Baby Madhuri was the younger sister of Meena Kumari and the youngest of three daughters of Ali Bux and Iqbal Begum. Born with the name of Mahleka Bano and known first as Baby Madhuri and then Madhu, she started working in films to support her family going through a financial crisis. She worked in films as a child artiste and films like Muqabla (1942), Bachpan (1945), Nai Maa (1946), and Sandesa (1940). She had prolific dancing skills and earned herself the name of Shirley Temple after the famous Hollywood child actor of 1930s.
Her debut film was Hind Pictures’ Sandesa (1940) which was centered around the theme of Hindu-Muslim communal harmony. The narrative revolves around the unwavering friendship of Suresh, Indira, and Rafique, transcending religious divides. Rafique's sacrifice for their love, despite baseless suspicions, culminates tragically in a riot. His death unites warring families, emphasizing unity over religious differences in a poignant call for harmony. This film witnessed equal appreciation from the crowds, the critics, and surprisingly from the censor board. The censor board was ecstatic after watching the film and highly praised the director-actor Nazir for his brave and successful attempt at spreading communal harmony. Along with communal harmony, the film was also directed at raising the patriotic feeling towards India and independence. Baby Madhuri’s role in the film was highly praised. A review called her performance charming and enviable by adult actors.
After the success of Sandesa (1940), Madhuri did two films with each of the Wadia brothers after they split their business. In 1942, she acted in Muqabla made under the banner of Homi Wadia’s Basant Pictures and directed by Nanabhai Bhatt and Babubhai Mistry. Muqabla was Wadia’s departure from the stunt films into the genre of social. Baby Madhuri acted in the double role of twin sisters Madhuri and Rani at a young age. The role of adult twins was played by Fearless Nadia. The character actor Yakub also acted in Muqabla. Muqabla had the first appearance of a double role on the screen with the help of masterful skills of Babubhai Mistry. After Muqabla, Baby Madhuri acted in Parshwanath Yeshwant Altekar’s devotional films, Mahatma Vidur (1943). Here, Madhu acted alongside Durga Khote.
Baby Madhuri’s major work is considered to be Bachpan (1945). Bachpan was directed by Homi Wadia and tells a tale about the reformations a child can bring in the life of an old man who has given into cynicism. Madhuri, played by Baby Madhuri, brings a new outlook into the life of Bhairav, played by Mazhar Khan, through her innocence and playful ways. Bachpan also featured Baby Shakuntala and young Sashi Kapoor. Baby Madhuri also played the character named Madhuri in J B H Wadia’s Vishvas (1943). In Vishvas, Baby Madhuri’s character, Madhuri finds herself intertwined in a complex web of relationships. Unaware of her true parentage, she encounters her estranged father, Niranjan, played by Surendra Nath, in an insane state. Her innate innocence and intelligence spark unexpected connections within her fractured family. Despite confusion and misunderstandings, Madhuri navigates the turmoil, orchestrating events that ultimately reunite her family, bringing resolution and harmony to their tangled lives. Her role was highly lauded in this film. Madhu also sang songs Aurat Ek Kahani Maiyya and Bhojan Ke Nazare Hain in Vishvas (1943).
Madhuri next acted in Prakash Picture’s Nai Maa (1946), directed by K J Parmar. Nai Maa is a melodrama which revolves around the social stigma around the relationship of children and stepmother. The film subverts the traditional image of a cruel stepmother. The character of the child is played by Baby Madhuri and the mother is played by famous actor Ranjana. Jeevan, Rajkumari Shukla, and Rajkumar also played crucial supporting roles in the film.
Madhuri acted in one film alongside her sister Meena Kumari, Kinare Kinare (1963). Kinare Kinare is centered on Kanwal (Dev Anand), a virtuous graduate who saves a girl from assault but becomes embroiled in a murder. Seeking refuge in a picturesque village, he falls for Neeloo (Meena Kumari), but his past haunts him amidst jealousy and intrigue. His noble deeds, hidden identity, and a web of love, jealousy, and justice drive the tale toward a captivating resolution. Madhu also acted in Mandi Burman’s Manzil (1960) where she acted with stars like Dev Anand, Nutan, and her husband, Mehmood.
She married actor Mehmood Ali in 1953 and had four kids with him. Singer actor Lucky Ali is one of the children. Their marriage broke apart in 1967. Afterwards, Madhu married Kishore Sharma who was the lawyer of Meena Kumari when she was going through the divorce with Kamal Amrohi. Kishore and Madhu helped Meena Kumari go through her toughest time. Madhu had been a loyal and supportive sister for Meena Kumari from childhood to helping Meena Kumari secretly marry Kamal Amrohi to support her through their separation.
Madhu passed away on January 23, 1993 in Mumbai.
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Mehta, Vinod. Meena Kumari. India: HarperCollins Publishers India, 2013.
Times of India Archives (Proquest)
Rajadhyaksha, Ashish, and Paul Willemen, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian cinema. Routledge, 2014.