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16 September 2011

Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

Directed by: K Asif
Music: Naushad
Starring: Prithviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote, 
Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, 
Nigar Sultana, Murad, Ajit, M Kumar
Okay. This one is a sitter. Those who know me, know I am an absolute sucker for raja-rani movies. I adore period movies. I love Muslim Socials. And I am a die-hard romantic. So when a movie seems to be a combination of *all* four (well, 'Muslim' at least, if not 'Muslim Social'), *and* stars Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, what can I do but succumb? 

I must also confess that I searched high and low for the black and white version of this film, only to be disappointed. Imagine my frustration when I saw that Shemaroo (whose coloured version I bought) has uploaded the cleaned up black and white version on their website. It looks so crisp!  Sigh. (After watching: The coloured version has three songs, and about 20 minutes cut out of it - which is a bummer, since my favourite Humein kaash tumse mohabat na hoti  is one of the songs cut.) 

Disclaimer: This is going to be a V-E-R-Y L-O-N-G post with MANY, MANY screencaps.
Jalal-u-Din Mohammed Akbar (Prithviraj Kapoor) has everything one may want in the world, but no offspring. After many years, he makes a  pilgrimage on foot to Saint Salim Chishti; it is said that it is due to the Saint's blessings that Akbar and his queen were blessed with a child. In any case, the child, a son, was named 'Salim' after the saint. 

A few years later, Emperor Akbar hardens his heart and sends his spoilt, pleasure-seeking son away to the harsh battlefields of the north. Fourteen years later, Crown Prince Salim (Dilip Kumar) has been given permission to come back to the capital, and the kingdom is celebrating. The dissolute prince comes back a battle-scarred veteran, worthy of ascending the throne of consolidated Hindustan. Yet, his heart still adores beauty and poetry.
So, a sculptor is given a task - to make the most beautiful representation of his art that the prince may be entranced. He promises a sculpture beyond compare - a statue before which a soldier will lay down his arms, an Emperor his crown, and a man, his heart. 

Salim is intrigued by the sculptor's challenge, but his friend Durjan Singh (Ajit) stops him before he unveils the statue - the court astrologer has foreseen that if he looks upon the statue before dawn, it will mean the destruction of the kingdom. The prince stays his hand, only to come back later. Bahaar, the Queen's lady-in-waiting, who has ambitions beyond her station, jealously watches as the prince leaves; and hears something that was not for her ears to hear. And meticulously, she lays her plans.  

The next day, when the statue is unveiled, the Emperor is awestruck. The statue has the face of an angel, he remarks, and the statue bows! Unable to complete his masterpiece in time, the sculptor had had Nadira, the daughter of a palace maid, stand in its stead. Impressed with her beauty and courage, the Emperor names her 'Anarkali' (the bloom of the pomegranate) and asks that she perform at the Janmashtami celebrations the next day. And dance she does, the saucy, provocative Mohe panghat pe.
Little wonder then, that Salim loses his heart to the beautiful danseuse. The feeling is mutual, though Anarkali, at least, knows that her dreams can only cause her prince dishonour. 

However, between her sister, who is a saucy minx, the prince, whose ardour will not be contained, and her own heightened emotions, Anarkali is soon as much in love with her prince as he is with her.  

And as their relationship grows in private, Bahaar seethes on the sidelines. She befriends Anarkali, and holds a qawwali competition where the prince is the judge. Even though she ostensibly wins (she is given the rose while the thorns fall to Anarkali's lot), Bahaar is no fool.  
The crown of Hindustan which she aspires to, and which seemed within her grasp is slipping away, and Bahaar has no intention of giving up without a fight.  She goes to the Emperor and offers him some pomegranate blooms. A few subtle hints and the Emperor, who is no one's fool, is striding off to see for himself.
Soon, Anarkali is in chains, the prince is angry and near rebellion, and the Emperor is baying for Anarkali's blood. 
He will be satisfied with nothing less, but a night later, he offers Anarkali a deal - she will assure the prince that her love was false, and will leave the kingdom, because Anarkali, teri zindagi Salim ki badnaseebi ka paigham banaya hai. (Anarkali, your life will ruin Salim.) And Bahaar's calumny causes the prince to wonder: Is Anarkali playing him false?  His hurt and anger cause him to raise his hand against his beloved. Anarkali's reply is delivered in open court. She is defiant and unrepentant. The prince is triumphant, Bahaar chagrined, and the Emperor incensed. Anarkali is back in chains. And there seems to be no hope.
The prince is furious.  With the emperor for being so obdurate. With himself, for watching silently as his beloved is led away. He demands that she be freed, but the Emperor stands firm. 
And his mother, much though she loves him, is furious.
To which Salim defiantly retorts, "Toh mera dil bhi aapka Hindustan nahin hai jo aap us par hukumat kare!" (And my heart is not your Hindustan that you can rule over!)
And when all else fails, the prince of the realm is forced to rebel. Akbar is not as hardhearted as he seems. On the eve of the battle, he makes his way to the rebellious prince's camp; not as an Emperor visiting a rebel, but as a father visiting his son. There, he begs his recalcitrant son to give up Anarkali; if he does, all his sins will be forgiven. 
Salim is determined, and contemptuous of what he sees as an Emperor's deviousness cloaked in a father's affection. And when Durjan Singh frees Anarkali and brings her to his prince, Akbar knows that he can do no more. It is war. 
The prince is captured, and tried for treason. At his trial, he is asked if he will give up Anarkali, to which the unrepentant prince answers in the negative.
And the Emperor orders his execution, much to the shock and sorrow of the court and the people
Anarkali, hearing of her prince's fate, comes to plead for his life in exchange for hers. The Emperor offers her a final wish. 
Akbar feels vindicated - she has not loved the prince; it has always been the crown. Anarkali refutes the charge. Her prince had promised her that she would one day be the Empress of Hindustan; she does not wish him to be guilty of breaking his promises. It would bring dishonour to him. The prince is freed; and Anarkali is to spend one last glorious night with him. Akbar warns her; if she does not die on the morrow, to phir Salim tujhe marne nahin denge, aur hum, Anarkali, tumhe jeene nahin denge. (Salim will never let you die, and I, Anarkali, will never let you live). 

