SCREEN legend Madhubala seems to have been resurrected once again with the release of a new biography. And in the process a hornet's nest has been stirred up in Bollywood, leaving her family angry and annoyed that in death, as in life, the actress has never been allowed to rest in peace. Nymph or nympho? Magical or maniacal? Houri or harlot? According to freelance journalist Mohan Deep's The Mystery and Mystique of Madhubala, the yesteryear heroine was all these and more. In fact, the preface itself sets the tone for the rest of the book: "She was a woman possessed. Haunted by her own insecurities until the very end. She loved men. And lost them. Latif, Mohan Sinha, Kamal Amrohi, Premnath, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Dilip Kumar, Pradeep Kumar, Bharat Bhushan, Kishore Kumar...."
The biography then cruises along almost conquest-wise; and for a person with a short lifespan of 36 years, nine of them as an invalid, the list is undeniably long. The writer hints that the Anarkali of Mughal-e-Azam and the haunting star of Mahal was neither as angelic nor as inaccessible as the world thought her to be. Having established the makings of Madhubala as a maneater in the first five chapters, the book touches upon her poverty-stricken beginnings and her stint as a child artiste, then lingers longer over director Kidar Sharma's one-sided obsession for the actress, her outrageous bid to buy Kamal Amrohi (whose Mahal made her a star) out of his marriage for Rs 9 lakh, her passion power games between Pradeep Kumar and Premnath, her lunch liaisons with Pakistan premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (then a barrister at the Bombay High Court).
But it is Chapter six titled 'Madhubala the matador' that seals her as a seductress. As the story goes, she sent identical invitations with an accompanying red rose to Dilip Kumar and Premnath. Neither the ravishing beauty not her red roses were rejected. According to the book: "She wanted both her heroes—Premnath and Dilip Kumar. Unknown to her, however, Dilip and Premnath were fast becoming friends. Working together in Aan, the Pathan and the Punjabi shared several private moments together. Such moments were spent in exchanging cigarettes and sharing thoughts. Sometimes, the two buddies confided their secrets.... And, the name of Madhubala cropped up. Suddenly, it dawned on them that they had been taken for fools by their young co-star. Both had received a red rose sent through the star's hairdresser. Both had received identical notes. And the most degrading part—both had replied in the same manner.... The young girl, who looked like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, had made ulloos of them."
The series of seductions are interwoven with dramatic dialogues and details which makes the page-turning potboiler a racy read. And though the writer states that he isn't sitting on judgement on his protagonist, the picture of a fallen star begins to emerge.
It is precisely this portrayal that has had Madhubala's surviving sisters baying for Deep's blood. A visibly angry Madhur Brij Bhushan, her youngest sister who is now in her late 40s and runs a recording studio in Bandra, thunders: "I would like to ask the man why has he chosen to malign those people who are no more in this world—my sister Madhuappa to begin with; then, Kishore Kumar, Kamal Amrohi, Premnath. Just because they are unable to defend themselves?"
Given Madhubala's background and her upbringing, the three sisters are categoric that their star sibling was totally incapable even subtle, leave alone shameless, overtures. "Kidar Sharma and Mohan Sinha were old enough to be her father; Kamal Amrohi was a married man and given our economic conditions how could she, the sole earning member of our family, offer him Rs 9 lakh? Premnath was infatuated with her but inter-religion marriages were taboo in those days; Pradeep Kumar was never involved with her. Yes, she loved Dilip Kumar for eight long years and wanted to marry him, but after things went wrong with Naya Daur, the relationship came to an end. Tell me, if Premnath and Dilip Kumar were angry over her two-timing, why were they present at her funeral?" asks a perturbed Madhur.
What has further infuriated the family are derogatory references to their father, Khan Ataullah Khan, the man who allegedly masterminded all of Madhubala's moves. "To try and improve their strained circumstances, Khan even took to gambling in social clubs. It began with a tip on matka," reads the book as it traces the downfall of the father-daughter duo. "Did the writer see my father do all this? We as children remember him throwing a pack of cards in the street and then beating us because he caught us playing them. Though uneducated, he was intelligent and it is because of his upbringing that Madhuappa reached on time for her shooting," says Madhur.
She also flays the author for falsely reporting the conversion of Kishore Kumar to Islam for the nikaah ceremony with Madhubala after the break-up of his first marriage. "Kishore Kumar's entire family—his brothers, wives, sons—are alive. Did they give him this information? Did Ruma Guha Thakurta, his first wife, blame her for the break-up?" questions Madhur.
The fury, as the writer himself admits, is fully justifiable though he is unapologetic about what he calls the first unauthorised biography in Indian film history. Says he: "I have maintained my credibility as a journalist and I have not written anything that hasn't been told to me. While there have been several books on Nargis and Meena Kumari, there has not been a single one on Madhubala because her family wanted to hide the gory side of her life. They refused all cooperation in the writing of this book.
But Mohan Deep, who was just 21 years old when Madhubala died 27 years ago, is emphatic about his immaculate reportage: "I spoke to almost 200 people—Shammi Kapoor, Ashok Kumar, Johnny Walker, Tajdar Amrohi (Kamal Amrohi's son), Tarak Gandhi(a PRO for Mughal-e-Azam) and Shakti Samanta. I must admit that I didn't try very hard to speak to Dilip Kumar because I knew he wouldn't talk. The interviews of all those I spoke to are on tape. It took me eight months to speak to people and two months to write the book."
Attributing his insights into the actress' life to informers disgruntled because they did not benefit from Madhubala's largesse, Mad-hur lashes out further: "The writer has mentioned a diary written by Madhu appa, which he says was buried along with her by my father. Can he prove the existence of such a diary? Was he there at the time of the burial?"
The black book however pales when compared to the darker deeds assigned to the actress. Defending his sources and the style of the story Deep asserts: "This is not a gossip writer's book but a biography. From co-stars to costume and make-up men, I have interviewed so many people. Of course, if her contempories lied, how was I to know? I am not scared about being sued though the only element would be the moral and ethical element of writing about a dead person but, otherwise, I have been faithful to her memory."
The writer insists that he has already done justice to the real Madhubala. Her family opine that he has violated it. One coin and two faces. One which sent come-hithers that read: "Agar aap mujhe chahate hain, to yeh gulab kubool farmaiye, varna ise wapas kar dijiye!" And another which breathed these as her last words: "Jab zara kaam ki samajh aai to uparwale ne kaha...bas."
True lies? More sinned against than sinning? The only fact that remains is this: notwithstanding biographies, Madhubala who maintained a silent distance in real life, continues to do so even in death. And on his part, the author, who says he mainly writes on crime, cinema and controversies, shrugs: "I've enjoyed controversies but I don't know if I'm enjoying being at the centre of one."