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Bollywood Cinema up to 1949

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Bollywood Cinema up to 1949 | 1950-59 | 1960-69 | 1970-79 | 1980-89 | 1990-99 | 2000-10
The streets of Southall, in the borough of Ealing, London, 12th June 1979. Seen here is the Dominion Cinema, showing a selection of Asian films including The Great Gambler and Janta Hawaldar.

Mumbai, previously known as Bombay, is one of the biggest cities in the world, and is the commercial and entertainment centre of India. It takes its name from the Hindu goddess 'Mumba Devi'. It lies at the mouth of the Ulhas River, on the western coast of India and is the capital of the state of Maharashtra.

The city is divided into two – Mumbai City and Mumbai Southern District – and is further divided into areas such as Bandra, Juhu, Worli, Malabar Hill, Chembur (in the central suburbs), Colaba, Kandivali and Andheri. It has the world's most popular hotels – the Taj and the Oberoi (which were attacked by terrorists in November 2008). The other most popular tourist site is the Gateway of India, a giant ceremonial gate. The city has a deep natural harbour.

Introduction to 'Bollywood'

Besides its historical sites, the city is more famous for its Hindi film industry, more popularly known in the West as 'Bollywood'. The name is derived from the combination of Bombay and Hollywood, and many consider it to be derogatory. The city has many studios and companies that are involved in the making and distribution of films, such as Yashraj Films, in Jogeshwari West; RK Studios in Chembur; Filmistan Studios in Goregaon West; Dharma Productions, based in the area of Khar; and Mehboob Studios, in the area of Bandra, just to mention a few.

The industry also encompasses television, but it is for movies that it is justly famous, with many stars, not to mention the superstars such as Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan.

India's film industry is not completely isolated from that of the West. Some of the stars have worked in Hollywood films and crossover films:

  • Shashi Kapoor appeared in Conrad Rook's Siddhartha and in Ruth Prawer Jhabwala's Heat and Dust.

  • The late IS Johar was in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia.

  • Simi Garewall appeared in Conrad Rook's Siddhartha.

  • Aishwarya Rai Bachchan starred in The Last Legion, The Pink Panther 2, Gurinder Chaddha's Bride and Prejudice and Provoked as well as being a former Miss World.

  • Om Puri was in East Is East, Charlie Wilson's War and Gandhi.

  • Movie director Shekhar Kapoor, who directed the famous Bollywood movie Mr India, also directed the movie Elizabeth and received an Academy Award for it.

  • British director Danny Boyle's movie Slumdog Millionaire starred Bollywood actors, Anil Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and Mahesh Manjrekar. The music score was by AR Rehman (who received an Academy Award). He is very well known, not just in India but also in the UK for his work with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Bombay Dreams.

Some Hollywood companies, such as Sony and Walt Disney, are now going into making films in Mumbai and elsewhere in India and some are now outsourcing animation works and costumes for their movies.

It is estimated that about a thousand films are produced every year, but out of that only a few hundred manage to be released in the multiplexes and single cinemas – each week there are a few new films released. The rest are stored for the future, or sold directly to television companies. Bollywood films are now popular in the West and the United Kingdom is considered to be the home of Bollywood cinema outside India – many of the films now are constantly in the UK top ten film listings. Yashraj Film's Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (Couple Made in Heaven), which stars superstar Shahrukh Khan and newcomer Anoushka Sharma, entered the UK charts at no 5. In 2007, Eros International, film distributor for Om Shanti Om starring Shahrukh Khan, is said to have made £750,000 in the opening week of the film in the UK and a total of US$19m worldwide, making it the biggest opening week grosser in the history of Indian/Bollywood Cinema.

This Entry covers the history of the Indian film industry from its inception roughly to the end of the 1940s, but we will make occasional forays into later decades as we follow the careers of some of the more notable actors.

The Beginning

The history of Bollywood can be traced as far back as 1896, when the Lumière Brothers first unveiled six silent, short films at the Watson Hotel in what was then Bombay. Then in 1899, Harishchandra Bhatvadkar filmed two short films and exhibited them on Edison's projecting kinetoscope. In 1912, Ramchandra Gopal, popularly known as Dadasaheb Torne, released his movie, Pundalik. History has not been kind to these pioneers, however; they are rarely mentioned, and credit for launching of the Indian Film Industry is ascribed to another man: Dadasaheb Phalke, who released his silent film Raja Harishchandra on 13 May, 1913. On that day the Indian Film Industry was really born.

