Mak­ing of a Mag­num opus

One of the ma­jor films ever to be pro­duced by the fre­netic In­dian film in­dus­try, the mak­ing of Mughal-e-azam has many in­ter­est­ing tales to tell.

Southasia - - The Glorious Past - By Asif Noorani

Ex­actly sixty years ago, the great­est his­tor­i­cal film in the sub­con­ti­nent and in­deed one of the most notable films in this genre any­where else in the world. went into pro­duc­tion. Truly a mag­num opus, K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam took nine years for com­ple­tion. The man, whose dream it was and who pur­sued it madly to make it come true, had just two for­get­table films to his credit as a film­maker, be­fore he con­ceived and cre­ated a ma­jor mile­stone in the South Asian cin­ema.

Karimud­din Asif’s en­thu­si­asm was in­fec­tious and his whole team worked with a pas­sion and mis­sion­ary zeal on a pro­ject that was launched on a stu­pen­dous scale. Back­ing him up fi­nan­cially was Shah­poorji Pal­lonji Mistry, a Parsi mil­lion­aire (when mil­lions were val­ued as much as the present days’ bil­lions). His fa­vorite char­ac­ter in his­tory was Ak­bar, the em­peror ti­tled Mughal-e

Azam. He had great faith in the abil­ity of the film­maker, who didn’t be­lieve in mak­ing com­pro­mises when it came to pro­duc­tion, both in terms of ef­forts and fi­nances. Shah­poorji’s son called the pro­ject a bot­tom­less pit and of­ten told his fa­ther to aban­don it. He once even de­cided to hand over his film to Sohrab Modi, who had made cos­tume dra­mas, but went back on his de­ci­sion be­cause Modi did not have the vi­sion and the un­quench­able thirst for per­fec­tion that K. Asif had. Lit­tle won­der that Mad­hubala, the film’s hero­ine, put her foot down say­ing that she would not work un­der any other di­rec­tor.

K. Asif didn’t spend money on him­self ex­cept for the non-lu­cra­tive salary that he drew. He didn’t even own a car and com­muted in cabs. Two large floors of Mo­han Stu­dios were re­served for the colos­sal pro­ject for most of the nine years. When it came to dresses and jew­el­ery, Asif set­tled for noth­ing less than au­then­tic. When the ail­ing Mad­hubala, who looked ev­ery inch the doomed Anarkali, had to drag her­self with heavy chains tied to her feet, she too took it in her stride. The scene was com­pleted to the sat­is­fac­tion of the not easy to please Asif, but the badly bruised per­former was bedrid­den for quite a few days.

When Prithvi­raj, who looked ev­ery inch the great Mughal, had to walk bare­footed in the burn­ing sands of Ra­jasthan on his way to the shrine in Ajmer to pray for a son, Asif also walked with­out shoes to give his ac­tor moral sup­port. Prithvi­raj suf­fered from blis­ters which took time to heal. Asif was luck­ier as he was back to work the next day.

No com­pro­mises were made in shoot­ing the battle scene. These days it is easy to in­crease the num­ber of peo­ple by thou­sands in a shot dig­i­tally ma­nip­u­lated but Asif would not have opted for it had the fa­cil­ity been avail­able half a cen­tury ago. Au­then­tic­ity was his guid­ing motto. It would need a full-fledged ar­ti­cle to write in de­tail on how he bor­rowed the sol­diers from the In­dian army, how much he spent on the ar­mor that the sol­diers had to wear, not to speak of the cos­tumes donned by the monarch, the prince, and other nobles in the war scene. Even the heav­ily built Prithvi­raj found it dif­fi­cult to walk with the heavy me­tal­lic ar­mor and that was also true of the eter­nal lover on the In­dian screen, Dilip Ku­mar. Trans­port­ing the sol­diers to far off places for lo­ca­tion shoot­ing and ar­rang­ing for their food was a mas­sive ex­er­cise, both in terms of ef­forts and fi­nances. If Asif thought big, Shah­poorji spent big too.

Be­tween com­poser Naushad and Asif a de­ci­sion was made that Ustad Bade Ghu­lam Ali Khan be re­quested to record two short ver­sions of clas­si­cal ra­gas to be filmed on Tansen, the

court singer. The Ustad was not amenable to the idea. Just to ward off Asif he de­manded Rs. 25,000 for each track, but Khan sahib had no idea who he was deal­ing with. Peo­ple thought Asif was in­sane to pay the price, be­cause in the six­ties no film singer, not even Lata and Rafi, charged more than Rs 5,000 for each song that they recorded.

Not one, not two, but four em­i­nent writers were en­gaged to write the di­a­logue of the film. They in­cluded Kamal Am­ro­hvi, him­self an ac­com­plished film­maker, Wa­ja­hat Mirza, Ehsan Rizvi and Aman­ul­lah Khan (Zeenat Aman’s fa­ther). They wrote on reams of pa­per un­til they agreed among them­selves and got the ap­proval from the film­maker.

The mae­stro with the Mi­das touch, Naushad recorded more than 15 in­valu­able num­bers for the movie but only ten were in­cluded in the movie and its LP, among the first vinyl records to be re­leased in In­dia, fea­tured all ten of them. Later, Ae ishq ye sab dunya walay, a solo by the inim­itable Lata Mangeshkar, pic­tur­ized on the Venus of the In­dian screen, Mad­hubala, was also in­cluded in the film months af­ter its re­lease, thus draw­ing more au­di­ences.