As Akbar crowns her, Anarkali pardons him for the crime of murder. Hers. Shehenshah ke in behisaab baksheeshon ke badle mein yeh kaneez Jalal-u-Din Mohammed Akbar ko apna khoon maaf karti hai.
And so the night begins on one song (Jab raat hi aisi matwaali) and another song (Khuda nigah-e-baan ho tumhaara) sorrowfully beckons in the morning. Salim is bereft, helpless, unconscious as Anarkali is led away.
Is this to be Anarkali's fate? 
This was Madhubala's film through and through. She had never looked so tragically beautiful before. Her very real illness drew lines of pain on her face that complemented the trauma she was going through on screen. And perhaps the emotional trauma took its toll as well. This was the last film that she would do with Dilip Kumar. Her father had vociferously refused to let her go on location with Dilip Kumar for BR Chopra's Naya Daur. And their relationship was strained because Dilip felt that she would never be wholly his. It was a tragedy that was being played out on-screen and off. 

Dilip Kumar was Prince Salim, regal, capricious, steadfast, rebellious, while Prithviraj Kapoor was larger than life as The Great Mughal. It is interesting that he was chosen to play Akbar - physically, there was no comparison between the real man and the actor. Akbar was a short, stocky man, though immensely powerful. But then, we are not the only people to miscast people according to physical type. When Lawrence of Arabia came out, some wag remarked (I'm not sure whether it was a reviewer) "It's typical of Hollywood that they would choose the tallest star (Peter O'Toole) in Hollywood to play the shortest man in history." 

Durga Khote was brilliant as the wife and mother caught between husband and son, duty and maternal love. So was Nigar, as the minor royal who not only dreams of ascending the throne, but is ready to cold-bloodedly manipulate everybody including the Emperor in order to do so. I do not recall seeing the actress who played Suraiyya before, though I must have. But she is absolutely wonderful as the younger sister who, regardless of consequences, is ready to further her sister's romance with the prince. And last, but not the least, is Ajit, as the faithful Durjan Singh, who is ready to give his life to keep his word to his Prince. 

Mughal-e-Azam was K Asif's magnum opus; a movie that was both his dream and his ambition; to be made on a scale never attempted before. But it would take him 10 years and many millions of rupees before he would realise this dream. The film had an ultra-heavy starcast. Prithviraj Kapoor as Baadshah-e-Hind Jalal-ud-din Mohammed Akbar. Durga Khote as Jodha Bai, his Rajput wife, and the Empress of Hindustan. Dilip Kumar as Shehzaada Noor-ud-din Mohammed Salim, and Madhubala as Anarkali, the courtesan whose indescribable beauty incited a prince of the realm to rebellion.  

Originally intended to star Nargis as Anarkali, Sapru as Akbar and Chandramohan as Salim, one can only be thankful that by the time the movie was made, the casting had changed. It is difficult to envisage anyone else in these roles. (And Nargis in the role of a dancer? Heaven help us!) 

K Asif assembled a supporting cast of thousands; and even got Lachchu Maharaj to choreograph the dances. There is an interesting story about how Ustad Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb came on board. K Asif went to meet the legendary singer along with his music director, Naushad. The maestro, not wanting to accept, quoted an unheard of amount of money (Rs 1 lakh) as his remuneration, hoping that Asif would be so shocked that he would go away. Instead, it was Khan Saheb who was shocked, when Asif agreed to his fee without blinking an eye.

