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Mughal-e-Azam: A Journey into its History

05 Aug, 2020 | Stories by Cinemaazi Team Member Nildeep Paul
Dilip Kumar and Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam (1960). Image Courtesy: Filmfare, 1960

Taqdeerein badal jaati hai, zamana badal jaata hai, mulkon ki tarikh badal jaati hai, Shahenshah badal jaate hai, magar is badalti hui duniya mein mohabbat jis insaan ka daaman thaam leti hai ... woh insaan nahi badalta. 

When Dilip Kumar uttered these immortal words in K Asif’s epic celebration of love, a line in the sand of Indian cinema history was drawn. A milestone had been achieved, one that all historicals produced after will have to strive towards, and almost inevitably fail. Few films can overwhelm us with its emotional charge and sweeping scale like Mughal-e-Azam. Paeans of Mughal-e-Azam have been sung far and wide, rightly labelling it one of the most significant achievements in film form in India. The film went on to break box office records, was the first black and white Hindi film to be colourised and then enjoyed a second successful run at the theatres after its release. There are few films which can match up to that. 

Just like all other classics, Mughal-e-Azam has spawned a galaxy of fascinating stories and legends about its making and the painstakingly detailed craftmanship that created it. While facts like the film’s long period of production – an epic in this regard as well, taking an astounding 16 years – are well known, there are still many snippets that remain underappreciated. Along with these stories, there is a gallery of magnificent images of the film and it’s making that dazzle even today. Here are a few such images accompanied by some rare stories about this enduring classic.

K Asif’s film took its inspiration from the Urdu play Anarkali by Imtiaz Ali Taj written in 1922. But it was not the first adaptation nor would it be the last. There have been at least nine different adaptations of the story, beginning with R S Choudhary’s hugely successful Sulochana and D Bilimoria starrer Anarkali (1928). Clearly filmmakers’ fascination with this tale of passion is limitless. 
K Asif’s film took its inspiration from the Urdu play Anarkali by Imtiaz Ali Taj written in 1922. But it was not the first adaptation nor would it be the last. There have been at least nine different adaptations of the story, beginning with R S Choudhary’s hugely successful Sulochana and D Bilimoria starrer Anarkali (1928). There was a talkie remake of the same in 1935 and in between we see the Punjabi adaptation The Loves of a Mughal Prince (1928). Ardeshir Irani had also made his own version. There have been adaptations in Telugu (Anarkali, 1955), Malayalam (Anarkali, 1966) and even an N T Rama Rao directed vehicle (Akbar Saleem Anarkali, 1978). But perhaps the adaptation that bears the most importance for our stories is its immediate Hindi predecessor - Nandlal Jaswantlal’s superhit Bina Rai-Pradeep Kumar starrer Anarkali (1955). Clearly filmmakers’ fascination with this tale of passion is limitless. 
 
 K Asif receiving President's Silver Medal

K Asif himself conceptualised the film in 1944. At that point, Amanullah Khan, Wajahat Mirza and Kamal Amrohi were to help him write the screenplay. But his original producer Shiraz Ali Hakim migrated to Pakistan after the Partition, but recommended Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry before he left. Pallonji and K Asif would have many fights over the next decade as Asif struggled to realise his vision. But Pallonji stuck by him till the end. It may come as a shock to learn the original casting of the film. It was supposed to be Chandra Mohan, D K Sapru and Nargis in the pivotal roles. But Chandra Mohan passed away in 1949 and later Prithviraj Kapoor, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar were cast to play the leading roles. 
 
An old promotional poster of Mughal-e-Azam featuring the names of the old cast
 
Nargis as Anarkali
Chandra Mohan as Akbar
It may come as a shock to learn the original casting of the film. It was supposed to be Chandra Mohan, D K Sapru and Nargis in the pivotal roles.
The casting of Madhubala is a story in itself. An advertisement was published in Screen on 8 February 1952 looking for a young 16-22 year old to play the role of Anarkali. But among the eight women finalised none ultimately essayed the role. Of them only Sheela Deyala was chosen to play Anarkali’s sister Suraiya. When the role was offered to Nutan, she herself suggested that Madhubala or Nargis would suit the character better. Nargis, who was in the original cast, had refused to play the role. While Asif was reluctant to cast Madhubala at first, she herself came forward and offered to play the role. 
 
Nargis as Anarkali

 
An old promotional poster of the film
 K Asif with Tanuja and Nutan at the film's premiere

K Asif also initially thought Dilip Kumar to be unsuitable for the role of Salim. He felt Kumar lacked the required stature to play the Mughal prince, claiming that he will only cast him if he penned the script ten years later. For the role of young Salim, a young Ustad Zakir Hussain had been considered. But ultimately the role came to be essayed by a young Jalal Agha
The costumes were stitched in Delhi and embroidered in Surat, the jewellery made in Hyderabad, the crowns crafted in Kolhapur, the weapons brought from Rajasthan and the shoes made in Agra. A pure gold statue of Lord Krishna was crafted. It is as if Asif not only wanted to showcase the opulence of the Mughal Empire, but that of India itself. 

