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I want to live: The story of Madhubala is a biography for the converted – people who already adore Madhubala and want their adoration confirmed.
Review by Anjana Basu
Ironically Madhubala was born on Valentine’s Day, which is where Khatija Akbar starts her biography, I want to live: The story of Madhubala. Ironically because the woman who queened it over the hearts of millions of Indians had heart problems all her life and had her heart broken by the person to whom she gave it unconditionally.
As the Hindi film world knows, she started her career as Baby Mumtaz at the age of eight, working to make up for the fact that her father Ataullah Khan had lost his job and could not afford to support his family. When she turned sixteen, she became known as Madhubala and her beauty took the screen by storm. So much so that her understated acting went overlooked. People walked onto the sets and were struck dumb by the coup de foudre of her beauty, from Shammi Kapoor to ordinary visitors. Akbar draws comparisons between Madhubala’s impact on Hindi films and Marilyn Monroe’s impact on Hollywood. Both women she says, were victimized because of their beauty and few people could see beyond it. Both had slightly pronounced noses that they tried to minimize in front of the camera.
Unlike Marilyn, however, Madhubala was always the first person on the sets, was generous to her co-workers and rarely threw any of the starry tantrums that most people expected from divas of her stature. Equally surprisingly, she was terrified of crowds and would go shopping in the safe anonymity of a burkha.
Akbar peppers her account of Madhubala’s career with generous quotes from the people close to the actress, including Dilip Kumar who broke the actress’ heart during a dramatic court case, refused to see her for quite a few years and famously avoided commenting on her to the media. His conversation with Akbar is one of the rare exceptions. However, possibly too many adjectives are devoted to Madhubala’s beauty – Akbar falls into her own trap by smothering the talented actress’ achievements with tributes to her looks.
Fans of Madhubala will rejoice in reliving the moment in Mughal-e-Azam when the actress removes her veil in the song ‘mohe panghat pe’ and the erotic white feather scene, though occasionally Madhubala’s work in that iconic film gets lost in the intricate details of sets and arguments over the cost of glass imported from Belgium to create the famous Shish Mahal.
Akbar’s is the first biography of this supremely beautiful Indian actress and she covers Madhubala’s tragically short life and career in eight chapters beginning with her early years, going on to her Golden Era, her co-stars, her Swan Song- Mughal-e-Azam and her last years. It’s quite obvious that she has researched her subject with care. If there is a problem with the book, it is the fact that the narrative dovetails back and forth and does not progress in a linear fashion, so there is inevitably, repetition.
The information that Madhubala had a hole in a heart is revealed only at the end, leaving readers unfamiliar with the actress wondering what this mysterious ‘heart disease’ was, whether she had angina, or an expanded heart. To say that she was born on Valentine’s Day with a hole in her heart might have made for slightly more drama. One would also have liked to have known why she was given the name ‘Madhubala’ instead of having it as a throw away line in one of the early chapters.
Of course, Akbar is writing for the converted, people who already know everything about Madhubala and will be happy to find the reasons for their adoration confirmed.
Publishers: Hay house
(The book comes with a VCD collection of her songs)
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