Exclusive interview: An actor is expected to look beautiful even in death, says Mumtaz

As candid as ever, veteran Mumtaz gets chatting in a Pinkvilla exclusive on heartbreak, marriage, infidelity and of course the pros and cons of superstardom.

Updated on May 18, 2022   |  09:48 AM IST  |  730.9K
Exclusive interview: An actor is expected to look beautiful even in death, says Mumtaz
Exclusive interview: An actor is expected to look beautiful even in death, says Mumtaz

'Never give up’ - these three words define Mumtaz’s trippy trek to stardom. The pug nose and the luscious pout, now dubbed as ‘exotic’, once squashed her chances to be an indigenous heroine. But she never gave up. The stunt siren of Dara Singh’s actioners, she swayed to the elite club armoured with ambition, even though she had to decline an amorous Shammi Kapoor. The peak came when she partnered Rajesh Khanna’s phenomenal rise to superstardom, playing the yin to his yang.

When her hennaed hands waved goodbye to showbiz, the focus was homing in with an equally smitten Mayur Madhvani. Her difficult pregnancies, his extramarital detour, her own momentary deviation, her appointment with cancer… through all trials, Mumtaz and Mayur never gave up on love or each other. "Mumtaz was in the Marilyn Monroe-mould - every man’s fantasy… every man she met, lusted after her," once wrote author Shobha De. But for Mumtaz, her ‘Miyan’ Mayur remains her ‘magnificent obsession’.

Mumtaz may live life queen-size, a castle in every continent. But each time she visits India, she’s not allowed to live down her starry legacy. For Mumtaz, the mantra has always been ‘never give up’. As a sweet rejoinder, her fans and admirers too never want to give up on her… Over to the star for all seasons…

Read Pinkvilla's exclusive interview excerpts with Mumtaz:

Looking back, what do you regard as the key factor behind your success?

I never believed I was pretty. Honestly, my family didn’t find me good-looking. Rather, they considered my sister Malika to be beautiful. But I am a person, who never gives up. So, I kept working hard, made my way and reached this far.

Mehmood’s recommendation supposedly is responsible for the switch in your career from being a stunt actor to a leading lady…

People like Mehmood saab are rare. I was young when I paired with him in Sehra (1963) and Kaajal (1965). Generally, people don’t recommend you to anyone else. They fear their own pairing can get affected. Few people cut their own hand to give it to others. But Mehmood saab had that generosity. He took the reels of my films to RK Studio and showed it to Yusuf saab (Dilip Kumar), who was playing a double role in Ram Aur Shyam. Mehmood saab urged Yusuf saab to team up with me in the film, which also featured Waheedaji (Rehman). Yusuf saab agreed and I never looked back after that. From being known as a stunt heroine with over a dozen films with Dara Singhji (including Tarzan Comes To Delhi, Sikandar-E-Azam, Rustom-E-Hind and Daku Mangal Singh between 1964-68), I started pairing up with other lead actors.


The track 'Aaj Kal Tere Mere Pyaar Ke Charche' with Shammi Kapoor in Brahmachari (1968) won you immense popularity…

I was around 15-16 then. I was nervous as it was a prestigious banner (G.P. Sippy’s) with a famous director (Bhappi Sonie) and star (Shammi Kapoor). But I wanted to move forward in life. So, I worked hard and gave it my best shot. By God’s grace, I was lucky, where it came to songs. I just had one dance number with Shammiji. It was my muqaddar that Aaj kal tere mere… turned out to be such a huge hit.  

Either you have the lachak (rhythm) to move or you don’t. Dhakka maar kar aap karwa sakte ho, but what’s natural is natural. The orange saree, designed by the late Bhanu Athaiyaji, came to be called the ‘Mumtaz saree’. Then on, most films had me in an orange saree. More noticeable being in the songs Bindiya chamkegi (Do Raaste 1969) and Jai Jai Shiv Shankar (Aap Ki Kasam 1974). However, white is my favourite colour.

Were you upset when your early romance with Shammi Kapoor reached a dead end?

Yes, of course. I loved him tremendously. I believe Shammiji also loved me a lot. I felt sad that I couldn’t marry him. I was only around 17. He was 18 years older than me. It was too early for me to get married. Mujhe kucch banna tha. We separated with understanding. He didn’t do anything to leave a khalish (ache) in my heart. He was very sweet and caring towards me. But you can’t fight destiny. Honestly, had I got married, it wouldn’t have worked. Because I’d have always held a regret in my heart. I wanted to act. I wanted to achieve something. The Kapoor family was strict about their bahus not working in films. Nevertheless, Shammiji married such a wonderful lady, a beautiful person. Neila Deviji’s such a sweetheart. She suited him perfectly and handled him so well.

