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Article Hindi

The Mughal-e-Azam that never was

Mughal-e-Azam is remembered as much for Dilip Kumar, Madhubala and Prithviraj Kapoor as for its visual grandeur, director K Asif, and the story. Yet, if things had gone as per plan, the three wouldn't have been part of the film.

Shriram Iyengar

The idea of an enamoured prince taking on an empire for love entered K Asif's mind way back in 1942. He was not the first, but he was certainly the most ambitious to take on the project. It was Ardeshir Irani's Anarkali (1928) that inspired Asif to take on this legendary romance.

Irani's film starred Sulochana aka Ruby Myers as the courtesan who attracts the attention of a prince and the wrath of an emperor. However, the film had a tragic ending with Anarkali dying at the orders of the emperor, while Salim chooses to forget her for the sake of the empire. The story was taken from the play 'Anarkali' by Imtiaz Ali Taj. The playwright was among the originators of the fabled romance between Salim and Anarkali which has gone on to become a piece of history in itself.

The director finished his first film, Phool, in 1944. It was here that the primary team of Mughal-e-Azam came together. Phool was written by Kamal Amrohi and starred Prithviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote, Veena and Suraiya. The same year, Asif launched his dream project Mughal-e-Azam with Chandramohan, Sapru, Veena, Nargis and Durga Khote in the cast. Chandramohan was chosen to play the domineering Mughal emperor, Akbar. Sapru was cast as the rebellious prince Salim while Nargis took on the mantle of Anarkali. Durga Khote was cast as Jodhabai, Akbar's wife. Only Khote survived through the years to make it into the final film that released in 1960.

Chandramohan was among the most popular names in the cast, alongside Durga Khote and Nargis. He was already familiar with portraying Mughal emperors, having played Jehangir in Sohrab Modi's Pukar (1939) and Shahjahan in Kidar Sharma's Mumtaz Mahal (1944). It was his large expressive eyes and voice modulation that made him such an apt choice. (Incidentally, it is Prithviraj Kapoor's heavy baritone that is most memorable for any fan of the film today.)

Sadly, Chandramohan died in 1949 before the film's first shoots could be completed. Shiraz Ali, producer of the film and owner of Famous Studios at Mahalaxmi in Bombay, moved to Pakistan after Partition. As Durga Khote has recalled in her autobiography, ten truckloads of the film went waste. Any dreams of the film seeing the light of day ground to a halt. But there were treasures of art, symbolic of Asif's passion for the project, that remained. Sample the beautiful poster on Filmindia released as a teaser for the upcoming project.

K Asif's career was built around three films. Of these, one, Mughal-e-Azam, alone was enough to grant him entry into Indian cinema's hall of fame. An epic of grand scale, the film was made with painstaking attention to detail. Asif was a visual student of cinema and his attempts to recreate the lavish hedonism of life in the Mughal court are well documented. It is often called the ultimate example of an artist's single-minded pursuit of his passion, and its realisation.

Proof of this obsession is that Asif never gave up on the project, though it took a decade and a half to be realised. Perhaps it was this delay that intensified his attention to detail on the project. When the song 'Jab pyaar kiya to darna kya' was shot, Asif was not too pleased with the result. The last verse of the song was 'Chhup na sakegaa ishq hamaara/Chaaron taraf hai unka nazaraa'. Asif noticed that the verse was contradictory to the visuals which focused on Anarkali, whereas the focus should have been on Akbar's angry face. He immediately decided to reshoot the song, incorporating Prithviraj Kapoor's fuming visage in a thousand mirrors, creating the famed 'Sheesh Mahal' shot.

Like his collaborator Kamal Amrohi's with Pakeezah (1972), Asif's legacy hangs on the peg of his magnum opus Mughal-e-Azam. Cinephiles may muse how the film would have panned out with Nargis as Anarkali, but they can never dare doubt that it would have possessed the same grandeur it eventually did. It remains a grand spectacle that redeemed K Asif of any and all accusations of obsession.