Apocryphal stories also abound - that composer Naushad made Lata Mangeshkar sing the song in the recording studio's bathroom, so he could get the correct echoing effect; that Mohammed Rafi recorded 'Zindabad, Ae Mohabbat Zindabad' on one floor, while the chorus (all hundred of them) were stationed on the ground floor... Lata Mangeshkar has already quashed the first story as absolute rubbish (Lata Mangeshkar... in her own voice; Conversations with Nasreen Munni Kabir). The other is also an urban legend. However, it is true that Naushad slaved over the music score. And that Shakeel Badayuni had to write and rewrite the verses of Pyar kiya to darna kya multiple times before Naushad was satisfied.


  1. Ahhhh. :-) Such a - I don't know how to put it - memorable? movie. The songs are wonderful, Madhubala is exquisite (well, when wasn't she? But still), and the dialogues are lyrical. Besides the ones you've quoted, another of my favourite ones is that one about "kaanton ko murjhaane ka khauff nahin hota" Wah!

    Thank you for revealing the truth about Pyaar kiya toh darna kya - I'd heard that too, and did wonder how they managed recording it in a loo! There's another story about how the scene where Anarkali snuffs out a candle with her hand was filmed in 13 takes, because each time the pain showed too clearly on her face - it was approved only when she was able to look stoic through it all.

    Enjoyed remembering this movie - thank you!

    P.S. Our old 'coinkadink' thing? This post has a connection with my next post. ;-)

  2. Like dustedoff I too have no words to describe what I really feel about this film. To say I like it sounds so lame.
    Thank you Anu for taking me back through the journey of this film in your review.

    I'm such a great fan of Dilip Kumar that for me the film is him.
    He was so regal with such a fine personality, underplaying his part. I watched it with a friend and we were both ooohing aaahhing over him in that scene when he's standing up there to be shot and the kalakar is singing.

    There were so many poetic moments,
    -Tansen singing (love it) and Anarkali going to meet Salim, and being with him
    -loved the letter being carried in a lotus
    -the candle scene in Anarkali's quarters when Salim visits her
    -The other candle scene too. Loved the dialogue there when Ajit remarks on Salim's admiration of the beautiful 'statue' 'Shehenshah par butprasti ka ilzam lag jayega'.
    Oh there are so many others.

    I prefer the black and white original film. The coloured one is so gaudy.

  3. I can never find enough words to describe this movie, Madhu. If I were held down to naming *one* film that is my all-time favourite, I think it would be this one. It was an experience. And oh, yes, the dialogues! There were some real zingers, no? Between Salim and Akbar, by Bahar, between Anarkali and Salim - I loved the whole conversation between the lovers which ended with Meri aankhon se mere khwaab mat cheeniye, shehzaade, main mar jaoongi. :)

    This is a film which was made for stories to be built around it! Some true, some apocryphal. The one other true story is that of Madhubala filming the scenes where she is in the dungeon - the chains are real, and she used to be black and blue for days after that. It is said that that is one of the reasons that she sickened so quickly - she had already had a heart ailment diagnosed, and she used to struggle to breathe by the time shooting ended. But she was so desperate to complete this movie that she put up with all of it.

  4. I think I can guess :) But I will wait like a good girl and see if I'm right!

  5. :( MY experience of Mughal-e-Azam was ruined by a)not understanding the dialogues at all and b) the sub-titles being truly horrible. Dilip Kumar was so good looking, and fit the role of a Royal so well. And apart from the interplay between him and Anarkali, I also liked the flirtation(?) between Anarkali's younger sister and Salim's friend. That first dance was so, so... enervating! And Madhubala looked glorious.

  6. What a wonderful review, Anu. Just perfect to cheer you up on a dreary day. My favourite dialogue of Anarkali's apart from the one you quoted (which I think would have been even stronger if she had used 'Hindustan ki Mallika' instead of 'Kaneez') is the resigned "Kaneez to kab ki mar chuki. Ab janaaza uthne ki daeri hai", just before she leaves to meet Salim the last time. I always have a lump in my throat when she says that.

  7. For Madhu, if you come back to read this: Got my hands on a Blu-Ray DVD of Il Gatopardo that I was talking about. Will post a review as soon as I watch it again! :)

  8. Oh, that is so horrible! I know what you mean by bad subtitling. And the joy is in understanding the poetry of the dialogues - translated, they seem to be so prosaic. That said, the Shemaroo DVD (even the coloured version) had some decent sub-titling. You may want to try it.

  9. I loved that scene, Sridhar. I liked Prithviraj's expression as he listens to her; somewhere deep down, I'd like to think that Akbar really began to understand her love for Salim then.

