By Sharada Iyer
Till date the unbelievable journey of Mumtaz remains a source of inspiration to all the young and starry-eyed newcomers who come to the tinsel-world of Mumbai dreaming of making it big,.. But the kind of success she achieved remains unique for no one before or after her has been emulate her success story…
Most of our yesteryear actors, actresses, directors, lyricists, music directors, junior artistes, etc., faced a lot of hardships and challenges to make a career in films. This post focuses on the never-say-die spirit of Hindi Cinema’s most vivacious and effervescent actress and one of my all-time favourite-Mumtaz, who turned 68 this year. She battled against all kinds of odds in her life be it her career, her married life or cancer- and emerged victorious because of her indomitable courage and invincible spirit…
The very mention of Mumtaz brings to our mind the energetic, charming and sizzling actress who with a cute upturned nose and a rare insouciance lit up the screen with a unique ‘X’ factor and chutzpah which added sparkle to all her characters thus making her stand out even when she was doing small roles.
Her fascinating and unbelievable rise from an extra to the top star of her time is the stuff fairy tales are made of. In fact, the fairy tale actually had a Prince, millionaire Mayur Madhvani, who entered her life when she was at the peak of her career and at the age of 26, she decided to bid good-bye to the film-world and start a family with her Prince Charming.
Born to Abdul Saleem Askari and Shadi Habib Agha in Mumbai on 31 July 1947, just 15 days before India got her independence, she and her sister Mallika were witness to their parents’ divorce when they were still very young. Her mother decided to move in with their maternal grandmother and aunt. These events perhaps instilled in young Mumtaz the temperament to face untoward circumstances very early in life.
The journey was by no means an easy one but what kept her going in this difficult and arduous journey was her extraordinary patience, her unwavering belief in herself and her perseverance which helped her overcome the obstacles in her path.
Both her mother and her aunt worked as extras in films and this way she grew up in an atmosphere of films right from childhood. She and her sister Mallika started making rounds of studios to get work as child artistes. She realized her responsibilities and had decided to contribute towards the earnings of the family. Her goal was clear. She was not going to be just an extra though she realized that is how she would have to start her career. She wanted to become a star and she knew there was going to be a long struggle.
Her roles as a child artiste as well as an extra went unnoticed. However, she kept looking for opportunities. When no big or small heroine of that time was willing to be Dara Singh’s heroine she jumped at the offer and had no qualms being labelled a B-grade ‘Stunt Film Heroine’. For her, it was a big jump from being an extra and she ended up doing around 16 films opposite him.
She never hesitated to do bit roles, sister roles, vamp roles or a small part in a big film…for she knew they were all leading her to her ultimate destination. She gave her 100 per cent to any character,and her breezy dances were full of life. She was a ready learner who was very punctual and disciplined on the sets and very courteous to everyone –from spot boy and make-up artiste to the hero and director. All these qualities stood her in good stead and helped her climb up the ladder slowly but surely…
From playing Rajendra Kumar’s sister in Gehra Daag she went on to play his heroine in Taangewaali…
From playing second fiddle to Sharmila Tagore in Saawan Ki Ghata, Mere Humdum Mere Dost and Yeh Raat Phir Na Aayegi she became her contemporary during the ‘Rajesh Khanna ‘ era and her pairing with Rajesh Khanna resulted in more super-hits than Sharmila Tagore’s pairing with the superstar. The Rajesh-Mumtaz on-screen jodi ranks among the best in the industry along with Raj-Kapoor-Nargis.
To teach his errant daughter Rajashree a lesson for always arriving late and keeping everybody waiting on the sets, director V Shantaram replaced her with Mumtaz as the heroine of his film Boond Jo Ban Gaye Moti opposite Jeetendra. At that time, Jeetendra was not happy to have Mumtaz as his heroine and is said to have relented only when Shantaram told him that he was not going to change his heroine again and that Jeetendra was free to leave the project if he so wished. A few years down the line, the Jeetendra-Mumtaz pair became very popular as they did many films together.