Chander Vohra’s Khilona (1970) changed people’s perception about you…

I was never offered such a serious role before (a courtesan pretends to be a mentally disturbed man’s wife). Generally, I played tomboy roles. I’m thankful to producer L.V. Prasadji, who believed I’d be able to do justice to the role. I worked hard so as not to let him down. Sanjeevji (Kumar) was a great actor and a simple human being. Sadly, he went away too soon.


Any other performance that makes you feel proud?

I believe I should have got the Filmfare Award for Vijay Anand’s Tere Mere Sapne (1971). The character (of a devoted wife, who grows disillusioned with her materialistic doctor husband), had layers. As an actor it was challenging. In Goldie, we lost one of our finest directors. The picturisation of Jeevan Ki Bagiya was so tight and aesthetic. I wore sarees throughout the film. Being tall, sarees suit me best.

Rajesh Khanna and you made a blockbuster team with around 10 films. What was the secret of your hit pairing?

None of my films with Kaka flopped (from Do Raaste to Prem Kahani between 1969-1975). We didn’t give a single dud. Shayad hamare sitare milte the. We were lucky for each other. Otherwise, Kaka was a fine actor, who’d acted with so many beautiful heroines and had great songs filmed on him. But every single film of mine with him was a hit. It has to be luck.

Reportedly, Rajesh was upset when you got married and even cried at the end of the screen partnership…

People say so though I wasn’t here. Kaka was too proud a man to say it on my face. But people close to him told me that when I got married and left India, Kaka said, “I have lost my right hand!” Apparently, he missed me a lot because we clicked so well and made such a great pair. I visited him when he was unwell. Anju (Mahendroo) was there. Dimple (Kapadia) was there too. The family looked after Kaka extremely well. Even I miss him. When I happen to watch him on TV, I wonder kyun itni jaldi chale gaye.

Feroz Khan’s Apradh (1972) unleashed your glamour. How conscious were you when you shot the bikini scene?

I was reluctant to wear the bikini. But Feroz Khan saab convinced me that if it didn’t look good on screen, he’d delete the scene. You see, I’ve always had a complex about my weighty thighs. I feared I’d look fat on screen. As an actress, I aimed for perfection. You cannot appear ungainly on screen.


Were you obsessive about maintaining your figure?

Irani hoon! I had a voluptuous figure. I was never too slim. I was heavy everywhere. I had to control my weight. A woman should appear proportionate. I didn’t want to be called fat.

Are you still conscious about your looks and fitness?

Along with being an actor comes the challenge of always looking your best. (Laughs) An actor is expected to look beautiful even in death. Janaaza bhi beautiful lagna chahiye! This is the truth. But I like to live normally. I enjoy being a housewife and I go shopping for vegetables, fruits… I want to experience everything.

A casual picture taken unawares, in which you may not appear so nice, can go viral. For instance, around 20 years ago when I was undergoing cancer treatment, I had bloated. That ‘bloated’ picture did the rounds for years. I got remarks like, “Mumtaz khatam ho gayi hai… Kya thi aur kya ho gayi hai!”

On 31 July, I will be 75. I could have lied about my age but I didn’t. I guess, for 75 I’ve maintained myself pretty well. But I never come across comments saying, ‘Wow at this age she still appears fit!’ (Smiles) I request my critics that when I appear good, please don’t hesitate to say so.

Your take on Botox and cosmetology?

Botox, plastic surgery or anything else that enhances your appearance is not wrong. At the end of the day, you have to look beautiful. A wow face, a wow figure… how you maintain that is your choice.

Apparently after you quit, actresses were asked to pout and simulate your kind of sex-appeal?

I have inherited my so-called ‘sex-appeal’ and looks from my Irani family. It’s not something that can be sketched with a pen. My grandmother, my mother, my aunt, were all beautiful women. I carry those genes. Nothing great about it. (Laughs) I don’t know what the ‘pout’ is all about. I’ve been born with those lips. It was not something that I deliberately acquired. When I began acting, I was told my nose is too small. That I didn’t look Indian. That I couldn’t be cast as a heroine. But as I say never give up!


Your superstardom must have triggered jealousy in your female contemporaries…

They would know better whether they were jealous of me or not. I don’t wish to say anything bad about anyone. I leave it to you to understand. Basically, I was tomboyish and got along better with the men than women. Even today I get along more with men. They seem to be fond of me.

Marriage with Mayur Madhvani was a different ballgame. Did you encounter challenges?

