishor Kumar, and Kader Khan, and Rakhi.