Dadasaheb Phalke and Hindustan Films

Dadasaheb Phalke, whose real name was Dhundiraj Govind Phalke, is considered the founder and the 'father' of Indian cinema. He was born on 30 April, 1870 at Trimbakeshwar, near the Maharashtrian city of Nasik. He was from a family of priests and had a strong religious upbringing.

At the age of 15, he joined the JJ School of Art in Bombay and, after passing his exams there, went on to study at Kalabhavan (now a part of the University) in the Gujarat city of Baroda. There he studied sculpture, engineering drawing, painting and photography. He started his career with the latter but was forced to leave business due to the deaths of his wife and child of bubonic plague. He later met Carl Heinz, a German who worked for the Lumière Brothers. Then he grabbed the opportunity to work with the Archaeological Survey of India as a draftsman. But he couldn't settle in the job, and turned to the business of printing, going on to specialise in lithography and oleography. He also worked for a certain Raja Ravi Varma as a painter. But with his experience in printing, he went on to establish his own press and made his first trip abroad to Germany to learn about the latest technology and machinery.

But then he gave up his business after a dispute with his partners and after watching a silent movie, The Life of Christ, turned to moving pictures and envisaged Indian gods on the screen. With this in mind, he began to make India's first silent feature-length movie, Raja Harishchandra in 1912, and released it the following year. One of the problems he faced was the lack of female artists willing to work with him, as it was regarded as a disreputable field at the time – the women who responded to his advertisements were mostly prostitutes. He therefore settled for a delicate-looking male to play the female role – that of a queen in the silent movie.

With five partners from Bombay, Phalke went on to form Hindustan Films. He hoped that by having the financial aspect of his business handled by experts, he would be free to follow the creative side. He therefore set up a studio and trained people to act as well as to become technicians. But soon he ran into insurmountable problems with the partners and in 1920 he resigned and announced his retirement from cinema. Lacking Phalke's imaginative genius, the company went deeply into the red and he was persuaded to return. He soon began to feel constrained again and after directing a few films, he withdrew.

One of the constraints that was felt by Dadasaheb Phalke was that of the introduction of sound in the movies. He passed away, penniless, in 1944.

Introduction of Sound and Colour

The 1920s saw the growth of Indian cinema, as well as the introduction of legal censorship. The decade saw many new companies being formed and the entry of new film-makers as well. But then in the 1930s there was something new and better – the introduction of sound, and later colour, into the movies.

The most remarkable thing about sound film was that it came with a 'bang' and rapidly displaced silent movies. The person who introduced this was Ardeshir Irani.

Ardeshir Irani and Sound in Films

The 1930s have been recognised as a decade of social protests and saw the rise of three big banners: Prabhat, Bombay Talkies and New Theatres. These gave the lead in making serious and gripping entertaining movies for all classes, but it was the introduction of sound that led all this.

Ardeshir Irani, whose full name was Khan Bahadur Ardeshir Irani, was born on 5 December, 1886 in Poona, Maharashtra. At the age of 19, he worked for Universal Studios and went on to operate Alexander Cinema in Bombay with Abdulally Esoofally, for four decades. It was here that he learnt the art of film-making and became fascinated by this. In 1917, he went into film production and produced his first silent movie, the feature-length Nala Dayamanti, which was released in 1920. Two years later, Irani joined former manager of Phalke's Hindustan Films, Bhogilal Dave, and they established their own company, Star Films. But after over a half a dozen films, the partnership was dissolved and in 1924, Irani established another company, Majestic Films, and was joined by two talented people, BP Mishra and Naval Gandhi. This was also short-lived.

In 1925, Irani established Imperial Films and with that he went on to make 62 films. By the age of 40, he had established himself as the film-maker of Indian cinema and began to be known as the father of talkie films, beginning with Alam Ara in 1931, followed by Noor Jehan and later, the first feature film in colour, Kisan Kanya, in 1937. He suspended his film-making during the Second World War and his last film, Pujari was released in 1945. He passed away on 14 October, 1969.