The film itself took nine years to complete its shoot. At the end of it Asif had shot enough film reel to make three films out of them. Tales are told about his unflinching perfectionism which necessitated expensive constructions of sets and costumes. The costumes were stitched in Delhi and embroidered in Surat, the jewellery made in Hyderabad, the crowns crafted in Kolhapur, the weapons brought from Rajasthan and the shoes made in Agra. A pure gold statue of Lord Krishna was crafted. It is as if Asif not only wanted to showcase the opulence of the Mughal Empire, but that of India itself. 
 
K Asif with Mr and Mrs Prithviraj Kapoor

The Sheesh Mahal set itself took over two years to complete. The art director M K Syed (who would also work on Asif’s ill-fated Love and God later) wanted to replicate the Sheesh Mahal at Lahore Fort and had glass imported from Belgium with artists from Firozabad working tirelessly on it. An artist called Agha Shirazi was also specially employed for its construction. In its final form the set was 150 feet long, 80 feet wide and 35 feet wide with thousands of coloured mirrors fitted on it. The set’s unique design caused cinematographer R D Mathur quite a few headaches. He tried various techniques to reduce the glare coming off the glass, ultimately adopting the bounce lighting technique to achieve the required effect. The end result is probably one of the most glorious sequences put on the cinema screen. The set was allowed to stay up in Mohan Studios for over three years, becoming a bit of an attraction itself. 
 
Mohammed Rafi, Shakeel Badayuni, Lata Mangeshkar, S U Sunny, Naushad Ali and Mohammed Shami at the film's premiere.
Image Courtesy: Filmfare, 1960
The two of them sat together all evening and all night, trying to come up with a mukhda for the song. But nothing was really clicking and at long last a tired Badayuni got up to leave. While seeing him off at the door Naushad expressed his regret that the mukhda could not be written. He said, ‘Kya karen Asif sahib se pyar kiya hein to darna kaisa, we will tell him in the morning that we are still working.’ 
An interesting incident was narrated by Raju Naushad, son of the composer Naushad. During the making of the film, Asif particularly asked Naushad and lyricist Shakeel Badayuni to compose a song which will be performed by Anarkali in front of Akbar, in the presence of Prince Salim and Maharani Jodha. Filmistan’s Anarkali had released recently and had created quite a stir with the song Zamana yeh samjha ke main pee ke aya which was picturised in the same setting. Naushad and Badayuni tried in vain to convince K Asif to reconsider, as they did not wish to repeat an already done scenario. But an adamant K Asif just said, ‘Woh log toh apne imtihan mein pass ho gaye ab imtihan aap dono ka hain.' (They passed in their test, now it is the turn for the two of you) 

The two of them sat together all evening and all night, trying to come up with a mukhda for the song. But nothing was really clicking and at long last a tired Badayuni got up to leave. While seeing him off at the door Naushad expressed his regret that the mukhda could not be written. He said, ‘Kya karen Asif sahib se pyar kiya hein to darna kaisa, we will tell him in the morning that we are still working.’ 

Shakeel Babdayuni froze at the doorstep, turned back and said, ‘Mukhda mil gaya.’ (We found the mukhda)
 
Caption

The song still reportedly underwent 105 drafts before it was finalised. 60 years later, it seems K Asif’s insistence and Naushad and Badayuni’s hard work paid off, as Pyar kiya to darna kya today is far more popular than its counterpart from Anarkali
The song Pyar kiya to darna kya was also shot in Technicolor by K Asif, who later wished to re-shoot the entire film in colour. But his distributors rebelled, and the film was released partially coloured.
The song was also shot in Technicolor by K Asif, who later wished to re-shoot the entire film in colour. But his distributors rebelled, and the film was released partially coloured. K Asif’s wish was fulfilled when the Shapoorji Pallonji Group and Sterling Investment Corporation jointly undertook an ambitious colourisation process. The restoration work took place in Acris Labs, Chennai, and the whole soundtrack was recreated by Naushad and Uttam Singh. The colourisation process took nearly ten months to complete. The colourised film was re-released in theatres in 2004 and once again ran to packed houses. 
 
K Asif with Shammi Kapoor and Raj Kapoor.
The legends about the scale of the film’s production are further enhanced by the sheer numbers of people involved. For the song Aye Mohabbat Zindabad Mohammed Rafi sang with a hundred backup singers to give it its momentous feeling.
Another famous tale from the about the film’s soundtrack is the inclusion of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in it. Bade Ghulam Ali was famously opposed to singing in films, as he considered them a lower art form. But K Asif was determined to have him sing a song for the film and ended up making him a ridiculously high offer for its time. This was a time when established playback stars like Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammed Rafi would charge Rs 1000-2000 per song. Yet Bade Ghulam Ali was offered Rs 25000 for the thumri Shubh din aayo raj dulara. Needless to say, Ustad ji accepted the offer. 
For the scene in which Madhubala appears as a statue, again K Asif displayed a maddening dedication to realism. Madhubala was made to rehearse for hours with heavy layers of make-up and chemicals smeared on her, so she could authentically resemble an actual statue. 
The legends about the scale of the film’s production are further enhanced by the sheer numbers of people involved. For the song Aye Mohabbat Zindabad Mohammed Rafi sang with a hundred backup singers to give it its momentous feeling. Thousands of extras were used in the battle scenes, including some soldiers who were hired from the Indian National Army’s Jaipur regiment, just to give it a touch of authenticity. 
 
