Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To know her, if only a little

I'd recently done a brief review of: ‘I want to Live’ – The Story of Madhubala (by Khatija Akbar). I've been a lifelong fan of the lady and then I discovered these absolutely stunning photos. If you aren't in love with her already, I would urge you to look. I promise: Resistance will be futile.

Across a chasm of two generations, men and women and children continue to fall in love with that face.
Her face – even as a print on cheap glossy paper – remains compelling. But my generation knows little
about Madhubala’s life. We’ve heard about the giggles, the early death, the failed love, the disastrous
marriage to another man.

In fact, I’ve been getting invitations to join a Facebook group whose raison d’être is to make Dilip Kumar
visit Madhubala’s grave and say a fateha. One thing Khatija Akbar’s book does is to clear up a lot of
misconceptions. It’s good to know that Dilip Kumar not only visited her grave as soon as he heard of her
death, but was one of the few people who continued to visit her when she was very ill.

The book tells us a lot about Madhubala. Her professionalism and charity is commented on early. We discover that her beauty was matched by her generosity and loyalty. That as a 14-year-old leading lady, she was cast opposite Raj Kapoor, who was only a clapper boy then. That she learnt to drive when she was 12. That she had a phobia of strangers, and odd suspicions about food and water. That she was dragged to court after she backed out of ‘Naya Daur’, and that she wasn’t the first (or even the third or fourth) choice for Anarkali’s role in ‘Mughal-e-Azam’.

The author has clearly battled major odds – Madhubala has been dead for half a century as are most of her contemporaries. So the book relies heavily on old film magazines. But what one misses most here is insight. The author has written this book as a paean to Madhubala but hasn’t bothered to sift through the research to build a faithful image of a famous woman.

A major fault here is that information hasn’t been subjected to a proper, thematic organization in each chapter. One chapter is marked ‘Co-stars’ but it simply lists the actors she worked with, without much information of what they meant to her. Where was the point of crowding the page with a list of names, which are anyway included in the Filmography?

Then there are some irritants in the form of remarks like: ‘it was an exciting time to be in films’. Has it ever
been otherwise? Besides, the 1940s and 50s birthed several mediocre films and Madhubala herself acted in quite a few. Yet, this aspect of her work has not been paid much attention.

We are treated to glimpses of emotional integrity and a rare intelligence through Madhubala’s own words. But
in many chapters, her words have been cited without any context. Where did she say (or write) them, and to whom were they addressed?

However, the main failings of this book are its haphazard organization of material, its repetitions (entire paragraphs are repeated) and its contradictions. For instance, the author suggests that Madhubala and Dilip Kumar never met on friendly terms after the Naya Daur court case. Later, we discover that they did meet cordially. Also, her strict work schedule is brought up repeatedly, but later Akbar says those rules were often broken, seriously impacting her health.

The domineering father’s behavior is explained away easily by saying that Madhubala received good values from him, after all, and was ‘never left loveless’. Yet, Madhubala herself hinted at extreme loneliness. Readers are expected to swallow the rhetoric of ‘values’ in much the same way as poor Madhubala must have had to.

Akbar’s approach to this biography is guileless and starry-eyed. It is almost as if she is afraid of what she may find if she analyses in depth the circumstances that shaped – and destroyed – a beautiful woman. This is, finally, a book about Madhubala the star, not an examination of a life.

Published here

3 comments:

moonstruckmoth said...

This might sound cliched, but I've been bewitched by her smile since my school days...
N thnx for the photos...glamorous as she was, in these pics she looks smhow more "human"...

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