Alam Ara

The title simply means 'The Light of The World', in Hindi/Urdu (the language spoken in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). When making this film, Irani realised that sound would be playing a major part in the cinema. The movie starred Prithviraj Kapoor (father of the late Raj, Shammi and Shashi Kapoor and great-grandfather of Karishma, Kareena and Ranbir Kapoor), Master Vithal, Zubeida and Wazir Mohamed.

The movie and its music were successful and the hit song, 'De de Khuda ke naam per', sung by Wazir Mohamed, who played the role of a fakir in the movie, became popular. The music and the songs of the movie were recorded live in the studio while filming the movie, with the use of a harmonium and tabla, as 'playback singing' had not yet been developed. This would set the trend for future films and would spell the death of silent films.

Irani, who handled the sound recording, used the Taran Sound System and the movie was shot with a Taran Single System camera, which recorded the sound directly onto the film. Since there were no soundproof studios at the time, the shooting was done at night in order to avoid picking up backgroun noises and the microphone was hidden near the actors.

The film caused such a stir when it was released on 14 March, 1931, since it was the first movie with sound and music, that police had to be called to control the crowd.

Unfortunately, the last surviving prints of Alam Ara were destroyed, along with many other films, in the 2003 fire at the National Film Archives of India (NFAI), in Pune (the modern name for Poona).

In 1937, Irani released the first ever Indian film to feature not only sound but also colour, Kisan Kanya. This was two years before The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind brought colour to Western screens.

KL Saigal – the First Superstar

There have been many stars, such as Prithviraj Kapoor, Ashok Kumar, Dilip Kumar, Raj Kapoor, and Dev Anand, just to mention a few, but mention the title 'superstar' and the name of Kundan Lal Saigal springs to mind.

Kundan Lal Saigal, more famously remembered as KL Saigal, was born in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. His mother, Kesarbai, was deeply religious and fond of music and this is perhaps one of the reasons why her fourth child was heavily influenced by religious songs (bhajans and kirtans). These were to play a major part in his later life. He left school at a very early age and began to earn his living by working as a railway timekeeper; soon after that, he worked as a typewriter salesman for the Remington Typewriter Company. But then on one of his trips to the city of Lahore, he met Merchand Jain and the two became good friends, by which time Saigal had become a budding singer. It was when he moved to the western Indian city of Calcutta (now known as Kolkatta), that his friend encouraged him to pursue this talent. Even while he worked as a hotel manager, he continued his singing. However, it was only when he joined the famous theatre company, New Theatre, that he met many respected composers such as RC Boral and later the famous Pankaj Mullick.

It was not until 1933 that Saigal's career really took off, when four of his bhajans (religious songs) for the film Puran Bhagat created a sensation; after that, he never looked back. Saigal was a confident enough singer to sing his own songs directly in front of the camera even though the method of playback singing (actors lip-synching to pre-recorded tracks by professional singers) was now being introduced. The best-remembered song by the legend was 'Babul Mora', for the movie Street Singer, which was released in 1938. But the film that he is mostly remembered for is Devdas, in which he played the role of the tragic hero, Devdas, who loses his childhood sweetheart due to a family feud, opposite the then well-known heroines, Zubeida, who played the role of Parvati (Paro), and Rajkumari as Chandramukhi. The film, which was based on the novel by Saratchandra Chatterjee, was later re-made in 1955 with the very well-known Dilip Kumar as Devdas, Suchitra Sen as Parvati (Paro) and Vyjayantimala as Chandramukhi and was directed by the famous Bimal Roy. The film was re-made yet again in the 21st Century, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and released in 2003. This starred superstar Shahrukh Khan as the tragic hero, Aishwarya Rai as Parvati (Paro) and Madhuri Dixit as Chandramukhi.

Saigal had acted in a total of 36 feature films before he passed away in 1947. He moved to Bombay in 1941 and worked for the company Ranjit Movietone and with this his career moved towards greater heights. At the same time, he took up drinking and it is believed that he would not sing a song before touching liquor or some sort of alcoholic drink, which soon began to affect his health. However, he soon moved to the city of Jalandhar, in the state of Punjab and on 18 January, 1947, he passed away, leaving a wife, Asha Rani, who he had married in 1935, a very young son, who would later become a very popular composer, Madan Mohan, and two daughters.

