On Mumtaz's 72nd birthday today (July 31), it is indeed a great occasion to look back at her life, of which she gave fifteen years to Hindi cinema.
Hers is not a story like that of many others.
Her rise to success was slow, steady and started right from the bottom. Life was no fairy tale for Mumtaz Askari, known popularly as Mumtaz, born to Iranian parents on July 31, 1947, in Mumbai. She struggled at every step of her upwards journey in the movie industry but finally attained the success she deserved.
Lovingly called Mumu, she began her career as a child actor. When she was around 15, she was chosen to become the heroine opposite wrestler-turned-hero Dara Singh in his stunt films (also called B-grade films) such as Tarzan, Jung aur Aman, Faulad, Do Dushman and Rustam-e-Hind.
These films gave her visibility and also displayed her vibrant screen presence. However, they placed her in the category of a stunt film heroine. When famous comedian Mehmood asked Shashi Kapoor in 1966 to cast her as the heroine in Pyar Kiye Jaa, Kapoor said he would not act opposite a stunt film heroine.
Later, Shashi Kapoor had to specially request Mumtaz to work with him in Chor Machaye Shor, which proved to be a much-needed hit for him in the Rajesh Khanna era.
Hit jodi: Mumtaz and wrestler Dara Singh acted together in 16 action movies. (Photo: Movie still/Raaka)
With her consistent hard work and talent, Mumtaz gradually made the transition from B-grade cinema to mainstream films, albeit as the second lead. These films were Ram aur Shyaam, Pathhar ke Sanam, Brahmchari, Aadmi aur Insaan, Mere Hamdam Mere Dost and Sawan ki Ghata. After starring opposite Dilip Kumar in Ram aur Shyaam, Mumtaz gave a scintillating performance on the evergreen dance number ‘Aajkal tere mere pyaar ke charche har zubaan par’ in Brahmchari.
It was around this time that Shammi Kapoor apparently proposed marriage to Mumtaz but she refused the proposal as he wanted her to retire from the life of stardom.
By the end of 1969 Do Raaste was released, a month after Aradhana that gave the country its first superstar.
Mumtaz’s destiny became linked to that of this rising star. Do Raaste had some memorable songs that helped establish her as one of the most versatile and successful heroines of all times.
In 1970 came Khilona where Mumtaz was cast opposite the highly versatile Sanjeev Kumar. This role won her a Filmfare Award for Best Actress. Khanna shared great onscreen chemistry with Mumtaz as he did with Sharmila Tagore. In fact, the Mumtaz-Rajesh pairing gave big hits such as Dushman, Bandhan, Apna Desh, Sacha Jhoota, Aap ki Kasam and Roti.
It is interesting to note that in 1968, one year before the rise of her superstardom, Mumtaz had done Mere Humdam Mere Dost which had Sharmila as the main lead with Mumu as her younger sister. The Qawali track ‘Allah yeh adaa kaisi hai inn haseenon mein’ featuring Mumtaz was the major highlight of this film.
The next year onwards, the two heroines came to be seen in the films that made Rajesh Khanna a phenomenon. The rivalry between the two ladies was obvious and inevitable.
Superhit jodi: Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz had a hugely successful screen chemistry. (Photo: Movie still/Aap Ki Kasam)
By 1974, Mumtaz decided, at the age of 27, to marry business tycoon Mayur Madhvani and settled down in London. Her elder daughter, Natasha, married actor Fardeen Khan with whose father, the handsome Feroze Khan, Mumtaz did many films, including Mela, Upasana and Apradh. They made a charming pair and featured in many popular songs such as ‘Tum mile, pyaar se’ and ‘Hamaare siwaa tumhaare aur kitne deewane hain’.
Mumtaz’s character as the doctor’s wife in Tere Mere Sapne was truly special as it highlighted the simplicity of her personality. It was a role that demanded great maturity and she did it with great ease. She also had an impressive role opposite Dev Anand in Hare Rama Hare Krishna.
Mumtaz was always full of energy and extremely vivacious. She faced many ups and downs in her early years and yet, remained entirely dedicated to her work. In fact, in many films where she played second lead, she overshadowed the lead heroine such as Brahmachari, Pathhar ke Sanam and Aadmi aur Insaan.
She always made the best of what life had to offer and ultimately became the master of her destiny, shutting down naysayers by creating a body of work that can never be forgotten.
Merging sensuality with innocence, she created a mesmerizing effect in many song and dance sequences that are enjoyed even today, such as ‘Chhup gaye saare nazaare’, ‘Aajkal tere mere pyaar ke charche’, ‘Zindagi ittefaq hai’, ‘Main tere ishq mein mar na jaaun kahin’, ‘Bindiya chamkegi’ and many more.
She is one of the performers who continue to be admired.
Superstar Shah Rukh Khan admitted that Mumtaz was the only actor he had actually been in love with since he was a youngster.
She was presented with the Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 by Rajesh Khanna.
We wish one of the greatest scene-stealers in the film industry a very happy birthday.