On International Women’s Day on March 8, The New York Times produced a new piece which will remember the contribution of 15 remarkable women in its new obituaries section called, Overlooked. The article profiles the life of Hindi cinema icon Madhubala as one of those remarkable women. “Since 1851, obituaries in the New York Times have been dominated by white men. Now, we are adding the stories of 15 remarkable women,” the newspaper read.
The legendary Bollywood actress who has worked in over 70 movies in her short career is compared to the tragic screen icon Marilyn Munroe and profiled by journalist, Aisha Khan. “She has been compared to Marilyn Monroe, the smoldering looks, the short career, the tragic end. There was a remarkable similarity in the soft vulnerability of their faces.The same abandon to their laughter, head thrown back, that same incandescent glow,” the article read.
Although she became an epic beauty in the industry, “when asked once to describe herself, Madhubala said she was so young when she entered the “maze” of the film industry, that she had lost herself.” She made her debut at age of 9. The article emphasized on Madhubala’s “understated” acting style that didn’t win her any awards in her lifetime. However, Theater Arts, a New York magazine, published from 1916 to 1964, called her “the biggest star in the world.”
Madhubala born as Mumtaz Begum on February 14, 1933, to a poor Pashtun family in Delhi. Her father moved them to Bombay, where they lived in a shanty town that happened to be near the Bombay Talkies film studio. Mumtaz caught the eye of the studio’s co-founder, Devika Rani, who later gave her the name Madhubala or honeybelle.
Her first major role opposite Ashok Kumar was in 1949 in movie Mahal and she was just 16 at the time. She went on to feature in timeless classics such as Amar (1954), Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi(1958), Mughal-e-Azam (1960) and Barsaat Ki Raat (1960).
Madhubala was born with a ventricular septal defect, that means, a hole in her heart. The condition was diagnosed in 1954 and there was no treatment for it back then. The obituary also chronicles her tragic romance with Dilip Kumar, who too, was discovered by Devika Rani and who rechristened his name from Muhammad Yusuf Khan. Madhubala was also offered a job in Hollywood but her father refused to send her.
On marrying Dilip Kumar, the newspaper read, “They had been eager to marry, but Madhubala’s father had set conditions, including that they star in movies he would produce. Kumar demanded that she choose between him and her father. She chose her family. An ugly lawsuit over another movie hastened their breakup”. After her movie Mahal (1949), the article further read, “she died 20 years later as an icon of beauty and tragedy, her dazzling career, unhappy love life and fatal illness was more dramatic than any movie she starred in.”
Later on, cinema’s most iconic marriage happened. Madhubala married actor-singer Kishore Kumar. However, their marriage eventually hit rock bottom.
As her health deteriorated over time, the star withdrew from the public eye. She died on February 23, 1969, just nine days after her 36th birthday.
The segment also features names such as Margaret Abbott, the first American woman to win an Olympic championship, writer-poet Sylvia Plath, Ada Lovelace, a gifted mathematician credited as the first computer programmer, Henrietta Lacks, whose cancer cells were taken from her body without permission and led to a medical revolution, transgender pioneer Marsha P Johnson, photographer Diane Arbus and feminist poet Qiu Jin.