The year was 1940. Off and on I had seen her at Bombay Talkies. It was a warm day.

So I had left the door open. I saw her going nervously past the door, looking in.

A few seconds later she passed again, evidently undecided whether to come in or not.

“Come in,” I called out. “You want something?” She fled! I went on with my makeup.

In those days, the walls of the makeup rooms at Bombay Talkies were only shoulder high.

In a little while, I noticed in the mirror a head popping up above the wall behind me! “Hey!” I shouted.

The head promptly vanished! I hurried to the door and looked out, it was the same girl again, disappearing like a frightened bird in flight.

She used to see me but had never met me face to face. I knew she was working in “Basant.”

  • meena kumari & madhubala 1958

Her name was Mumtaz. Today she is known as Madhubala……I had no work that morning because my shooting had been scheduled for the afternoon.

I was wandering about on the lawns when one of the studio executives called out to me: “Come over to the projection room and see some rushes.”

I had time on my hands. It would not be a bad idea to see the rushes. I went into the projection room.

The lights went out, and the screen came alive with flickering images. “What picture is this?” I asked.

“Rang Mahal. It is being shot at our studio, ” I was told. There was a very beautiful girl in it.

She seemed to be shy and awkward. Nevertheless, there was in her movements a certain unconscious grace, an unconscious fluidity.

She made me curious. “Who is this girl?” I asked. “Mahjabeen is her name,” I was told.

Today, they call her Meena Kumari…Thus began my acquaintance with Madhubala and Meena Kumari.

Each in her own way was trying to become a star. In many respects they were similar, but there were, as there are today, sharp contrasts.

Both were far more beautiful when I first saw them than they are today (Excuse me, Madhu and Meena).

However, I do not say this in any derogatory sense, for with the attainment of maturity they have developed qualities far deeper and more lasting than beauty.

At first, I used to see them only occasionally. Little did I realize then that one day they would be my co-stars!

Madhubala was working in “Basant”. She was silent and watchful. When she smiled she gave one the impression that inwardly she was frowning, and one could see there was a barrier between herself and her environment.

Her father was her confidant. He was also a guide, friend, and philosopher. Then she worked in M and T’s “Nishana,” and I had further opportunities to watch her at work.

Madhubala seemed to be shy of me. Her great beauty helped her to be aloof and to observe and assess people and circumstances.

It was long afterwards that I learnt that she was aloof with me because she thought I was reserved!

“You are too proud!” she told me smiling. Even today she says the same of me.

We were going to make “Tamasha” at Bombay Talkies and for a certain part, I thought Mahjabeen would be most suitable.

I had seen her in “Bacchon Ka Khel.” We went for her. She came for the interview accompanied by her father.

  • meena kumari & madhubala smiling 1958

While Savak Vacha did the talking, I sat there studying her expression. It seemed to me as though she wanted to say something, and ultimately her father said it for her.

“My daughter would like to work in the film,” he said, “but on condition that Mr. Ashok Kumar is in its cast.”

I was tempted to burst out laughing but managed to remain serious. I had no role in “Tamasha.” But a role was created for me, a small one in which I appeared more or less as a guest artist.

On sets, I watched Mahjabeen’s work. I was not wrong. She had talent. She would not speak except for her dialogue.

She delivered it with that correct balance which reveals the good artist. Some years later we were on the look out for a heroine for “Mahal”.

It was an unusual role, with very little dialogue. But it needed a very beautiful girl. I thought of Mumtaz for the part.

The studio sent for her. She came accompanied by her father. What happened at the interview with Mahjabeen and her father a few years earlier repeated itself.

“My daughter will work in the film if Ashok Kumar is its hero,” said Madhubala’s father. The assurance was incorporated in the contract she signed.

Both came to films as very young girls, determined to make good. Both were beautiful and both were ambitious.

After “Mahal,” for years, Madhubala and I did not star together in any film. Meena Kumari, however, has been my co-star through the years.

She starred opposite me in Bombay Talkies “Baadban” and my own “Parineeta”, which were made more or less simultaneously.

From then on, we have been working together constantly. Although Madhubala was not as closely associated with me as Meena Kumari, I watched her career with interest.

Knowing only Urdu at first, Madhu took up the study of English after her second or third picture applying herself to it assiduously.

Meena is a keen reader of the English classics, but she never attempts to speak the language.

Madhu, however, does not hesitate and has a charming way of speaking it. Meena Kumari is an introvert, whereas Madhubala is an extrovert.

When she attained stardom, Madhubala’s charm, poise, self-confidence, and conversational ability became more pronounced.

Meena’s development was within deepening her awareness and sensibilities. Today, Meena is very sensitive, both as a human being and as an artist.

The years between “Parineeta” and “Sharda” mark the development of this superb artist. And talking about “Parineets” reminds me of the time we worked together in it.

Together we planned the details of various scenes. We consulted each other whenever we were confronted by difficulty, and her suggestions were always apt.

She was aware not only of what was expected of her but of how it would appear in the picture.

  • meena kumari, kamal amrohi, madhubala, om prakash & morarji desai

She proved a veritable scene stealer and it was a pleasure to see how subtly she made use of my suggestions and thoughts and how she transformed acting into an art.

Since then our work together has been a malleable process, scenes working themselves out smoothly, a word here, an expression there conveying much more than long lines of dialogue.

Another point of similarity between Meena Kumari and Madhubala is that both are tremendously sincere in their work.

Madhubala is one of the most conscientious stars, for there is never a day when she reports for work at the studio even five minutes late.

Madhu’s personality has developed in a way peculiar to herself. For a number of years, it seemed as though she was living in a shell and life was passing her by.

And when Madhu and life did make contact, the impact was startling. I watched the change in her with interest.

She gave evidence of a mind going outwards, becoming more interested in people and their problems and understanding them.

She became more devoted to her work than ever before. Both artists have adjusted themselves well to their work.

They remind me of what Somerset Maugham said: that one gets as much out of a work of art as one puts into it.

Madhubala and Meena Kumari have got exactly that much from their work as they have put into it.

To both, the artistic medium is a part of their life, and not a mere profession, perhaps more so to Meena than to Madhu.

It is an expression of their hopes and despairs, their joys and sorrows, their disillusionment, and their ambitions.

In it, they live a second life, simultaneously with the normal one. – Filmfare 1958

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *