May 8 2011
Back in 1951, Life Magazine photographer James Burke made interesting studies of several “Movie Queens” of India. They were shown in sarees and casual clothes, swimsuits and skirts, in their homes or at the beach. Burke shot them mostly in black and white, but a few images were done in color. The most beautiful actress – and the most famous – was Madhubala, seen in a velvet choli and modern saree of that era. The print fabric has no borders, and from a distance the interlocking leaves create a striking graphic design. Given the time period, the lightweight material could be one of the new synthetics like nylon rather than silk. Even today the red, black and white colour combination is a classic that designers use again and again.
The lovely Madhubala was only 18 when photographed for Life Magazine; fair of face and form (as they used to say) and happily not wearing heavy makeup. She came from a conservative Muslim family and was quite a contrast from another actress Burke visited, one who played the trashy vamp and shall remain nameless in my post! Sadly, Madhubala died only weeks after her 36th birthday, from a severe heart condition she had battled while making numerous movies such as Mr. & Mrs. ’55 and Mughal-e-Azam.