Monday, August 17, 2009

Mughal-e-Azam (1960)

I'm still in a Indian history mood and after watching Jodhaa Akbar I couldn't help but find this Mughal-e-Azam about the tragic love story of Jodhaa and Akbar's son Salim and where the two have a significant role. Mughal-e-Azam was originally filmed in1960 in black and white but with some scenes being shot in colour. In 2004 it was colourised in its entirety and that's the version I watched. When it was first released it became the highest grossing movie in Indian films and if we add the numbers after being rereleased in 2004 and adjust it to inflation it still would be at the top of the list. It's also the most expensive movie ever made in Indian history.

The story was based on an old legend, without historical evidence, but, with lots of passion and tragedy that make it the perfect subject for a movie script and thus had already been adapted to the screen several times. It’s the legend of Anarkali, a young maid in Akbar's court, and Prince Salim, the Emperor's heir who wants to marry her against his parents’ wishes. Can there be anything more romantic than the love of a Prince and a commoner? To defend his love and Anarkali's life Prince Salim leads an armed revolt against his father but is defeated and Anarkali eventually gives her life to save his... or does she?

Anarkali and the Prince first see each other when she is posing as a statue. An astrologer predicted he shouldn't see the statue before the next day but he just can't resist... On the unveiling the next day, when the young woman is discovered the Emperor is so pleased that it is him who gives her the name Anarkali. She is the main dancer at one of the court's celebrations and while all the other dancers run to catch the coins thrown by the Emperor she only moves when the Prince sends her is pearl necklace. From that moment on Anarkali dreams of the Prince. Her sister, the bubbly Sureya, will be the go between that will bring them together. While Anarkali doesn't want the Prince to be seen with her so he won’t be shamed he is decided to spend time with her and make her dreams real. Their whole courtship has a dreamy quality which the beautiful dialogues only emphasise and while I would definitely consider the script one of the best things in the movie there also scenes with no dialogue that are equally powerful. The scene when Salim caresses Anarkali's face with a feather in the garden is at the same time romantic and highly erotic. Or the scene where the emperor catches them together. When so much is implied without a word being spoken... To Akbar it is unacceptable that a simple maid may be the next queen of Hindustan. His love of the land takes precedence over his love of a father. Imprisoned by the Emperor, Anarkali apparently accepts to be separated from the Prince in exchange for her freedom. But Salim confronts her and she defiantly shows her love for him and is again sent to prison. I can't get enough of this scene and Anarkali's face both joyous, defiant and decided when she knows she has signed her prison order again. I did feel Salim could be a bit more active in his defence of her beloved but one can't forget emotions were more restrained and the feelings shown with more rigidity. Salim always seems very much aware that he is the crown prince and so one step above the common mortals. But he does rescue Anarkali from prison and revolts against his father thus putting in motion the tragic events that will lead to the end. Defeated, imprisoned and condemned to death, it is Anarkali who saves him and makes a pact with the Emperor. Her life for his! Her only request is that she can spend one last night with him. How is that for a romantic gesture?

Director K. Asif spent more than 10 years trying to film this epic story and eventually had to recast the main roles but the end result is well worth it. No question though that the story of the making of the movie probably contributed to its success almost as much as the movie itself. A beautiful love story Mughal-e-Azam also has grand battle scenes, colourful court scenes and sober prison scenes besides a nasty villainess. Realism was a priority and besides filming in such lovely settings as the Sheesh Mahal (although the real one was built by Salim's son) they took extra care with the costumes and weapons (even the chains used in several of the prison scenes were real). The dialogue is poetic and romantic and the musical scenes are lovely, the songs are expertly used to advance the story and once again I find that I can’t get them out of my head. Not only there was great care with the music, by Naushad, as it was definitely one of the factors that contributed to make it so expensive. Visually there is much to appreciate and enjoy and it seems clear that this movie must have set the standard for the more recent period dramas made in India.

After watching the movie in colour I am now quite curious to watch it in the original black and white. When a movie is colourised like it happened with this one, obeying by the way to one of the director's wishes, the colours seem, at time, too enhanced, too vivid. I thought of this while watching and was proven correct after watching this scene which is one of the few shot in colour in the 1960’s movie. I’m sure that as some scenes gain with being in colour, others must work better in black and white.

Now the acting, all the actors were new to me. I had already read a few articles on Dilip Kumar and Madhubala who were big stars at the time and how their strained relationship, after they broke up, also affected the shooting of the movie. Madhubala was already seriously ill and she does look very frail in some of the scenes. However I think it is on her shoulders that the movie rests and she supports it very well. Her facial expressions are wonderful and fully convey first the dreamy nature of Anarkali and then her despair and acceptance of her fate. Beautiful! I will definitely look for more movies with her. Dilip Kumar does look regal and a bit distant and unapproachable. Prithviraj Kapoor's over acting and thunderous looks does suit the older, powerful Akbar while Durga Khote as Jodhaa Bai provides the right type of anguish as the mother divided between supporting her son or her husband. A final word for Nigar Sultana as Bahar whose cold beauty fitted right in with her villainess part. They all concur to make watching this a wonderful experience.

This is a classic! I could easily continue to praise it and mentioning the scenes I liked best but instead I'll just say I highly recommend it and wait for you to discover it for yourselves!

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