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CHEAP. Lowdown. Debauched. In the rapidfire about-turn of events, Mohan Deep and his unauthorised biography are being bequeathed with the accusations attributed to the subject of his research—Madhubala.
Shammi Kapoor hasn't read the book and has no intention of doing so. But that doesn't stop the man who starred in three movies with Madhubala from lashing out: "Mohan Deep is a swine. You can't cash in on the dead—it is in bad taste. It is a pity that while in America you could be sued for misrepresentation, in India sleaze only gives a shot to sales. That's the reason I believe one should let lying dogs lie. Madhubala, a wonderful person and a dedicated artiste, doesn't deserve this." Incidentally, Kapoor also hasn't been spared and has been shown first as the star's skirt-chaser and then as one spurned for her one great love, Dilip Kumar.
Shammi's views are shared by yesteryear actor, Jairaj, who worked with her in three movies—Rajputani in which Madhubala was a child artiste, Sringaar and Teerandaz. Jairaj remembers her as "one who could be sociable and reserved at the same time. She, who had the finest complexion one had ever seen, had no inhibitions because she was a good looker. Her keenness to learn made it a pleasure working with her. I assure you, she had no complexes and was a very clean girl."
Rejecting all comments pertaining to Madhubala as a maneater, veteran director Shakti Samanta remembers her as one who was "affectionate, extremely punctual and one who loved her family especially her father." However, stepson, singer Amit Kumar prefers to remain tightlipped: "I'm not interested in talking about this.I'm sorry."
Names Madhubala has been called in the past, but never any associated with narcissism and veiled suggestions of nymphomania. "She was certainly not a nymphomaniac; if she was, she wouldn't have been the sort of person she was," contends M.S.M. Desai, one of the privileged film journalists allowed by Atau-llah Khan to visit the sets of his star daughter. "Her father was very strict and since nobody, not even journalists, were allowed into her makeup room, Madhubala had few chances of flirting. Also, Mohan Deep was not around at the time of Madhubala, so how is he capable of writing about her without resorting to hearsay?"
Seconding him is film critic Iqbal Masud: "She was exploited and, unlike Nargis and Meena Kumari, couldn't strike back in a male-dominated film industry. Affairs were inevitable in the comparatively volatile filmworld but the truth is that there is a difference between being a man-puller and a man-chaser."
"Yes, she was aware of her beauty," reminisces B.K. Karanjia, former Film-fare editor and a close friend of both Madhubala and her father. "And because there were so many in love with her, she used to play one against the other. But it was out of innocence rather than shrewd calculation. Madhubala was a child at heart. Her father, Khansaheb, was a dictator but by no means a gambler. He didn't even touch liquor." Film historian Rafique Baghdadi believes that Madhubala's smile bears uncanny resemblance to that of Marilyn Monroe. But, the similarity in all probability ends there. The book meanwhile claims otherwise. And if one doesn't take into consideration what the controversy has cost the various characters, the Magna publication is affordably priced at Rs 150. And the memory of Madhubala continues to pay the steep price of fame.