The Rise of Ashok Kumar and Achhut Kaniya

During the 1930s, there was a mood of unrest in India; 'independence' was the word on everybody's lips. Mahatma Gandhi called for civil disobedience against the colonial authorities and for even more after his march to the beach at Dandi. The British immediately began to impose censorship on films which showed sympathy with the independence movement. Nevertheless, there were films that managed to pass the censor, films which contained indirectly the messages which the Mahatma and Jawaharlal Nehru spoke about – for example about removing 'untouchability' from the caste system, as receiving independence would not merely be enough.

One such film was Achhut Kaniya, meaning 'Untouchable Maiden'. This introduced the famous actor, Ashok Kumar from Bhagalpur, Bengal, whose full name was Sanjay Ashok Kumar Ganguly. The leading female role, as the untouchable maiden, was played by Devika Rani, wife of the producer, Himanshu Rai, and joint owner with him of Bombay Talkies. Prior to the shooting of the movie, the lead actor had had an affair with Rani, something unheard in the industry at the time. He fled to escape the scandal, leaving the role open for laboratory assistant, Sanjay Ashok Kumar, to step in. Devika Rani decided to continue working as the leading actress.

The story was told in flashback and is about an unhappy affair between Kasturi, an untouchable female and daughter of a railway crossing guard, played by Devika Rani, and Pratap, son of a grocer and a high-class Brahmin. The film went on to be very popular and successful and is considered to be an early super-hit in the industry. It dealt with social position of the Dalit (untouchable) girls and is considered to be a reformist period piece.

Ashok Kumar and Devika Rani went on to do a string of films, but she was a bigger star than he, and he was considered to be under her shadow until he began to work with another actress, Leela Chitnis and began to sing in his own films such as in Kismet, which was released in 1943. He also went on to produce films for Bombay Talkies while acting the starring role. One of the best remembered and most popular was Mahal, opposite the late Madhubala. The movie was directed by Kamal Amrohi. He starred in more films such as Parineeta opposite Meena Kumari, Bandini opposite Nutan Behl, Jewel Thief, Safar, Aradhana, Pakeezah, Mili, Khubsoorat, and The Return of Jewel Thief, just to mention a few. He passed away on 19 December, 2001.

With the death of Himanshu Rai in 1940, Devika Rani took control of Bombay Talkies along with Sashadhar Mukherjee. But the company soon began to face problems when Mukherjee, along with Ashok Kumar and other veterans of the company, left and formed Filimistan. Rani married Russian painter Svetoslav Roerich in 1945. She left films and joined her husband in Bangalore, where she lived until she passed away on 8 March, 1994.

Fearless Nadia, the Stunt Queen

The 1930s saw another change in the film industry and that was the introduction of a stunt woman, known popularly as 'Fearless Nadia'. Born as Mary Anne Evans on 8 January, 1908 in Perth, Australia, she first appeared in the movie Lal-e-Yaman in 1933. She became an instant hit after she was introduced to Hindi movies by JBH Wadia, the founder and owner of Wadia Movietone. But in 1935, her most memorable movie, Hunterwali, was released. In it she dressed in tight, revealing clothes and tall boots, while wielding a whip – this image became iconic in the 1930s. The following year, another movie was released, Miss Frontier Mail, in which she played the role of Savita, also known as Miss 1936, an amateur hunter. The follow up to her famous iconic image did not appear until 1943 with the release of film entitled Hunterwali Ki Beti ('Daughter of Hunterwali').

Fearless Nadia continued to work in the films until 1970, when her last film, Ek Nanhi Munni Ladki Thi, was released. The cast included Prithviraj Kapoor and Shatrughan Sinha, who had debuted in the movie Sajan in 1969.

Mary Anne Evans, 'Fearless Nadia', passed away on 9 January, 1996.

The End of the 1930s

In 1935, a certain new director began to direct his first movie entitled Judgement of Allah. This was none other than Mehboob Khan, who was later to make some of the most memorable films, Mother India, Andaz and Aan.

The end of the 1930s saw the beginning of the Second World War and many films faced hardship at the hands of the censor board; many never made it to the screens.

