The camera captures a tree in a garden. Idyllic music wafting in the background. Suddenly, an electric discharge brings Mumtaz on screen and the fire is lit. She pirouettes to the dance number of the season, the hero looks on lasciviously and another moment is captured forever.
It isn’t often that one would recall any actor with the kind of energy that one would associate with Mumtaz. She remains a hot favourite and for reasons that only a young boy growing up in Masala Mumbai can vouch for. And it’s all about sizzling looks, electric attitude and a hell of a lot of energy.
Who can forget her teeny weenie role in Do Raaste, the movie that inarguably shot her to stardom from the periphery of public awareness? Or the memorable Khilona, which won her the Filmfare Award? Add her jiggling dances in Brahmachari, Apna Desh, Jheel Ke Us Paar. And you have a lot to talk about.
Her initial endeavours utilised her sex appeal to the maximum. Before hitting stardom, she excelled in vamp-cum-item girl roles. The drooly Yeh hai reshmi from Mere Sanam, and Aye dushman jaan from Patthar Ke Sanam would be clear evidence. Throw in serial roles as Dara Singh’s leading lady in the ’60s kitsch action flicks and you have a career that spans over a 100 films in slightly over a decade.
And she also gave in some super duper performances when the directors gave her the opportunity; Tere Mere Sapne, Aaina, Roop Tera Mastana, and Aap Ki Kasam are some cases in point. Her clothes pioneered an entire fashion awakening; the Mumtaz cut stood out for its difference and even recently made a comeback yet again in all its retro glory.
Like the Joan Collins soap operas, Mumtaz’s life too had enough lather. Starting off as a child actor, graduating to playing the heroine’s friend and villain's moll, moving on to Z-grade stunt movies, Mumu did it all. Until she found box office nirvana in the last four years of her career. Heroes who shunned her, were now making a beeline for this queen bee. But Mumtaz knew it was time to move on.
Her songs like Aaj kal tere mere pyaar (Brahmachari), Do ghoont mujhe bhi pila de (Jheel Ke Us Paar), Oh maajhi (Bandhe Haath), Duniya mein (Apna Desh), Bindiya chamkegi (Do Raaste), and Gore rang pe (Roti) made her the ultimate masala queen for me. Her zingy chemistry with Rajesh Khanna sent the adrenaline racing. The fabulous Rekha maintains that she aped Mumtaz’s mannerisms at the beginning of her career and, I suspect, so did Sridevi.
However, like all good stories go, Mumtaz’s screen life met with a sweet end. At 26, she threw it all away (except for a couple of quick pit-stop comebacks) for marital bliss, and left us wondering as to how much electricity would have filled our screens and our hearts; how much energy would have shared space with the heroes, had she stayed on.
A few years ago, she battled cancer and emerged triumphant. She was also seen in the tabloids when daughter Natasha married actor Fardeen Khan.
Like the spicy stories about her life that enthralled us as much as her spicy appearances on screen did, Mumtaz leaves us with a lot to remember. And it wasn’t just about a pretty face.
Jitesh Pillaai in Filmfare, September 4, 2008