Ini­tially, the film­maker had de­cided to cast Sapru in the ti­tle role and Chan­dramo­han as his son. The role of Anarkali was to go to Nar­gis, but when Chan­dramo­han died, Asif opted for Dilip Ku­mar, who was ini­tially re­luc­tant to act in a his­tor­i­cal film, Nar­gis then bowed out be­cause she had by then en­tered the Raj Kapoor camp and Kapoor was en­vi­ous (to put it mildly) of his great con­tem­po­rary. Later Sapru was re­placed by Prithvi­raj, who was ba­si­cally a bril­liant stage ac­tor and was ideal for the role of the em­peror. Durga Khote played

Ma­ha­rani Jodha Bai with a flour­ish. All per­form­ers fac­ing the cam­era did ex­ceed­ingly well; they couldn’t have done other­wise, but the one who was truly out­stand­ing was Mad­hubala. She was signed for the role of Anarkali, well af­ter sev­eral scenes that didn’t fea­ture her were shot. Who will play Anarkali was a ques­tion that in­trigued ev­ery film­goer. Sev­eral colum­nists aired their guesses.

There was no one who could have suited the role as much as Mad­hubala. Says Khatija Ak­bar in her mem­o­rable bi­og­ra­phy of the star: “Anarkali and Mad­hubala. The ac­tual sim­i­lar­i­ties were not many but if the lives of Mad­hubala and her screen char­ac­ter are con­sis­tently seen as over­lap­ping, it is be­cause of the over­whelm­ing sense of loss and tragedy, and the un­re­lent­ing dik­tat of des­tiny that clung to both and which nei­ther could es­cape [from].”

Her por­trayal of an­guish and pain were just as heart-wrench­ing as her ex­pres­sions of de­fi­ance in a los­ing battle against the Em­peror. Her ex­quis­ite love scenes, par­tic­u­larly the one where Saleem (Dilip Ku­mar) lightly brushes a feather on her cheek, have been bench­marks in ro­man­tic scenes in In­dian cin­ema. The two stars were in love and what is so sur­pris­ing is that even in the love scenes that were pic­tur­ized af­ter they had parted and were not on speak­ing terms were so very mem­o­rable. Mughal

e-Azam was to Mad­hubala what Dev­das was to Dilip Ku­mar. They had set the stan­dards for both the mem­o­rable char­ac­ters which have not been re­motely equaled so far.

And yet Mad­hubala was not de­clared the Best Ac­tress of the year by the Film­fare Awards Com­mit­tee, the tro­phy was given to Bina Rai, for a medi­ocre per­for­mance in an in­con­se­quen­tial film.

Dilip Ku­mar, who had been in his el­e­ment more in Ko­hi­noor, a com­edy which was re­leased the same year, bagged his fifth tro­phy for the film di­rected by his friend, S.U. Sunny.

K. Asif also ap­peared in the nom­i­na­tions list but he too was not given the cov­eted tro­phy. Naushad, who was given the ti­tle Moose­qar-e-Azam by his mil­lions of fans af­ter the movie’s mem­o­rable mu­sic was re­leased, was also ig­nored. Shanker-Jaike­shan, who were ac- cused of buy­ing thou­sands of copies of Film­fare to clip the nom­i­na­tion coupons and fill­ing their names in the Best Mu­sic Di­rec­tor’s Award, got the tro­phy for their av­er­age score in Kamal Am­ro­hvi’s

Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai.

Lata lost the Best Play­back Singer tro­phy to Rafi. In those days there were no sep­a­rate awards of male and fe­male singers. She was nom­i­nated for the song

Pyar kiya to darna kiya. Sha­keel Ba­dayuni was also nom­i­nated but couldn’t bag the tro­phy. The line be­came a very con­ve­nient to use ex­pres­sion in the two sis­ter lan­guages, Urdu and Hindi.

The di­a­logue was just as mem­o­rable. I had an un­cle in Mum­bai, who saw the film sev­eral times (like hun­dreds of other ar­dent film­go­ers). He could ren­der the lines from his mem­ory. The four writers got the Film­fare Award.

Strangely enough, Mughal-e-Azam was de­clared the Best Film but Asif and his team boy­cotted the award cer­e­mony. “How can a movie which was not given many key awards, be de­clared the best film,” an an­gry Asif told the Press. The awards were boy­cotted by the en­tire team.

Mughal-e-Azam cre­ated records at the box-of­fice, Asif won glowing trib­utes and Shah­poorji was am­ply re­warded for his faith in his di­rec­tor. It ran for a year in main cities. Four decades af­ter the film, orig­i­nally shot al­most en­tirely in black-and-white, was dig­i­tally col­ored. It was mas­sively re-re­leased and went on to run for 25 weeks in many cin­e­mas in In­dia in the face of competition from movies like Shahrukh Khan’s Veer Zara.

K. Asif didn’t live long enough to see his la­bor of love in a col­or­ful garb but be­fore him there were cur­tains for Mad­hubala. Mughal-e-Azam was her swan song and what a per­for­mance it was! One fum­bles for ad­jec­tives to de­scribe it. The writer is a sea­soned jour­nal­ist and writes on art, lit­er­a­ture, travel, mu­sic and movies.

The Glo­ri­ous Past

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