The 1940s

One of the most memorable films of the early 1940s was Kismet, which means 'luck' and which starred Ashok Kumar and Mumtaz Shanti. This film set a trend in the film industry with its theme of the separation of brothers, one which was later adopted by directors such as Nazir Hussein in Yaadon Ki Baraat and by Manmohan Desai in Amar Akbar Anthony in the 1970s. Kismet, being produced during war time, captured the elusive mood of the times of a society in flux through its central character, 'a lovable rogue'. It proved to be a huge success with the masses, but what is more interesting is that it had a song, 'Dur hato eh duniya walo, hindistan humara hai', (Keep away, India is ours), which many consider to be patriotic and yet which passed the censor board who at the time were coming down hard on such themes and also on any films that could be considered anti-war. The movie was produced by Bombay Talkies.

Dilip Kumar

The 1940s decade saw the rise of some stars who would later go on to to become legends in the industry. One of them was an actor who fully deserved the titles of 'thespian' and 'superstar' which have been used to describe him - the notable Dilip Kumar.

Dilip Kumar, born in 1922 and whose real name is Yusuf Khan, is the son of Ghulam Sarvar, a Phustun fruit merchant who owned large orchards in Peshawar, now in Pakistan, and in Deolali, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. He was spotted in a market fruit stall by a leading director from Bombay Talkies, Amiya Chakravarty, and it was he who gave him the screen name 'Dilip Kumar'. Kumar's first film, Jwar Bhata, released in 1944, went unnoticed but he shot to fame three years later with the release of Jugnu, in which he starred opposite Noor Jehan and Shashikala. But it was Mehboob Khan's big film, in 1949, entitled Andaz, that enabled him to act opposite a famous screen couple, Raj Kapoor and Nargis.

Throughout the 1950s, Dilip Kumar was one of the biggest stars, along with Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand. Besides acting in romantic roles, he also took on lighthearted parts such as a swashbuckling peasant in Mehboob Khan's Aan, only the second film to be made in India in colour,, opposite a new actress, Nadira, and then opposite Meena Kumari in Azaad. But he is mostly known for roles that were not just romantic but also involved tragedy, such as in Bimal Roy's Devdas and Madhumati. Later, in 1961, he made his one and only foray into writing and production, with Ganga Jumna, in which he also played the lead role opposite his female co-star, Vyjayantimala. In 1962, British Film director David Lean offered Dilip Kumar the role of Sheriff Ali in his blockbuster Lawrence of Arabia, but he declined it and the role went to Omar Sharif. In 1966, at the age of 44, he married 22-year-old Saira Banu, daughter of the 1930s actress Naseem Banu Saira Banu. She had shot to fame with her first film, Junglee (1961), which starred Shammi Kapoor, younger brother of Raj Kapoor.

As the 1960s decade began, Kumar appeared in a number of flops, but in 1967, he managed to make a comeback with the biggest hit of the year, Ram Aur Shyam, in which he played a double role as both Ram and Shyam, opposite Waheeda Rehman and the less well-known actress, Mumtaz1. This was a temporary return to superstardom - many of his subsequent films fared badly and in 1976 he took a five-year break from acting. In 1981, he came back in the biggest hit of the year, in Manoj Kumar's Kranti and soon he began to play character roles and the role of a father. Then the movie Shakti, directed by Ramesh Sippy, brought together two superstars of the industry. Kumar played the role of a police officer who refuses the demands of kidnappers holding his son as a hostage. The elder version of the son was played by the superstar, Amitabh Bachchan.

Dilip Kumar's last film, Qila (1989), went almost unnoticed and since then he has retired.

The Partition of India and Pakistan

At midnight on 14 August, 1947, the British-controlled country of India ceased to exist. It was divided into two new countries, the state of Pakistan and the now independent country of India. This partition affected thousands of people, some of who found themselves in a country that they had not expected to live in. Thousands crossed the borders causing a mass exodus. This didn't just affect the partition of land, but also homes, families, furniture and even items such as kitchen utensils. Many actors felt it necessary to move as well. One of the actresses to move to Pakistan was Noor Jehan.

Noor Jehan

Noor Jehan, whose real name was Allah Wasai, was born on 21 September, 1926 into a family of musicians. Though she wanted to be an actress, she was pushed into singing, beginning to perform at the age of five and showing a keen interest in a variety of styles. After moving to Calcutta, she acted in her first film in 1935, Pind di Kudhi. But it was not until she moved to Lahore (now in Pakistan), that she became popular, singing songs composed for her by Ghulam Haider. In 1943, after moving to Bombay, she sang melodies with another well-known singer, Shanta Apte, in the movie Duhai. By then she had already started acting in movies and two years later, she played a leading role with Lata Mangeshkar, later known as the 'Nightingale of India', and her equally well-known sister, Asha Bhonsle, in the movie Badi Maa. But her best remembered and most well-known film was Anmol Ghadi. A year later, her last film in India was released, entitled, Mirza Sahiban, opposite the well-known Prithviraj Kapoor.

