Mughal-e-Azam in Colour

Posted on November 14, 2004


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Colour or no colour, K Asif’s take on the Salim-Anarkali legend is an evergreen.

NOV 14, 2004 – THE PLOT SUMMARY OF MUGHAL-E-AZAM is the plot summary of every third Mumbai masala: poor girl falls in love with rich boy, and all goes swimmingly well until boy’s spoilsport daddy steps into the picture, making a royal nuisance of himself. Take Bobby, for instance. Isn’t it along similar lines? (Except that the lovers in the latter movie aren’t separated by some three arms’ lengths, and serenaded by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan; they’re superglued to each other, imagining hum tum ek kamre mein band ho.)

So why is Bobby, today, remembered mainly for Dimple Kapadia’s shocking-for-the-seventies bikini, while hushed references to Mughal-e-Azam are all but accompanied by the lighting of incense sticks and the blowing of conch shells?

Because, simply put, the Salim-Anarkali passion play is youth’s ultimate raised-middle-finger to the establishment. Never mind the final fate of the central characters, it’s the ultimate victory of those who consider love above all else over those who consider all else above love. Over time, twosomes in our cinema have laughed and cried, suffered and died in the name of love, but no couple has more symbolically shown how love towers above all, even mighty monarchs, than Salim and Anarkali.

Early in the movie, when Anarkali’s tryst with Salim is intruded upon by Akbar, she’s still the timid slave-girl, extremely conscious of who she is and who she’s with. As played by Prithviraj Kapoor — whose barrel-chested bigness would make Dara Singh slink away sheepishly, and whose utterances seem to emerge via a 1200-watt amplifier lodged in the deep recesses of his stomach — the emperor is no small figure of fear, and the mere sight of him is enough to make Anarkali faint in her lover’s arms. In doing so, she tugs at his beaded necklace, which snaps open — tap, tap, tap, the pearls scatter on the floor, as if echoing her hammering heart.

But later, she faces this same emperor, and famously goes pyaar kiya to darna kya. Not just that — when she twirls to the echoes of chhup na sakega ishq hamaara/chaaron taraf hai unka nazaara, hundreds of images of her, refracted through the mirrors of the sheesh mahal, are flung back at the king. Her love hasn’t just made her stronger, it’s made her defiantly stronger. And by the end of the film, she grants him, “Yeh kaneez Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar ko apna khoon maaf karti hai” She, the lowly court dancer, pardons the almighty Akbar, the Mughal-e-Azam of the title — such is her strength now.

Has there been a more rapturous ode to the transformative powers of love, to the notion that one who has experienced love is a winner even in defeat? As Madhubala walks away through a tunnel that poor Bina Rai never knew existed — the latter’s Anarkali, a few years earlier, died piteously after being walled in, wailing yeh zindagi usi ki hai — her head is held high. And the man who couldn’t break his son’s love for her except by subterfuge, he’s looking down shamefaced.

This is a love so lofty, everything in the film rises to service it — the grandstanding performances, the high-flown poetry passing for dialogue that somehow seems just right, the gilded grandeur of the sets, the vastness of the battle scenes, the richness of the music (by Naushad, sung mostly by Lata Mangeshkar, each and every song a jewel)… Mughal-e-Azam isn’t called an epic for nothing — the bigness of the central emotion is matched flawlessly by the bigness of the movie.

And now, this Diwali, forty-four years after its initial release, this grand film has reportedly become grander — its soundtrack has been Dolby-digital-whateverised, and each frame has painstakingly been computer-colourised. The prospect of a glowering Durga Khote in incandescent orange admittedly positions the new attempt as unsuitable for pregnant women and the weak-hearted, but Mughal-e-Azam (Version 2.0) should be interesting, if only to see what the latest technology can add to a legendary love story.

But the main attraction is just the opportunity to see a classic on the big screen again. The colour is just an add-on. After all, even earlier, Mughal-e-Azam was far from simply black-and-white — it was all about the shades of grey in-between.

Copyright ©2004 The New Sunday Express

Posted in: Cinema: Hindi