Mughal-e-Azam has everything in a movie that appeals to the quintessential millennial: Love, defiance, rebellion, tragedy. K Asif's magnum opus is as grand as it gets and 60 years after its release, can still be a captivating watch. The terrific performances by Prithiviraj Kapoor, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar breathed life into Akbar, Anarkali and Salim.
The director, quite literally, put his heart and soul into this movie, which was around 10 years in the making. K Asif directed only two movies in his life, this was his last but it made him a legend. And for a decade, the movie was all he lived for.
The music by Naushad and lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni can still make your heart sing, the dialogues are legendary, not despite but because they are so dramatic and the sheer grandeur takes us all back to an era of Indian history when people lived in castles, strolled around fountains and fought battles with elephants in iron armour.
The producers Shapoorji-Pallonji spared no expense and believed in K Asif's vision, investing a whopping ₹1.5 crore into the movie, making it the most expensive film in Indian cinema at that time. In 1960s, an average film budget was around ₹10-15 lakh. Mughal-e-Azam's budget would be equivalent to around ₹250 crore in present times.
Everything about Mughal-e-Azam is epic and larger than life. It is considered to be a textbook for cinema enthusiasts. At a time when we have learnt to appreciate movies and series made across the world, depicting different cultures and sensibilities, perhaps it's time to reflect on one of the greatest classics that the Indian film industry has ever produced. Here's why I think millennials MUST watch Mughal-e-Azam.
Salim and Anarkali's impossible romance is at the heart of this fable. A lovelorn prince who was banished to grow up on the battle field to keep him away from the luxuries and spoils of the royal palace, returns home a changed man to prove his worth to his emperor father... only to be struck with love at first sight. And who wouldn't fall in love with Anarkali, a courtesan who is both incredibly beautiful and very charming. Dilip Kumar and Madhubala's electrifying chemistry has truly immortalised Salim-Anarkali's tragic romance.
The iconic song Jab Pyaar Kiya toh Darna Kya wherein Anarkali declares her love for Salim right in front of the all-powerful emperor has taught generations of young couples that love knows no fear. And Salim literally goes to war with his father for the love of his life.
Watch out for the feather scene in the courtyard (which millennials know as the background of many memes). It is a cinematic treasure.
Prithviraj Kapoor as Shahenshah-e-Hind Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar
I refuse to believe that there can ever be another man who brings Akbar's character to life the way Prithviraj Kapoor did. The formidable walk of the emperor, the baritone, the intense and enraged eyes - Kapoor personified Akbar. After all, he is Mughal-e-Azam (the greatest Mughal). Right from the first scene to the last, Kapoor as Akbar captures your imagination. He makes you fall in love with the character who put a tragic end to the film's central romance. Keep an open mind and an Urdu dictionary by your side and just listen to Prithviraj Kapoor as Akbar talk the way only he can.
Watch out for the intense war of words between Akbar and Salim where he says, "Hum apne bete ke dhadakte hue dil ke liye, Hindustan ki takdeer nahi badal sakte."
The revolutionary spark:
Millenials love to rebel and there's plenty of rebellion in this movie. There's one particular character who shines, that of a sculptor Sangtarash who talks about dissent in a 16th century monarchy. Sangtarash represents the woes of the common folk in midst of all that royalty. Like every ideal artist, he stands up for what he believes to be right even in the face of death. He talks about love and freedom and about breaking the shackles of injustice. He's relevant and relatable even in 2020. You can't not love Sangtarash.
Watch out for the song 'Zindabad! Zindabad! Aye Mohabbat, Zindabad!' Sangtarash helps Salim and Anarkali while almost sparking a revolution at the gates of the palace.
War scenes and authenticity
We are a generation which has raved about the battle scenes in Game of Thrones (Battle of Bastards). Which is why, millenials need to appreciate the battle scene in Mughal-e-Azam which is pure cinematic excellence. K Asif got the then government's approval and shot the sequence with 2000 real soldiers, the Jaipur cavalry, 56 Regiment. Asif built a batallion of around 8000 troops with 400 horses and 2000 camels (camels were dropped from the final cut) and he made this possible 60 years ago with no CGI! The chains worn by Madhubala’s Anarkali in the prison were not fake. Both the director and the actress thought that it was needed to truly understand what it takes to break someone's spirit inside a prison cell and to portray Anarkali's pain and suffering.
K Asif left no stone unturned in recreating the grandeur of Mughal royalty. Clothes were stitched with real 'zardozi' embroidery, goldsmiths from Hyderabad made the jewellery, artisans from Kolhapur made the crowns and Rajasthani blacksmiths created the shields, swords and armoury. The magnificent sets and the costumes were modelled very close to the chronicled reality.
Watch out for the 'Sheesh Mahal' in the song 'Pyaar kiya toh darna kya'. K Asif practically created his own Sheesh Mahal, a set which was 30 ft high, 80 ft wide and 150 ft long, created with lakhs of small convex mirrors by craftsmen from Ferozabad. This set was open for public viewing for 3 years at Mohan studio. The shoot itself remains a lesson in cinematography even today with all the technological advancement that we have, to capture Madhubala's dance in thousands of mirrors without the camera reflecting in even a single frame.
Hindi movie stereotypes that you'll hate to love
Durga Khote as Maharani Jodha, the typical Indian mother who loves her son unconditionally. This may be too much melo-drama for some young people. But don't give up on the movie on account of this. There's something to love here, as well. There's a scene where Maharani Jodha stands up to her emperor husband demanding that her son be freed. Akbar says, "Aap maa hain, sirf maa." Drum rolls... Jodha replies, "Aur aap shahenshah hain, sirf shahenshah."
Nigar Sultana as Bahaar, the supposed vamp if we're speaking strictly in Hindi film terminology. She's the head courtesan who's fiercely ambitious. Her only wish is to be the queen. She feels she should be the love of Salim's life. In any other movie, I would despise this character. But Nigar Sulatana's Bahaar makes it very difficult to not like her. There's a qawaali face-off between Bahar and Anarkali, judged by Salim. Anarkali sings about love in all it's tragic glory. Bahaar is the one who makes some seriously valid points against love and ultimately wins the contest. Millenials would identify with her school of thought. And she's got immensely beautiful eyes!
Ajit as Durjan Singh, Salim's best friend and Raja Man Singh's son. He's the simple guy who is fiercely loyal to his prince, helps him in everything from exchanging love letters with Anarkali to fighting besides him on the battle field. You will love him when he says, "Rajput jaan haarta hai par vachan nahi haarta."
The film is long and there can be some parts where millenials may wish to fast-forward. It is after all, a 60-year-old movie. But if you patiently invest your time and emotions in this eternal romance between two star-crossed lovers, you'll feel their pain. It will move you, it will stay with you. What makes a movie great is whether it connects to your emotions and this one surely does.
My father wrote a book on the making of this movie, so I grew up watching it. But I clearly remember, when the coloured version of the movie was released, there was a young couple seated next to me who couldn't stop crying during the climax.
Watch out for the song 'Khuda nigehban ho tumhara, dhadakte dil ka payaam le lo. Tumhari duniya se jaa rahe hai, utho humara salaam le lo'. The profound lyrics, the beautiful set, Madhubala's terrific performance and Dilip Kumar's helplessness makes it a complete tearjerker.