No great shakes

In a book out this week, Dilip Kumar, breaks decades of silence on filmdom’s legendary romance, setting the record straight on why he chose not to marry Madhubala and the reason she wasn’t the woman for him. We bring you exclusive excerpts

Madhubala was no doubt the right choice for the roleof Anarkali. She grasped the essence of the character in no time with her agile intelligence. Yes, there was talk of our marriage while the shooting of Mughal-e-Azam was in progress in the 1950s. Contrary to popular notion, her father, Ataullah Khan, was not opposed to her marrying me. He had his own production company and he was only too glad to have two stars under the same roof. Had I not seen the whole business from my own point of view, it would have been just what he wanted, that is, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala holding hands and singing duets in his productions till the end of our careers.

When I learned about his plans from Madhu, I explained to both of them that I had my own way of functioning and selecting projects and I would not show any laxity even if it were my own production house. It must have tilted the apple cart for him and he successfully convinced Madhu that I was being rude and presumptuous. I told her in all sincerity and honesty that I did not mean any offence and it was in her interest and mine as artistes to keep our professional options away from any personal considerations. She was naturally inclined to agree with her father and she persisted in trying to convince me that it would all be sorted out once we married.

My instincts, however, predicted a situation in which I would be trapped and all the hard work and dedication I had invested in my career would be blown away by a hapless surrender to someone else’s dictates and strategies. I had many upfront discussions with her father and she, not surprisingly, remained neutral and unmoved by my dilemma. The scenario was not very pleasant and it was heading inevitably to a dead end. In the circumstances, therefore, it seemed best that we did not decide to marry or even give each other a chance to rethink because my resolve by then had become strongly against a union that would not be good for either of us.

I was truly relieved when we parted because I had also begun to get an inkling that it was all very well to be working together as artistes but in marriage it is important for a woman to be ready to give more than receive. I had grown up seeing Amma’s steadfast devotion to the family and her flawless character as a woman. I was now increasingly seized with the feeling that I was letting myself into a relationship more on the rebound than out of a genuine need for a permanent companion. What’s more, I did not want to share a lifetime with someone whose priorities were different from mine. Besides, she certainly would have been drawn to other colleagues in the profession, as I found out, and they to her but that wasn’t an issue because I was myself surfacing from an emotional upheaval at that point of time.

The parting of ways did not affect me as was concocted by writers in the media. Journalists were not as rash as they are now but they were just as unmindful of factual accuracy when they wrote about actors. Some of them wrote ‘authoritatively’ in their gossip magazines and attributed my choosing to remain a bachelor all my life to the assumed heartbreak of not marrying Madhubala. The story had sentimental appeal for readers. Nobody bothered to check out the facts and, at that point of time, I was far too absorbed in my work and my family responsibilities to give clarifications. Let me state categorically that I chose to remain a bachelor because I had young sisters to be married off and for me the taking care of, and ensuring the happiness of, my brothers and sisters were paramount.

The absolute truth is that I had mentally stayed all thoughts of sharing my space with a spouse because I had taken on the responsibility of settling my sisters and brothers. Another widespread canard was that the break-up between Madhu and me caused the heart condition that finally claimed her life. The heart condition that was diagnosed was congenital in her. It was unfortunate that she began to succumb to the condition and had to discontinue the commitments she had made to producers. Unfortunately, medical facilities then were not as advanced as they are now in the area of cardiology.

Madhubala’s father, in a bid to show me his authority, got her entangled in a lawsuit with producer-director B. R. Chopra by suddenly making a fuss about the long outdoor work scheduled for Naya Daur (eventually released in 1957) giving her heart condition as a reason for her withdrawal from the film. He came up with an excuse about his daughter’s inability to work at the outdoor locations in Bhopal and Poona for the film after some reels were canned. Chopra Sahab was upset and very angry because it was made clear at the very outset, when the script narration was given to the artistes, that it was an outdoor film. There were all sorts of conclusions drawn by people who did not know the sequence of events and the true background when Chopra Sahab, who held a bachelor’s degree in law before he took to journalism in Lahore in the pre-independence period, took legal steps to challenge the whimsicality on Madhu’s part.

As a fellow artiste, I could do little but fall in line with the producer’s decision to replace Madhu with Vyjayantimala, when all sincere and genuine efforts on my part to negotiate an easy compromise without making the issue public became futile. I did feel sorry for Madhu and wished she had the will to protect her interests at least on the professional front without thoughtlessly bowing to her father’s wishes all the time. Such submission had an adverse impact not only on her professional reputation but also on her health needlessly.

All through my career I respected the producer’s right as an employer to discipline the cast and crew and demand cooperation from them once the contract was signed. Vyjayantimala and I had worked with a fair measure of respect and understanding in Bimal Roy’s Devdas (1955) and Chopra Sahab had liked her work. (She had played the role of Chandramukhi, a tender-hearted dancing girl.) He had heard from his own sources that she was hard working and malleable as an artiste. Chopra Sahab went ahead with the replacement of Madhubala by Vyjayantimala without wasting time once he accepted the situation that all the shooting done with Madhubala would have to go into cold storage and the loss of time and substantial funds would have to be reconciled with. The announcement of the renewal of the project and the start of fresh shooting for Naya Daur Madhubala 171created a stir in the media. Much of what appeared in the media was misreporting by gossip writers who twisted and twirled facts to make them palatable to readers. Like Chopra Sahab, I took it all in my stride, though it caused anger and pain at times when I was made to appear as if I had got Madhu out of the film while the truth was that her father pulled her out of the project to demonstrate his authority.

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