Monday, March 31, 2008

Mughal-E-Azam (1960) - Part II

As alluded to in my previous post on 'Mughal-E-Azam' - the backstory of how this movie was made adds yet another layer to the richness and texture of the film itself. Director K. Asif was in pre-production for it in the early 1940's with Nargis cast as Anarkali but due to the events of the Partition the producer relocated to Pakistan and filming never began. Nargis' exit was supposedly hastened by Raj Kapoor due to the fact that he was very possessive of her personally & professionally and did not want to take the risk that she would 'click' with Dilip Kumar. The movie was easily the costliest Indian film ever made and the actors knew they were involved in a very special project. Prithvi Raj Kapoor (who starred in India's first talkie 'Alam Ara') made the role of Akbar his own and took several hours every day to prepare himself for filming. Dilip Kumar's Salim was not given any songs to sing in keeping with his princely role, quite a gamble given his enormous star appeal at the time. But even as the second choice to star as the maiden of the court, Madhubala quite simply stole the show as Anarkali.

After Partition, Indian movies continued to be shown in Pakistan but were banned following a war over Kashmir in 1965. The Pakistan film industry (or Lollywood) in Lahore tried to fill the void but will be the first to tell you that pirated Bollywood movies are more popular than Pakistani films. My friends from Pakistan tell me that they have never seen a Pakistani film for the most part and those who have say they are no match for their Bollywood counterparts. When Mughal-E-Azam was first made there were only a few scenes done in color and K. Asif was so taken aback by what he saw that he attempted to re-shoot the whole movie but his financiers refused to let him. His dream to put a colorized 'Mughal-E-Azam' on the silver screen was realized in 2006 and the movie became the first Indian film to be shown in Pakistan (legally) in over forty years.

Finally, no discussion of this classic would be complete without mentioning the unforgettable soundtrack by the late Naushad. The tale is still told today about how Naushad had composed a song specifically for Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan, a renowned classical singer of the day who considered singing for films an insult to the art itself. K. Asif boldly told him to name his price and the Ustad responded with an unheard of sum of 25,000 rupees for one song. Unheard of because the going price at that time for even established artists such as Rafi & Lata was 500 rupees per song. He was the voice for the Tansen (considered the father of Indian classical music) and the Ustad never sang for a movie again.

The two selections for today are both my favorite songs from the film. The first is Mohe Panghat Pe which was sung to celebrate the festival of Krishna's birth at the palace - and whose filming was attended by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (former Prime Minister of Pakistan & father of Benazir). The second is Tere Mehfil Mein that is a duet sung by Lata & the very underrated Shamshad Begum for the affections of Prince Salim. The piece of dialogue that follows the song is one of the most oft repeated lines in a movie full of them. Anarkali receives the stem of a rose as a prize from the prince while her competition receives the rose itself. Not to be outdone she gives salaam for the prize and says "Jahe naseeb. Kaanton ko murjhane ka khauf nahin." (I am fortunate to receive thorns because thorns never wither)." The videos of both songs can be found below...

The album can be downloaded at Parties, Sarees & Melodies. A great blog that lets you download songs from many classic Bollywood LP's with insightful writing about the songs themselves. Credit to Stella for the picture above as well.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Mughal-E-Azam (1960) - Part I

The term 'classic' is thrown around alot these days in Bollywood but in the case of 'Mughal-E-Azam' - the sequel to the just released 'Jodhaa Akbar' - superlatives fall short when describing what this film has meant since it was released nearly fifty years ago. I refer to it as a sequel because the story is about the son of Emperor Akbar (played brilliantly by Prithviraj Kapoor) and his wife Queen Jodha - Prince Salim. Dilip Kumar stars as Salim and the luminous Madhubala gives a performance for the ages as a maid of the court, Anarkali. The dialogues & songs have been memorized over the years by many a film lover and the story of the making of this epic is just as memorable as the film itself. For an in depth review of the movie please visit our friend Carla over at Filmigeek.

Dilip Kumar & Madhubala's star-crossed love story onscreen was just as tragic and legendary as their offscreen one. Both Yusuf Khan (Dilip Kumar) and Mumtaz Jahan Begum (Madhubala) were originally from large Pathan Muslim families and were among the biggest film stars of their day. Madhubala was born on Valentine's day in 1933 and an astrologer predicted that she would bring great wealth and fame to her family. She was smitten with the dashing Dilipsaab at the tender age of seventeen and he with her. But her father, Ataullah Khan, forbade her to marry as the family was completely dependent on her income and he feared that her marriage would financially ruin them. Dilip never forgave her for breaking his heart and later testified against her in a court case involving a breach of contract for the movie 'Naya Daur'. This would have been the end of it had it not been for the fact that they had both already signed on for 'Mughal-E-Azam' months before and Madhubala (reeling from the bad publicity from the 'Naya Daur' fallout) was forced to go ahead with the shoot.

The actual filming lasted an incredible ten years and took both a physical and an emotional toll on all the principal players, especially the two leads who were said to be not even looking or speaking to one another except during the filming of their scenes together. This case of art imitating life only added to the pathos of their characters and tragic as it was - it helped the movie achieve the status of 'classic' like few films before or after. The selection for today is arguably the most famous song from the soundtrack, Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya ("I have loved so what do I have to fear?") - see video below. The set for the song (Sheesh Mahal) was constructed from glass imported from Belgium and whose cost was as much as the budget of most films at that time. There were so many mirrors that needed lighting that the song was shot at night with stage lights that had to be borrowed from other films in production that were returned the next morning. It was one of the only colorized parts of the movie and many say that Madhubala gave her bravura performance in the song because she was in fact, singing the song to her father about her true love for Dilip Kumar. Next week, the historical significance of the movie and more about the making of the movie & soundtrack...