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Flashback: Indian cinema’s classic Mughal-E-Azam celebrates its 60th anniversary.
Indian cinema’s classic Mughal-E-Azam celebrates its 60th anniversary, it was released on 5 August 1960 with the widest release for any Indian film up to that time, and patrons often queued all day for tickets. Mughal-E-Azam broke box office records in India and became the highest-grossing Indian film of all time, a distinction it held for the next 15 years.
The late director K. Asif’s son, London based Akbar Asif presented the screenplay to the Academy to mark the occasion. The Screenplay will be available in Hindi and English translation with Roman text at the Margaret Herrick Library as part of its renowned reference and research collection.
Akbar Asif commented in a statement featured in the Hindustan Times ”The journey of Mughal-E-Azam started with words from the greatest writing team ever assembled in Hindi cinema and I thought the best way to honor them was to permanently preserve their screenplay in the world’s most renowned film library”.
Mughal-e-Azam was the first black-and-white Hindi film to be digitally colored and the first in any language to be given a theatrical re-release. The color version, released in November 2004, was also a commercial success.
Watch The All-time Blockbuster Classic here:
The film is widely considered to be a milestone of its genre, earning praise from critics for its grandeur and attention to detail. Film scholars have welcomed its portrayal of enduring themes but question its historical accuracy. In 2013 the classic Mughal-e-Azam has been declared as the greatest Bollywood film of all time to mark 100 years of the industry.
The development of Mughal-e-Azam began in 1944 when Asif read a play set in the reign of Emperor Akbar (1556–1605). Production was plagued by delays and financial uncertainty. Before its principal photography began in the early 1950s, the project had lost a financier and undergone a complete change of cast. Mughal-e-Azam cost more to produce than any previous Indian motion picture; the budget for a single song sequence exceeded that typical for an entire film of the period. The soundtrack, inspired by Indian classical and folk music, comprises 12 songs voiced by playback singer Lata Mangeshkar along with Mohammed Rafi, Shamshad Begum, and classical singer Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and is often cited among the finest in Bollywood cinematic history.
Asif had initially rejected Dilip Kumar for the part of Prince Salim. Kumar was reluctant to act in a period film but accepted the role upon the insistence of the film’s producer. According to Kumar, “Asif trusted me enough to leave the delineation of Salim completely to me.” Kumar faced difficulty while filming in Rajasthan owing to the heat and the body armor he wore. The part of Anarkali had first been offered to Suraiya but later went to Madhubala, who had been longing for a significant role. Madhubala suffered from congenital heart disease, which was one of the reasons why at times she fainted on set; she also endured skin abrasions while filming the prison sequences, but was determined to finish the film. The famous on-screen and off-screen couple Dilip Kumar and Madhubala reportedly parted ways while shooting for the film in 1957.
To become the character of Emperor Akbar, Prithviraj Kapoor was reported to have “relied completely on the script and director”. Prior to make-up, Kapoor would declare, “Prithviraj Kapoor ab Jaa Rahaa hai” (“Prithviraj Kapoor is now going”) after make-up, he would announce, “Akbar ab aa Rahaa hai” (“Akbar is now coming”). Kapoor faced difficulty with his heavy costumes and suffered blisters on his feet after walking barefoot in the desert for a sequence. Lance Dane, a photographer who was on set during the filming, recalled that Kapoor struggled to remember his lines in some scenes; he mentioned one scene in particular that Kapoor required 19 takes to get right. At the time of filming, Kapoor who was on a diet was told by Asif to regain the lost weight for his portrayal of Akbar. Durga Khote was cast as Akbar’s wife Jodhabai and Nigar Sultana as the dancer Bahar. Zakir Hussain, who later became a tabla maestro, had initially been considered for the part of the young Prince Salim, but it became the debut role of Jalal Agha,
The premiere of Mughal-e-Azam was held at the then-new 1,100-capacity Maratha Mandir cinema in Mumbai. Mirroring the nature of the film, the cinema’s foyer had been decorated to resemble a Mughal palace, and a 40-foot (12 m) cut-out of Prithviraj Kapoor was erected outside it. The Sheesh Mahal set was transported from the studio to the cinema, where ticket holders could go inside and experience its grandeur. Invitations to the premiere were sent as “royal invites” shaped like scrolls, which were written in Urdu and made to look like the Akbarnama, the official chronicle of the reign of Akbar. The premiere was held amidst great fanfare, with large crowds and an extensive media presence, in addition to hosting much of the film industry, although Dilip Kumar did not attend the event owing to his dispute with Asif. Later Dilip Kumar won Filmfare Best Actor award for another superhit venture Kohinoor instead of Mughal-E-Azam. The film’s reels arrived at the premiere cinema atop a decorated elephant, accompanied by the music of bugles and shehnai.
For the battle sequence, 2,000 camels, 4,000 horses, and 8,000 troops were used, many of them were soldiers on loan from the Indian Army. This was arranged through special permission through the Indian Ministry of Defence-a rare occurrence today. The soldiers came from the Jaipur regiment of the Indian army.
Another reason why the film piqued interest was because of Dilip Kumar and Madhubala’s love story. The couple were engaged but called it off due to some differences. In his autobiography, the veteran was quoted saying that the director was trying to mend the situation for Madhubala when things soured between them. The iconic feather scene between the two has its own story. In his autobiography, Kumar further stated that the two were not even talking to each other while shooting that scene but worked as two professional artists. He recalled the late actress as someone who was vivacious and who could draw the star out of his shyness and reticence effortlessly.
It took 16 years for this cult classic movie to be complete but it is going to be remembered till the time Hindi cinema exists.