Mughal-E-Azam is in the news once more...44 years after its first screening. The colorized version of the movie has had audiences trooping theatres.The film was only partly in color when it was first released in August 1960. The production costs of the film were then rumored/estimated to be around Rs. 1 crore (10 million), at a time when a movie could be made at about 1/10th of that budget. Grandeur was its producer K. Asif's strength. It felt real nice to be watching in a Multiplex a classic movie such as this, which perhaps my parents might have watched as kids in a theatre standing in a queue to buy tickets!! Most of the lead artists and the producer are dead and gone--yet the name of the movie is enough to attract crowds!
'A work of art' is the only phrase to describe this historical whose grand palaces-and-fountains look has an epic sweep. High drama is what it is all about--backed by powerful dialgoues; mostly in chaste Urdu(much of it seriously went over my head!), lyrical beauty and musical excellence of Naushad. Add to this the presence of the ravishingly beautiful and evergreen Madhubala with the stunningly powerful performance of Prithivraj kapoor--the movie becomes little short of an epic! The story is based on the all too popular love story of Prince Salim and the Mughal Court danseuse Anarkali. The tenderness of the whole relationship; the innocence therein, the use of such media as a lotus floated over a stream of water to communicate love-letters---all this is the world of Instant messages, SMS-es and e-mails, where the hero or heroine is supposed to scream from atop roof tops or gyrate in the middle of traffic to proclaim their love for the other:-) What a welcome change this was!
K Asif's mastery over the medium is evident in the tense sequence where Akbar thunders into Salim's chambers and catches him with Anarkali. The director refrains from employing dialogue here. Anarkali faints in Salim's arms. In doing so, she breaks his string of pearls. The sound shatters the ominous silence. This has a far more devastating effect than any heated exchange!! And Akbar walks away in a huff!
The end is however poignant...after becoming Salim's 'wife' for one night, Anarkali surrenders after ensuring that her loved one slips into unconsciousness. Madhubala's stone-like countenance by this time is really disturbing. We wondered how, if the story was true, did Salim manage to get up the next morning to realise his beloved was no more and still reconcile with his father who had brought this misery on him!? How did he manage to maintain his calm? how did he end up becoming Emperor Jahangir and marry Noor jahan; whom history books say he loved more than his life:-)? Strange! Lot of googling on the life and times of Anarkali yielded precious little. The story of this unfortunate court dancer, if true, has been lost to posterity as much as she was lost to the world, since everyone thought she was buried in the wall. But the movie explains that Akbar actually took pity on her and ensured she escaped from a secret exit and lived a life of incognito ever after...how come she never managed to meet Salim later? how come she didnt reappear when Akbar died? Interesting questions--to which history has no answer!
All said and done, a thoroughly enjoyable experience; though the poignancy with which the film closed out on Anarkali's fate and the blankness on her face left me a bit depressed for a while! The haunting tunes of "Mohe panghat pe nanda lal chhed gayo re" and the legendary "Pyaar Kiya tho darna kya"--both by the nightingale of Indian cinema Lata Mangeshkar and the awesome thumris by Ustad Bade Ghulam ali khan--'Shubh din aayo" and "Prem jogan ban gayi" are still ringing in my ears.....