Noor Jehan passed away in 2000 in Karachi, Pakistan.

Anmol Ghadi

One of the best remembered films of the 1940s was Anmol Ghadi ('Precious Time'). It was released in 1946, directed and produced by Mehboob Khan and starred Surendra, Suraiya and Noor Jehan. The songs were also memorable: Suraiya and Noor Jehan sang their own songs. Surendra sang some of his songs but others were lip-synched to playback artist Mohd Rafi. Shamshad Begum provided playback for the other songs in the film

The story is that of a man called Chandrabahan (Surendra), who as a child falls in love with Lata (Noor Jehan) but she leaves the town and the only thing he has to remember her by is a small clock. Years later, he finds work in a music shop; he becomes fascinated by the poetry of Renuka Devi, and longs to meet her. He meets Devi's friend Basanti (Suraiya), who falls in love with him, but he can't return her love as he is not able to forget Lata. Later, he does indeed meet Renuka Devi, who turns out to be none other than his childhood sweetheart Lata, but she is already engaged to the owner of the music shop.

The three most memorable songs of this film, which went on to become popular hits, were 'Jawan Hai Mohabat' (Young love), 'Mere Bachpan Ke Saathi' (My Childhood friend) and 'Aaja Meri Barbad Mohabat Ke Sahare'. Lip-synching by the actors at the time was not perfect but it still managed to work properly on screen.

Anmol Ghadi set the trend for new films relating to triangular love stories.


One of the most memorable actresses has to be Mumtaz Begum Jehan Dehlavi, more popularly remembered as 'Madhubala'. She starred in many films now known as classics, such as Mughal-E-Azam, Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi, Howrah Bridge and Mahal.

Born in 1933, in a conservative Muslim and ethnic Pathan family in Delhi, she was the fifth out of eleven children of Ataullah Khan. After her father lost his job, the family endured many hardships, including the death of four sisters and two brothers. Eventually they moved to Bombay in search of a better life but struggled to survive and frequently visited film studios for work. She got her first film at the age of nine, entitled Basant (1942), in which she played the role of a daughter with a very popular actress at the time, Mumtaz Shanti. She then went on to act in several films while still a child. It was one of the owners of Bombay Talkies, Devika Rani, who advised her to change her name to 'Madhubala', being very impressed with her acting.

Madhubala's real break came in 1947, at the age of 14, when film-maker Kidar Sharma cast her opposite Raj Kapoor in his film, Neel Kamal. Though the film was not a success, her talent was recognised and she soon went on to become a star: in 1949 she appeared in Mahal under the Bombay Talkies banner, which was directed by Kamal Amrohi and starred Ashok Kumar. The film was a success and the song 'Aayega Aanewala' went on to herald the arrival of two new superstars, Madhubala and the lady who has now gone on to become known as the 'nightingale' of India, Lata Mangeshkar.

Madhubala's Serious Illness

Unknown to almost everyone, Madhubala had been born with a heart defect – a 'hole in the heart' – and by 1950 she began to cough up blood on sets of her films. At the time heart surgery was not widely available. This illness was kept quiet from those within the industry for many years but soon, when filming in Madras, she vomited blood. The director and his wife were said to have taken care of her until she was well enough and as a good gesture, the actress, who had not even attended her own film premieres, decided to attend the film premieres of the director: Bahut Din Huwe in 1954 and Insaniyat in 1955. She continued to act, and the incident in Madras was soon forgotten. Her family became protective of her and she would only eat home cooked food. Her illness was slowly taking control of her.


With the success of Mahal, Madhubala shot to such fame that she began to receive many offers of parts. She decided to secure herself as well as her family financially by working in as many films as she could – an estimated 24 films within the first four years of her adult career. But not all films that she appeared in were considered 'A grade'; as a consequence, many were under the impression that she was getting the parts due to her beauty rather than her acting. She was, however, one of the most sought-after actresses in India.