Prithviraj Kapoor as Akbar. Image Courtesy: Filmfare, 1972

In the famous opening scene of the film Prithviraj Kapoor is seen walking barefoot on the sand towards Ajmer Sharif, in search of an heir to the Mughal Empire. It is said that the sand was so hot that he started getting blisters in his feet. In order to encourage him, K Asif himself walked barefoot alongside him to make sure the shot went off without a hitch. 
Dilip Kumar was apprehensive about the regalia he was made to wear for the film. When he expressed his concerns regarding the same, K Asif simply said to him that if the real Prince Salim could deal with it, so can he.
For the scene in which Madhubala appears as a statue, again K Asif displayed a maddening dedication to realism. Madhubala was made to rehearse for hours with heavy layers of make-up and chemicals smeared on her, so she could authentically resemble an actual statue. 
 
Smt. Vijayalakshmi Pandit with K Asif at the film's premiere

Dilip Kumar was apprehensive about the regalia he was made to wear for the film. When he expressed his concerns regarding the same, K Asif simply said to him that if the real Prince Salim could deal with it, so can he. This blunt comment was then followed by gales of laughter. The reason was Kumar’s comical appearance in a wig. Ultimately the wig was dropped as it was not suitable. But Dilip Kumar being Dilip Kumar, flew to London and hired a specialist to make a wig for this film. He waited six months before the wig was finished. 
No expenses were spared for the premiere either. Going all out in terms of spectacle, the film’s reels were sent to Maratha Mandir on the backs of actual elephants. 
After its long production, the film finally found a release in the famous Maratha Mandir theatre of Mumbai on 5 August, 1960. The Maratha Mandir theatre had been constructed by Seth Mehtab Chand Golcha. In 1956 he had met K Asif and the two became fast friends. Mehtab Chand wanted Mughal-e-Azam to be the first film to be released in the theatre. But due to the film still stuck in production, the hall was inaugurated with the release of B R Chopra’s Sadhna (1958). 

No expenses were spared for the premiere either. Going all out in terms of spectacle, the film’s reels were sent to Maratha Mandir on the backs of actual elephants. 
 
K Asif with Times of India's J C Jain
A little-known fact about Mughal-e-Azam is that it was the first Hindi film to be shot in three languages – Hindi/Urdu, Tamil and English. The actors were made to lip sync to the Tamil and English dialogues which were later to be dubbed.
Dilip Kumar though, did not attend the premiere of the film. K Asif’s marriage to Dilip Kumar’s sister Akhtar had become a bone of contention between the two. They had married against her family’s wishes. This led to long lasting discord between Dilip Kumar and his sister. 

A little-known fact about Mughal-e-Azam is that it was the first Hindi film to be shot in three languages – Hindi/Urdu, Tamil and English. The actors were made to lip sync to the Tamil and English dialogues which were later to be dubbed. While the Hindi version proved to be a huge success, the Tamil version could hardly make a mark. As a result, plans for the release of the English version were scrapped. 

In 2016 Feroz Abbas Khan adapted the film into a stage musical, with the blessings of Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry. The play featured all the original songs, which were sung live by the actors onstage. The play received a warm reception upon release and was considered a resounding success. 

Today, on the film's 60th anniversary the film's script was submitted by Akbar Asif, the son of K Asif to be archived in the prestigious Oscars library. It is a befitting for the film to be enshrined along with the greatest films ever made in history.

When one hears the stories of the film’s expensive production, and long years of being stuck in development purgatory, the film could have been written off as a disaster in the making. But the film not only met the lofty expectations of the audience but completely transcended them as well. It has cemented its place as part of our popular imagination as the quintessential Hindi spectacle. The influence of its scale can still be felt in modern day historicals. As the film completes its 60 year anniversary, it is worth revisiting and rethinking its legacy – a legacy so rich that it will probably never be surpassed. 


References

Cinemaazi thanks Mr Sundeep Pahwa for the invaluable information he contributed to this feature. 

The anecdote about the song Pyar kiya to darna kya was told by Raju Naushad during the rehearsal session of Ibadaat programme in the presence of Javed Badayuni, son of Shakeel Badayuni. It was originally narrated in Hindi which has been translated by Mr Sundeep Pahwa.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bj2ZUM0r2Fk&feature=youtu.be

https://www.google.com/amp/s/indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/bollywood/mughal-e-azam-screenplay-enters-oscars-library-to-mark-60th-anniversary-6539191/lite/

 

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