Not really. I knew the Madhvanis since I was 10. I knew the family in and out. I’d even been to Uganda and stayed with them. It was like moving from one home to another. The difficult period was when I underwent three-four miscarriages. I have to thank Dr Sonawala, who’s been my doctor throughout. He looked after me devotedly. I was asked to lie flat on the bed for the entire term. I could only walk up to the washroom. I’d to take hormone injections every morning and tablets in the evening. I conceived Natasha (married to actor Fardeen Khan) in Uganda. While carrying Tanya, I was stuck here in my house in Cuffe Parade. I was not allowed to travel. But because I didn’t give up, I was blessed with wonderful daughters. In the same way, I didn’t give up on my marriage… Isiliye mera miyan bhi mera hi hai. He loves me so much.

Long ago, there were rumours about Mayur being involved with another woman?

It’s quite common for men to have affairs through the backdoor. My husband didn’t have any… except one. I respect him because he himself told me about it. He confided that he’d developed a liking for a girl in the US. He was born and brought up in America. But he insisted, “Mumtaz, you’re my wife. I love you and will always love you. I will never leave you.” The problem arose because I was a little ziddi (stubborn), thodi nakchadi (difficult) thi. But today, it’s a forgotten story. Maaf toh zindagi mein ek baar Khuda bhi karta hai. I live like a queen. My husband has never kept me wanting for anything.

Apparently, you too got into a brief relationship after that…


Honestly, after the episode, I began feeling lonely. Main thodi rubabwali (headstrong) thi. I felt hurt. So, I flew down to India. When you’re amidst thorns and someone comes along with a rose, you do get carried away. But it was nothing serious. Just a temporary phase, which ended soon. I’m lucky that my husband still loves me so much. Even if I fall a bit sick, hangama khada ho jaata hai.

You once mentioned that you owe your second life (after battling cancer) to your husband Mayur…

Had it not been for my husband, I’d have been dead by now. Mine was a slow growing cancer. The doctors said that they had removed what was necessary. But Mayur’s well-read and well-informed. He insisted that they check the lymph nodes. He asked me, “Do you mind going through another surgery for my sake? I want my children to have their mother. I will love you even if you have no hair.” He said I’d look cute like the bald doll (Truly Me doll) popular in America. I went through another surgery and out of the 22 lymph nodes, they found some growth in one. Years ago, the treatment was harsher. I used to turn blue after the therapy. I had to go through six chemotherapies and 35 radiations. That was the time I bloated. I had to eat well to fight the side effects of chemo. I began my weight loss journey much later.

Did the illness bring you closer to your husband?

My husband has always been close to me. He never ever left me. I was the ziddi one. I used to fight with him. I was possessive. But it’s now a forgotten story. So why go back? My husband is my husband. He loves his daughters and granddaughters so much.

Any regrets in life?

When my parents (Sardar Begum Habib Agha and Abdul Sameed Askari) divorced, I was around three. I lived with my mother, grandma and aunt. My father disappeared. So as a child I used to miss him. Otherwise, I have no regrets. I’m someone, who went all out to fulfil my dreams. You make your own life. I call God my ‘boyfriend’. He saved me from death, he gave me a loving miyan, children. Kabhi dar lagta hai nazar naa lage. My ‘boyfriend’ has given me more than I asked or worked for. My life’s been an open book. The good and the bad co-exist. Even Shahenshahs don’t get it good all the time.


Do you miss the limelight?

With great humility I say, I am in the limelight even today. I am the same old Mumtaz. Only thing is I am not seen on screen. My friends send me clips of my dances, songs and scenes. I am recognised on the streets. People keep asking me for pictures and I never refuse them. I respect them.

An unforgettable fan experience?

Before I got married, I lived in a bungalow with my sister. One day a lady called my sister and said, “My son, who’s around 18, is mentally challenged. He only recognises me and Mumtaz. He reacts when he sees her photograph. Will Mumtaz meet him for a few minutes please?”

I said of course yes. The mother cautioned me saying that on seeing me the teen would react strongly. But there was no need to fear. As predicted, on seeing me he jumped with excitement. He wanted to hug me, touch me, feel my teeth... He made all types of sounds. I did get a bit scared. Then after five minutes, I held his hand and asked him to sit on the sofa. Obediently, he sat down. I offered him a snack, which he refused. When I offered him what I was eating, he took it and ate my jhootha. Bahut khush ho gaya. That incident left me humbled.

Your down-to-earth demeanour has remained unchanged through the years…

I believe in staying grounded. It’s because of my fans and audiences that I reached so far. I accept compliments with gratitude. I want to stay connected with my fans. I value all the love and attention showered on me even today. I can never be distant and aloof. Wealth and status can be acquired by many. But few in the industry enjoy everlasting affection. At the end of the day, it’s your nature which counts. The ability to give as much as you receive.

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Feb 09, 2023