  10. Despite my not liking the raja-rani genre, I liked Mughal-e-Azam. Liked it a lot! I remember sitting in a darkened theatre that was showing a re-run and getting completely buying into the story of a lovelorn courtesan and her royal lover. I also liked how they showed the physical relationship between the two.

    Have I redeemed myself? :)

  11. Oh, wow! I am so looking forward to that review!

  12. I'm actually wishing they wouldn't colour old B/W films. Hum Dono was a colouring disaster too - but in the wrong way. I mean, the humans looked (sort of) okay, but the vegetation - and there's a lot of it, since much of the war action is in the jungle - looked grey and washed out, where I'd have expected lush green. I remember being very disappointed. Haven't seen the coloured Naya Daur, and not keen on it. :-(

  13. Madhu, I agree totally! Luckily, I was able to purchase Naya Daur before the coloured version hit the market. The problem is that once that happens, then fat chance you have of picking up the original! I have hunted high and low for the black and white version of Mughal-e-Azam. And it really bugs me that Shemaroo has the original movie up for viewing, but markets *only* the colour version.

    And you know what is even more frustrating? Finding (since I wrote the review) that the 'deleted scenes' are in DVD 2. And who deleted them in the first place, may I ask??

  14. Ruhi, LOL. Yes, I think you have earned your way back to my blog. :)

  15. The first time I saw this film, I was really young and all the Urdu was just going WAY above my head. Madhubala is a 'kaneez' in the film and every time they would call her that, I would think, "Why the hell are they referring to a corn cob?" Cos "kanis" in Marathi means that :-\


  16. Neha, that is *so* funny! :) I know plenty of films where what I heard and what they said were completely different things! Yes, the high-flown Urdu was so difficult to understand; it's only when I actually began to understand the language that I began to appreciate its beauty and lyricism!

  17. Okay, I admit, I didn't understand even one quarters of the dialogue! I think I'll have to watch it with subtitles!

  18. Och, that is sad. :( It is hard to understand, if you do not understand Urdu, I guess. It took me very many years, and a determination to learn Urdu because I wanted to understand dialogues, lyrics etc., for me to truly appreciate Mughal-e-Azam. That said, Shemaroo's recent copy of Mugha-e-Azam had very good sub-titles. I would buy the Black & White film, if possible.

  19. Anirudha. Dharwadkar2 January 2012 at 11:01

    I totally agree wid u anuradha. THe urdu dialogues of the film are an absolute treat for the ears. i remember i was completely floored by the 'majesticity' of the dialogues. in fact, over the years i have memorized so many of them. here are  a few :

    1. Salim to Anarkali- Aakhir kar, akbar-e-azam ki garm nigahon se woh mom pighal gaya, jiski tu bani thi. Uske saath saath, mohabbat ka woh kaagzhi jevar bhi jalke khaak ho gaya, jise pehenke tu mere saamne itraati phirti thi!!
    2. Bahar to Anarkali- - Jab shama ban hi chuki ho, toh parwaano se kyon daaman bachaati ho ?
    3. Akbar to anarkali- Ye teri bekhauff mohabbat, ye rakhs, ye dilchasp andaaz-e-bayaan, yakeenan hamaare inaam ke mustaid hai!!
        Anarkali replies- Zill-e-ilaahi ki faraakhdili se kaneej ko yahi ummid    thi.
        Akbar then orders- Daroga-e-zindaan, is be-baakh laundi ko le jao' aur kaid-khaane ke andheron mein japt kardo!!

               There r so many of them ...........

  20. Welcome to my blog, Anirudha. Yes, the film had innumerable dialogues that were an absolute treat to the ears. While 'classic' is an abused word these days, I think this film truly qualifies as one.

    Thank you for commenting.

  21. Where did you find to black and white version to watch? i didn't see it on shemaroo's website, is it still there? I would love to see this movie in the original B&W but all dvds i could find were colorized versions...

  22.  Once the colourised version came out, it became very difficult to find the original black and white one. Shemaroo, as far as I know, had both versions for a long time. In fact, if you put a search on YouTube at the time, they gave you the option to choose one or the other to watch. I found this at India Weekly. I have bought from them before, but not for many, many years, so this is not an endorsement.


  23.  You're welcome. :) I do hope you find it. The B&W version is infinitely preferable to the colourised one!

  24. Mughal-e-Azam was one of the last movies I watched in BRV in Bangalore, it was prescribed for students who opted for Urdu as 1st language and I went with my friends to watch it. I have never really forgotten the feel of watching such a magnificent movie, you could tell that it was an achievement of a lifetime. I had watched "Anarkali" earlier and loved Bina Rai's performance but Madhubala WAS Anarkali.  

  25.  BRV! I wrote about watching old films at BRV!! :) And you took Urdu as your first language? I envy you. That is the language (and Bengali) that I want to learn. I understand quite a bit of it because of my interest in Urdu poetry, but I want to learn to read and write and speak it properly!!


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