She soon began to attract interest from Hollywood and she appeared in many American magazines - the most notable being 'Theatre Arts' (1952), in which there was an extensive article on her with a full page photograph. The heading was: 'The Biggest Star in the World (And she's not in Beverly Hills)'. The article went on to present her as a mysterious, delicate woman with mythical beauty and with a legion of fans.

One Hollywood director, Frank Capra, (Riding High and State of Union), visiting India and meeting some prominent members of the film industry, was keen on meeting the actress who was conspicuous by her absence but he went on to discuss a possible job for her in Hollywood. Her father refused and this put an end to her making any entry into the Hollywood scene.

As a star, Madhubala worked with many famous actors such as Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar (who she is said to have had an affair with), Sunil Dutt and Ashok Kumar. She also worked with directors such as Mehboob Khan.


Madhubala's most memorable movie was K Asif's Mughal-E-Azam (1960), which starred Dilip Kumar as Prince Salim, Prithviraj Kapoor as his father, Emperor Akbar, and Durga Khote as Empress Jodhabai. In this, Madhubala played the character of Anarkali, a dancer who Prince Salim falls in love with.

It took K Asif ten years to complete this movie, which was shot mainly in black and white even though colour had been available since the 1950s. One particular song that is still remembered today and which was filmed in colour at the Palace of Mirrors at Amber Fort in Rajasthan, is 'Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya', with the voice of Lata Mangeshkar lip-synched by Madhubala. This is the only song that was filmed entirely in colour. The music director, Naushad, unable to get an echo, is said to have recorded this in the studio bathroom. Dilip Kumar's costume was imported from Britain and the movie itself was one of the most expensive to be made.

The film went on to break box office records in India and held the record for the highest grossing film until 1975, when Sholay was released.

Mughal-E-Azam was re-released in 2004/2005 in a full-colour version.

Later Career

When Mughal-E-Azam was released, the affair between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, which had lasted for five years, was over and the actress went on to marry playback singer and actor Kishore Kumar, who was Ashok Kumar's youngest brother.

Health, however, was not in Madhubala's favour. Though she went on to appear in a few more films, her health deteriorated and she had to travel to London for possible heart surgery. This was refused as her chances of survival were minimal. She was advised to rest and the doctors predicted that she would only live for another twelve months. But she defied this and returned to India and in 1966 began to work in the film Chalack, with Raj Kapoor. This caused a sensation and it was heralded as her come back. Photographs of her were taken by the media: she still looked beautiful, but pale. The film was never completed.

In 1969, it became evident that the actress was no longer in condition to act in films. She took up film-making and began with Farz Aur Ishq, but during the pre-production, she finally succumbed to her illness.

On 23 February, 1969, just after her 36th birthday, Madhubala, one of the greatest Indian actresses, passed away and was buried at Santa Cruz cemetery by her family and husband.

The Late Forties

Once India had gained freedom from British colonial rule, many films were made on the subject of the struggle for Independence. One which is remembered today was Shaheed (Martyr), which was released in 1948 and starred Dilip Kumar, Kamini Kaushal and Chandra Mohan – his last film: Chandra Mohan passed away in 1949. The songs of this movie, 'Watan ki Raah Men Watan Ke Naujawan Shaheed Ho' and 'Badnaam Na Ho Jaaye Mohabbat Ka Fasana' are still remembered today and have not lost their appeal.

The year 1948 also saw the debut of the legendary director, Raj Kapoor.

Raj Kapoor

Raj Kapoor, whose full name was Ranbirraj Kapoor, was born on 14 December, 1924 into the Kapoor dynasty of actors2. He was often nicknamed 'Charlie Chaplin' due to his style of dress in movies. He would become known as the 'showman' of the industry and one who made meaningful yet commercial films which appealed to many.

Raj Kapoor began his career as a clapper boy who assisted Kidar Sharma. But in 1935, at the age of eleven, he was introduced to acting in the film Inquilab. His first real break came in 1947, with the movie Neel Kamal, opposite Madhubala. A year later, he went on to establish his own studio, RK Films.


The first film to be released under the RK Films banner was Aag, which Kapoor produced, directed and starred in opposite his brother-in-law, Nargis - Kapoor went on to work with Nargis in many films. It also starred Premnath, his younger brother Shashi Kapoor, and Nigar Sultana.

