“Mughal-e-Azam is a tribute to the imagination, hard work and lavishness of its maker, Mr. Asif. For its grandeur, its beauty and the performances of the artists it should be a landmark in Indian films.”
– Filmfare, 1960 August 26
K. Asif was born on 14 June 1922 in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh. He received his first taste of filmmaking while assisting his uncle, the actor-filmmaker Nazir, of Laila Majnu (1945) fame with the film Society (1942). Soon, he tried his hand as an independent filmmaker, and he shot to fame with his first venture, Phool (1945), a social drama based on rumour-mongering and its disastrous results on life. The film featured a stellar cast, including stars like Veena, Suraiya, Prithviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote, Yakub, Mazhar Khan and Sitara. Within a few years, he also produced the film Hulchul (1951) starring Nargis, Dilip Kumar and Balraj Sahni.
With this moderate degree of success, K. Asif embarked on his dream project, Mughal-E-Azam (1960), the film that would prove to be his magnum opus. He cast Nargis, Chandramohan and Sapru in the central hold. Unfortunately, the producer of the film abandoned it midway and shooting ground to a halt. Shiraz Ali Hakim, who had conceived the idea, moved to Pakistan after Partition and introduced Asif to Parsi businessman Shapoorji Pallonji. Pallonji was initially irritated with Asif's insistence on perfection and his extravagant demands for the set, and toyed with handing the film to veteran filmmaker Sohrab Modi. Fortunately, he decided to work with K. Asif and allowed him to finish the film. The film ran into further trouble when Chandramohan, who had been cast in the lead role of Salim, passed away mid-production. Dilip Kumar, who had also auditioned for the role previously, stepped in to fill his shoes. Nargis, formerly the choice for Anarkali, was replaced by Madhubala. The role of Akbar went to Prithviraj Kapoor, and Durga Khote retained her role as Jodhabai.
K. Asif's epic success in the film world with Mughal-E-Azam did not find an echo in his personal life. Plagued by various problems, he was married three times. The role of Bahar in Mughal-E-Azam had been conceived with Sitara Devi, his second wife, in mind. She was previously married to his uncle Nazir. The role ultimately went to Nigar Sultana, who would later be K. Asif's third wife. During the shooting of the film, Asif fell in love with and married Dilip Kumar's sister Akhtar, which led to some friction between the two.
Acclaimed widely for its attention to detail despite its massive scale, Mughal-E-Azam led to K. Asif being dubbed the Grand Moghul of Indian cinema after its release. It was the most lavishly produced film to grace the Indian screen yet, and went on to win the Filmfare Award for the Best Film in 1961. To this day, the film continues to be a classic, and a technicolor version of the film was also released in 2004. Following the release of Mughal-E-Azam, Asif started work on another historical under the title Wajid Ali Shah. He also embarked on several other projects like Taj Mahal, Jaanwar and Sasta Khoon Mehnga Paani, but all of these were abandoned before completion. His film Love and God (1986) also ran into several problems, chief among them the untimely death of the hero, Guru Dutt. After running a few screen tests and being subjected to an extensive regime, Sanjeev Kumar was chosen to play the lead instead, and significant portions of the film were re-shot. Tragically, K. Asif died of a cardiac arrest on 9 March 1971, leaving the film unfinished. The film was later revived by Akhtar Asif and released in incomplete form.
1. Housefull : The Golden Age of Indian Cinema by Ziya Us Salam
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3. Remembering the Grand Passion of K. Asif : Fifty-five years after Mughal-e-Azam was made, India still loves this great film about forbidden love, Anil Zankar
4. Mughal-e-Azam: Review. Filmfare, 1960 August 26, pg.23