When Salim met Anarkali to make history

Every scene of this movie has a legend behind it, every dialogue carries the sharpness of a sword, every song touches your heart like the silken tresses of a maiden and every emotion still resonates in every love story that comes out of the stable of Bombay cinema till date. A strange mixture of fact and fiction gives birth to an immortal classic. It would perhaps be an understatement to say that Mughal-e-azam, which is celebrating its golden jubilee this year, was just that.
The story of Mughal-e-azam is similar to every second ‘boy meets girl’ love story of Hindi cinema.
Mughal-e-azam was planned in the late 1940s with Chandramohan, Sapru and Nargis. In 1947, the producer Shiraz Ali migrated to Pakistan. Besides, the lead artist Chandramohan passed away and K.Asif was left with Nargis and Sapru. The movie was re planned in the 1950s, now with a new star cast and a new producer Anarkali, in Shapoorji Pallonji, one of the richest Indians of the time. Prithviraj Kapoor and Madhubala were signed in. Dilip Kumar agreed after a lot of persuasion by the producer.
But in 1953, Filmistan’s Anarkali, based on the same story, turned out to be a huge hit. K.Asif remained stuck to his project, having faith in an alternative story-telling. Asif was obviously seeing the Mughal dream on an unimaginable scale. Finally the shooting took off after innumerable obstacles and the wheels were finally in motion. Tailors were employed from Delhi, , goldsmiths from Hyderabad worked on the jewellery, Kolhapuri craftsmen on the crowns, ironsmiths from Rajasthan gave shape to the terrifying weapons and the footwear was ordered from Agra. An era of history was being literally reconstructed for the audience. But the project was running way beyond the budget. Asif even shot the last few reels and a song in colour.
On August 5, 1960, when it was released, one lakh people were seen sleeping in the queues waiting for its ticket and the roads around Maratha Mandir in Bombay were clogged for weeks together. Coins rained on the screen as the songs were played and claps thundered as the dialogues seared the screen apart. Mughal-e-azam was declared an instant classic, becoming a legend in its own time.

Prithviraj Kapoor carried the regal bearing and charisma of Akbar with elan and it is impossible to think of Akbar with any other face. His long time theatre associate Durga Khote was cast as Jodha Bai and she went on to play the mother a zillion times, before Nirupa Roy took over the baton. Nigar Sultana as Bahar was the most refined vamp full of chutzpah and panache. Dilip Kumar was the most eligible bachelor in the nation at that time and he set hearts throbbing as the royal lover Salim. This was not his best performance but the movie was his biggest success. Some people are born to play a certain role in their life. Perhaps Madhubala was born to play Anarkali. She emoted with the movement of her eyelids, her tears conveying the deepest of pathos, her sweat-laden eyebrows shivering with fear, with her movements maintaining the balance between style and coquetry and her smile lighting the cinema hall like lightening in a dark sky. Sad it was that she remained bed-ridden after this movie till her tragic death at the age of 35 in 1969. Madhubala and Dilip Kumar had one of the most passionate affairs of the time and had parted ways by the time of the release. Their unmatched on-screen chemistry was a result of their off-screen tragedy. Murad, Ajit and Kumar provided a solid supporting cast.
What is ignored many a time is the fact that Mughal-e-azam is a deeply socialistic and secular movie. In its expression it was irreverent and in its presentation, it was tacit, cleverly placing a sculptor’s character to speak against the monarch. The dialogues, written by Kamal Amrohi, Ehsan Rizwi, Wajahat Mirza and Aman stand tall like shining towers. Mughal-e-azam sans its dialogues would have been like a body without bones. Wafting its way through the movie, they sear like swords in some scenes and caress our minds like a feather in some. They carry the fragrance of a rose in some while they reek of blood in the other.
M.K.Syed’s art direction remains unparalleled till date and a snapshot of the set of Sheesh Mahal created by him is a testimony to the fact. The battle scenes, shots with 2000 camels, 400 horses and 8000 soldiers, were shot with the resource borrowed from the Jaipur regiment of the Indian Army and till date remain the most elaborately shot battle scenes ever on the Indian cine screen. R.D.Mathur’s genius was behind every still of the movie looking like a classic painting.
If imitation is indeed the best form of flattery, then this one has got enough of it. Watch the opening scene of sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas and you will see a reenactment of Jodhabai’s joy at the arrival of Salim. Amitabh Bachchan’s frosty eyes giving a weak knees to Shahrukh and Kajol in Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham is a leaf from a pre-interval scene in Mughal-e-azam. A decade before Raju and Bobby decided to elope (Bobby– 1973), Salim and Anarkali attempted exactly the same. From Main Ne Pyar Kiya to Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Pakeezah to Shakti many a Hindi drama owes something to Mughal-e-azam.
But a strong pillar of this movie, to whom a lion’s share of the credit should go to, is the music director Naushad. Deeply researched, finely arranged and superbly delivered, every song of this movie makes us pine for a long lost era in the yellowing pages of cinema. For the song Ae mohabbat Zindabad, he used a record number of 100 singers! Who, but Naushad, could have convinced the nonpareil Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan to sing two songs at a total price of Rs. 50,000, given at a time when Lata and Rafi got Rs. 500 for a song! Shockingly, the Filmfare award that year was given to Shankar Jaikishan for Dil Apna aur Preet Parayi. Equally shocking was the fact that Madhubala failed to win an award for her bravura performance. Shakeel Badayuni, who formed a formidable team with Naushad in film after film, re-wrote Pyar Kiya toh Darna Kya over 100 times until he got it right. When Pandit Lachchu Maharaj, the choreographer, listened to the song Mohe Panghat Pe, he had tears in his eyes as his grandfather performed it before Nawab Wajid Ali Shah of Lucknow! But the origin of this song still remains a mystery though it is believed to have been written by Raghunath Brahmabhatt. Seeing the inability of Madhubala as a dancer, Maharaj got one of his disciples to perform the difficult Kathak steps in the movie, cleverly panned in long shots by R.D.Mathur.
But the real awards go to those who stand the test of time and whose legendary genius endures over time. Perhaps that was the reason why Mughal-e-azam recreated its magic when it was colourised and re-released worldwide in 2004. Old timers relieved the past and the young got to see the magic of the cinema of yore. Today, Mughal-e-azam stands tall in the annals of cinema, a mark of brilliance, hard-work, imagination and genius. Some movies try to make a mark and some create benchmarks. Mughal-e-azam is a textbook for those who seek to create a benchmark in the leaves of cinema.
(This article was published in The New Sunday Express)

3 thoughts on “When Salim met Anarkali to make history

Add yours

  1. The amount of (background) details you research and present in your blogs/articles on movies has always amazed me! It's almost like you lived and saw all this unfold before your eyes. And along with your style of 'story-telling', makes it quite something!

    Appreciation for those off-screen (as much as those on-screen) is definitely necessary, and you ensure it.

    Good job. Enjoyed reading this. 🙂


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