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Madhubala 'rare shoot - photographer?' Mystery. Solved!

Sometime back internet got flooded with these stunning and candid photographs of Madhubala (search the net in case you didn't get them somehow). If earlier one thought Madhubala was a beautiful actress of yesteryears, everyone said it, you believed it, and now suddenly, even without asking for it you had this maddening proof of her beauty. Madhubala looks brimming with life in these images, enchanting, yet human and not a screen goddess, a beauty more basic and all the more powerful.

Who captured this beauty on camera? When? Which year?

Everyone was clueless even as these shared and uploaded and emailed and liked it on social networks.

Queries were raised but no answer. This was another quest.

The photographs were shot in November 1941 by famous photographer James Burke for Life Magazine. The answer is so obvious that I now believe that whoever first shared these photographs, deliberately, just for fun, left out the name of the photographer.

How I arrived at the name? Sometime back, even before the 'Madhubala rare pics' flooded the net, while looking for the famous Time magazine cover with Parveen Babi , at google books I came across a stunning color photograph of an Indian actress in 31 Dec 1951 issue of LIFE about Asia.
Begum Para in Life Magazine

The actress was Begum Para. Film journals of  late 40s and early 50s were full of 'bust' talk about her. She was supposed to be 'sex-symbol' of her era. The caption to that photograph (above) mentioned how she 'drew favorable comparisons with Jane Russell' of The Outlaw fame. I thought of doing a post about it and then forgot.

Recently, when I again came across those rare B&W photographs of Madhubala, I noticed that this collection actually had one color photograph of Madhubala too, and obliviously from the same shoot.

Madhubala, Color
Something about this photograph stuck me, it was the colors, that reminded me of Begum Para. And oddly enough, two years ago I had created something comparing Madhubala and Jane Russell. I wondered who took that particular photograph of Begum Para. James Burke was the photographer, the magazine actually had a clear and precise way of crediting photographers, and that too in the first few pages it self.

I now had a name to look for. And I had a publication to look in. A publication whose almost entire archive is available online.

I Image searched Google with James+Burke+source:life and one of the results was:

A Match. November 1941. James Burke. But the image was used in 1951 issue. Difference of a good decade. The caption to that image mentioned that Para was 24 at that time. Born in around 1927 (figured out via: Outlook article about her move to Pakistan and then back to India mentions that in 1974 she was 47) indeed in 1951 she would have been 24. So the photograph was taken in 1951. The photograph did not directly give out her name, it was simply titled 'Movie Queens'

Among of the result images for Movie+Queens+source:life, I found a treasure chest (no pun intended), and I got some of the images from that rare Madhubala shoot. Some like:

Madhubala in front of mirror.
But the date was wrong. The photographs are in all probability from November 1951. It was early 1950s and the country was in grip of Begum Para fever.

Begum Para by James Burke, 1951. So this is what they were writing about.
Apart from some shocking and dare-bare photographs of Begum Para, there are some incredible photographs of other movie queens of the time like Mohana Cabral, Nalini Jaywant and Kamini Kaushal. The entire collection is almost unimaginable India.

You can check out the entire collection here:

A little over a decade later, Burke returned in 1963 to capture the reigning movie queen of India at that time: Asha Parekh.
Asha Parekh by James Burke, 1963
In a decade, it seems India had again changed. Things seem more familiar in there photographs. Maybe the great photographer was capturing the contrasts of experience this time.

You can check out the 1963 collection here:



  1. Madhubala was not size zero but strikingly pretty

  2. It is truly an unimaginable India.. Something lost in the pages of history. Something no one would believe ever happened. We can't sauy now that Zeenat and Parveen were the first bold actresses of Indian cinema !

    Great work again Vinayak.. You are full of surprises :)

  3. Absolutely stunning!!! God doesn't make women like them anymore!
    Thank you Vinayak. Your blog is a mug of hot cocoa, warm and comforting...bringing back beautiful memories.

  4. Saw this after Srini tweeted. Absolutely stunning!!

  5. Thanks everyone for all the comments, shares, re-shares, tweets and re-tweets!

  6. Lovely Vinayak, just GORGEOUS :) Thanks for sharing.

  7. Great Work Vinayak... and Very Nicely Done :) Now this is wat we know Vinayak for. Creativity and Lots of Brains.

  8. memsaab,
    the magazines you sent me were a great help in rekindling my interest in Begum Para.Thanks!


  9. It was a great sharing indeed,i got lost in the enchanting beauty of Madhubala which arises some divine attractive feelings sans any sort of lust.
    Thanks Vinayak Bhai for unearthing this treasure.

  10. @Comic World,
    thanks for the comment Zaheer Bhai!

  11. Just came upon this blog and loving it, particularly this series of photos and your photo research. Thank you for sharing. Stunning pics!

  12. Okay, this is eerily co-incidental. Last few days, I have been living looking through these photographs, not on the Google archive but on a blog called Oldindianphotographs. There are many stunning photographs there, which include all the ones you have listed including Mohana Cabral and everyone. The write too has written the same things, mentioned the photographer as James Burke and stated that the photos were taken in 1951 indeed and not in 1941. All the shoots are stunning!

  13. I believe they did give credit to me on one of their posts on this film series. And thanks for all the comments!

  14. vinayak sir please tell something about malvika roy, the english news reader on doordarshan, any pic of her, pls, i am a big fan of her

  15. i have been searching for her from a long time but unable to find, please help me

  16. So finally that woman in black blouse and saree, the color photo, is Madhubala or Begum Para?

  17. Hi vinayak!! Thanks for sharing these pictures.. So I am not sure which issue of life magazine will I find madhubala'a picture?? Can you please reply if you know about it.


    1. Madhubala's pic didn't appear in the magazine but Begum Para's did.

  18. I knew James Burke when I was growing up in Delhi in the early 50ies. His son Jimmy was my best friend.

  19. I love Madhubala as she is the most beautiful girl on the earth of 1900 as well as in today's world.She is one of her own kind


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