Where do I begin to pick my favourites from the opulent oeuvre of the legendary actress Mumtaz, the classic blend of substance and oomph. She blew the screen apart as a blind girl in Jheel Ke Uss Paar with as much aplomb as the sizzling moll in Apradh. She danced with as much abandon to the folksy thump of Jai Jai Shiv Shankar
- Khilona (1970)
In her breakthrough performance, Mumtaz essays a prostitute who is hired to play a wife to a psychologically damaged man (Sanjeev Kumar). Mumtaz was every inch the domesticated seductress. Her performance in the climactic sequence where she is being dragged out from the house that she had adopted as her own, gives me goosebumps each time. I’ve seen the mighty Jayalalitha in the Tamil original (
Engirundho Vandhaal). Mumtaz is every bit as good, if not better. Incidentally, the role was first offered to Sharmila Tagore. Mumtaz won her first Filmfare award for Best Actress.
- Aadmi Aur Insaan (1969)
While Saira Banu played the goody goody butter-won’t-melt-in-
the-mouth heroine, Mumtaz was the one who had all the fun as the clubbing, outgoing and dancing Rita. It is said that her role was extended considerably because of her alleged closeness to director Yash Chopra. I say, Mr Chopra had good taste. Watch the diva slither and slide to Asha Bhosle’s Zindagi ittefaq hai, kal bhi ittefaq thi aaj bhi ittefaq hai. Righton!
- Tere Mere Sapne (1971)
Another Sharmila Tagore reject that Mumtaz took over and made it her own. Tere Mere Sapne, based on the classic A J Cronin novel The Citadel, is about a doctor who loses his way and needs to be healed. As his disillusioned wife, Mumtaz was beyond brilliant. Aided by the genius of director Vijay Anand, Mumtaz zoomed to the zenith of the popularity charts emoting to immortal songs like Jeevan Ki Bagia Mehkegi and Hey Maine Kasam
Li as though she had been singing these enchanting melodies all her life. Incidentally Dev Anand who once rejected Mumtaz for her pug nose, did two films in 1971 with her. Der aaaye durust aaye.
- Jheel Ke Uss Paar (1973)
Playing the blind Neelu in this god-awful film directed by Bhappi Soni(the Indra Kumar of the 1970s), Mumtaz soared away above the sordid script, dancing and singing R D Burman’s edge-less (and I do mean edge-less) numbers as though to the tenor born. There are two poignant Lata Mangeshkar
numbers where Mumtaz’s emotive powers were heartbreaking. She sings Babul Tere Bagha Na Main Bulbul to her dying father (Pran). In another song, Keh Rahe Hain Yeh Aansoon Baraste Hue, she is mocked and ridiculed at a party for being poor and blind. Heartbreaking!
- Aaina (1975)
Mumtaz’s career’s finest performance came at the end when she got married and suddenly quit acting. In K Balachachander’s hugely underrated film she played the eldest of five children in an impoverished Brahmin family who must go out and earn a living to feed her family. Turning to prostitution, Mumtaz’s character Shalini forgets herself as she becomes a money-making machine for her family. Bold, unconventional and tear-jerking, Mumtaz’s performance is monumental in this film. Hey Gorgeous Lady, there will never be another like you!