How have I not seen this yet? This film has lasted the ages.
My friend repeatedly asked me to watch his 3-hour long film to review it. I didn’t find the time until recently, and it was worth every second. I opted to watch the restored, colorized version from 2005, but I am told the grainy black-and-white does not disappoint either.
This is no ordinary film. It took the maestro about fourteen years to create it, but Karimuddin Asif (director/maker) with patience, constructed this melodramatic masterpiece that has been passed down generations [very few may disagree]. Still thoroughly relatable, the themes of yearning love, epic war and persisting obstructions of traditional family and honor are elegantly relayed. He didn’t live long enough to make more than 2 motion pictures [I wish he had], but Mughal-e-Azam, a film that is hailed as a cult classic in Bollywood, captures this remarkable director’s genius quite well.
Anarkali (Madhubala), a maid, is appointed at Emperor Akbar’s palace [Prithviraj Kapoor] by Sangtarash (M. Kumar), the royal sculptor. Sangtarash wants to create the perfect sculpture to welcome Prince Salim [Dilip Kumar] home after years at battle.
When Salim falls in love with the maid [Apparently, it was a disheartening thing to do at the time], it creates friction between his father’s wishes and his own. Salim then threatens to wage a war against Emperor Akbar, his father, if he refused to let him marry Anarkali. Does love win over authority?
A fun sideline: In reality, Salim did wage a war against Akbar to dethrone him, but it had near nothing to do with romance. In fact, there is even that Anarkali wasn’t a real person.
A visual delight
Every frame explodes with color and intricacies.
The tantalizing set design [which took an alleged six weeks to build] for each scene costs more than what it costs to make a major feature film today [including paying for cast]. So much so, that the producers refused to approve the budget to shoot the last 1/4 of the movie in color, when color film was introduced in India, because they had already spent too much. Regardless, we tip our hats to Art Dirctor, M.K. Syed.
Legendary actors, gather round
Be prepared for all the right dramatic dialogues and expressions to complement a strong plotline. A perfectionist at heart, K. Asif was renowned for being a very strict man on set, making actors retake shots for 15 hours straight, until he was completely satisfied.
Prithviraj Kapoor, being a well-respected senior in the industry, portrayed Akbar with royal grace and confidence, which, we’re quite sure, exuded from the real Emperor Akbar. His depth of knowledge and historical study was visible with every expression.
Dilip Kumar [a.k.a Muhammad Yusuf Khan], who is known as the ‘tragedy king’, was untouchable and elegant as Salim. Madhubala – oh, this gorgeous woman. I chastise myself for being oblivious [until I saw this film] that there were such ravishing actresses in the 60’s [Now, I know what the oldies are always on about]. I think no one could play the role of Anarkali any better with that iron-melting smile.
Durga Khote’s performance as Jodhabai was speckled with exaggeration and inflated drama. Ajit as Durjan Singh was more than perfect [known as ‘lion’ now].
For lovers of the old and new alike, the music will appease with the same affluence as that of the visuals. Twelve melodious songs, with singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Mohd Rafi. Again, classics.
All in all:
If you’re familiarizing yourself with Bollywood classics, this is where to start. Actor Aamir Khan once told Director Karan Johar [on his controversial television show, Koffee with Karan] that it is impossible to even think about rating or evaluating the mighty Mughal-E-Azam.
And I completely agree with him.