Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Taj Mahal (2005)

Akbar Khan's 'Taj Mahal' was released last year with much fanfare, extravagant sets, exquisite dialogue and promptly flopped miserably at the box office. Why it did so poorly remains a mystery to me as I enjoyed the movie and it lovingly brought to life the tale of one of the greatest architectural monuments in modern history. For those not familiar with the story - the Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan over a period of 22 years in the memory of his Empress Mumtaz Mahal who died in 1631 after delivering their fourteenth (!) child. He had planned to built a tomb for himself that would be a twin to the Taj Mahal, only in black marble, on the opposite side of the Yamuna River and connected to the Taj with a marble bridge. But Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and spent his last years in confinement in the Red Fort gazing at the tomb of his beloved. During the time of Partition there was actually talk of disassembling the Taj and moving it to Pakistan but it never happened. In 1965 following the 3rd war over Kashmir, Indian films were formally banned in Pakistan. They never really went away, just underground. But 'Taj Mahal' became only the 2nd film (the first being 'Mughal-E-Azam') to be officially released there to great fanfare, link.

I still remember seeing the monument for the first time and was fully prepared for the sight having seen multiple pictures of it as well as growing up with a replica prominently displayed in our living room like every other Indian family in the world - or so I thought. Having paid our 750 rupees (as opposed to the 20 rupees charged for Indian nationals) we entered and the sight literally took my breath away, I just had to sit down and stare for the first few minutes. Walking around the gardens, seeing it in the reflection pool and studying the intricate inlays up close just added to the majesty of the whole experience. The government could charge 10 times that price and I would make the journey all over again. The new '7 Wonders of the World' list that was decided upon by a worldwide online & text message vote has the Taj on it (as it very well should). UNESCO has called the list a sham but needs to lighten up a bit as 6 of the original 7 no longer exist, link.

The musical score for the songs in the movie were the final composition for the legendary Naushad who died last year. While the movie may have not been to everyone's liking the songs were universally praised as the swansong of the aforementioned maestro. Ishq Ki Dastaan is the rare all female quwalli and to me seemed to be a loving tribute to a similar song in 'Mughal-E-Azam'. Ajnabi Thero Zara is the grand love duet in the movie and one can just imagine the Taj bathed in moonlight listening to it.


Daddy's Girl said...

Very interesting - I don't recall hearing anything about the release of the film last year... this might be a shallow thought, but perhaps if they had cast some 'stars' in it, it would have been more successful? I hope I somehow get to see it eventually...

I am going to see the Taj in October and I can't wait...

Sanket Vyas said...

DG - Definitely a worthwhile film & extremely well done. You have a point about putting unknowns in the leads as the moviegoing public loves their superstars. Kabir Bedi (a Bollywood actor from the 80's) does play Shah Jahan in his later years as the movie is told via flashback.

You will never forget seeing it when you go - try to see it during the day & at night as it takes on a complete different feel. And don't forget to see the fort where Shah Jahan was imprisoned - you can actually visit the very room where he spent his final years gazing at the Taj (take a guide as it is well worth it).

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