Shashi Kapoor who had refused to act opposite Mumtaz when he was signed for Sachcha Jhoota (yes, he had been the producer’s first choice…) saying that he did not want a stunt film heroine opposite him went on to literally beg her to act opposite him in Chor Machaye Shor which went on to become one of the biggest hits of his career. Ironically his refusal turned out to be a boon for Mumtaz who got to pair with newcomer Rajesh Khanna and the rest as they say is history…
She had the grace and dignity to not hold grudges against anyone which is why she agreed to work opposite all those heroes who had refused to work with her once and who later became desperate to have her as their heroine.
With the one song ‘Zindagi Ittefaq Hai…’she stole the thunder form heroine Saira Banu in the film Aadmi Aur Insaan… with the song ‘Yeh Hai Reshmi Zulfon Ka Andhera…’ she scored over the heroine Asha Parekh in Mere Sanam…her song ‘Aaj Koi Pyaar Se Dil Ki Baatein keh Gaya…’ left an indelible mark as compared to Sharmila Tagore’s ‘Zara Haule Haule Chalo More Saajna…’ in the film Saawan Ki Ghata.
During the shoot of Brahmachari, Shammi Kapoor proposed to her but unfortunately put the condition that she would have to quit films after marriage. Mumtaz who was just 18 or 19 years old was still far away from achieving what she had dreamt of for herself so she politely turned down the opportunity to become Mrs Shammi Kapoor and have a cushy life; instead she preferred to continue in her path of struggle to reach the zenith. This one gesture showed her determination and unwavering focus towards her goal and her will power to overcome any distractions in her path…
And once she had attained the top position, she had the guts to call it quits and chuck away the world of glamour and arc-lights to opt for marital bliss.In fact at the time of her marriage, she had been working with all the top actors and directors of that time and commanded a huge fan following and was respected by one and all in the industry.
Twelve years after her marriage when her comeback film Aandhiyan disappointed her fans she had the grace to never try a comeback as a senior artiste. She valued the sentiments of her fans and realized that they wanted to cherish the saucy and effervescent screen image of hers in their hearts…
After marriage things were blissful for a while but there were cracks in her personal life. There were rumours of her husband having an affair with another woman.Not one to give up so easily, she held on to her belief and things fell in place slowly and today as the mother of two grown-up daughters (the elder daughter being married to Feroz Khan’s son Fardeen), she is in a much happier space…
Just when she thought she had faced enough challenges, life threw another big one –this time it was in the form of Cancer…indeed, she battled a brave battle against the dreaded disease .Maybe it was her spirit for survival against all odds that saw her emerge a winner once again. She put on a lot of weight due to the side-effects of all the drugs and chemotherapy but she kept smiling and said it must have been the love of her fans which helped her through this crisis also. In her interviews she encourages people to be positive in life and never give up hope.
She took the trouble to to visit her close friend and old co-star Rajesh Khanna when he was battling for life and spent a lot of time encouraging him to be positive and not give up. According to her life is all about self-belief and positive thinking.
During her short career, she had some of the most amazing numbers picturised on her. When I was going through her songs I observed a very interesting thing -She seems to have had a penchant for the colour orange as can be seen in many of her hit songs. We may never know whether it was out of her personal choice or a matter of sheer coincidence but all are a delight to watch…
For this post I have chosen 14 of her those songs in which she can be seen wearing some or the other shade of orange…
Jai jai shiv shankar
Aaj kal tere mere pyar
Sanam tu bewafa ke naam se
Yun hi tum mujhse baat
Yeh lo re lelo babu pee lo naariyal paani
Kya meri prem kahani
Tauba yeh matwali chaal
Yeh kaun aaj aaya mera dil churane
Bade bewafa hain yeh
Balam tere pyar ki thandi aag mein jalte jalte
Agre se ghagra manga de rasiya main toh meladekhne jaaungi
Maine dekha toone dekha
Hame toh ho gaya hai pyar
Tere Roop ne yeh Kaam Kiya
Chori se saiyan ne mohe pukara