The word 'Aag' means 'fire' and that's what was in this movie. A man loves theatre from his childhood days and sets up a theatre company with a partner. One day, he finds out that his childhood sweetheart is in love with his partner. In his anger and despair, he sets fire to himself, only to get horribly disfigured. The film itself didn't do well at the box office but had some of the most memorable songs – 'Zinda Ho Istare' by Mukesh and 'Dekh Chand Ki Aur'.

The playback singer, Mukesh, went on to provide playback for Raj Kapoor in almost all his films and was considered by Raj Kapoor himself as his singing voice. Kapoor revisited the theme of disfigurement 30 years later, in his film Satyam Shivam Sunderam (1978), which starred Shashi Kapoor and Zeenat Aman. This was also the last film in which Mukesh would provide a playback for RK Films as he passed away soon afterwards.

The theatre theme, however, was copied by another actor and director, Bhagwan, in his film, Albela (1951).

Other Kapoor Films

Raj Kapoor went on to make and act in many films. One of the most memorable was Sangam, (an area where the three holy rivers of India, the Ganga, Jumna and Saraswati meet). It was released in 1964 and starred Kapoor himself with his friend Rajendra Kumar and Vyjayantimala. The movie was one of the first to be filmed overseas, namely in France and Switzerland. The plot featured a love triangle, and one which leads to tragedy. One of the best remembered songs in this movie was 'Dost Dost Na Raha' (I have no friend), with Kapoor once again lip-synched to the sound of playback artist Mukesh. This song was considered to be very close to Raj Kapoor's heart and some say that when he first heard it, he had tears in his eyes as his friend, Mukesh, had managed to put so much sentiment into it with his voice. Even today, half a century later, those listening to the song describe it as 'beautiful and very sentimental'.

Another very memorable film was Mera Naam Joker (My Name is Clown), which was released in 1970. This has been considered to be based on Kapoor's own life and had an all-star cast: Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, Padmini, Simi Garewall, Achala Sachdev, Om Prakash, Sunder, Eduard Sjereda (a Russian actor), and Kseniya Ryabinkina (a Russian actress). In this film, Raj Kapoor also introduced his second son, a very young Rishi Kapoor, as a younger version of himself. There were also some sentimental songs, again sung by Mukesh – 'Jeena Yahan, Marna Yahan' (live here, die here) and 'Jaane kahan Gaye Who Din' (where are those days gone). The film was over three and a half hours in duration and bombed at the box office.

In 1973, two years after the release of Mera Naam Joker, Raj Kapoor released his film, Bobby, in which he introduced Dimple Kapadia opposite his son, Rishi Kapoor. The film also featured two legendary actors, Pran and Prem Nath; rumour has it that they did not charge him anything. The theme here was not just a love story, but also falling in love with a person from another caste and religion – something that leads to a conflict between father and son and between the two families, who end up uniting in the end. This set the trend for future love-story-based films. It also led to a spate of directors introducing their offspring into films.

Raj Kapoor, suffering from asthma in later years, passed away on 2 June, 1988 from complications related to the illness. He had been working on his next project entitled, Henna, which was later completed by his eldest son, Randhir3. As a tribute to the great man, the film Mera Naam Joker was shown again in many cinemas and received a warm reception.

The End of the 1940s

The year 1949 saw the release of another movie that is well remembered today, Andaz, starring Dilip Kumar, Nargis and Raj Kapoor, and directed by Mehboob Khan. This had some of the most popular songs, such as 'Jhum Jhum Ke Nacho Aaj' (Dance today), 'Hum Aaj Kahin Dil Kho Bethe' (Today I have lost my heart), and 'Tote Na Dil Tote Na' (Let my heart not break), sung by the playback singer Mukesh, who sounded like the legendary KL Saigal.

Andaz took the audience by storm as it had a love triangle, a well-known cast, a storyline that ended in tragedy, and songs that almost everyone could remember. The next decade was to build on this winning formula and was to re-introduce colour to the screens of India.

1Not the same actress as Madhubala, who also went by the name of Mumtaz in her early years.2There have been four generations of Kapoors in the acting business so far, including Raj's father, Prithviraj, his younger brothers Shammi and Shashi, his children Randhir, Rishi and Rajeev and his grandchildren Karishma, Kareena and Ranbirwas.3Father of Karishma and Karina Kapoor, also well-known 'Bollywood' actresses.

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