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Throwback Thursday: Rare video proves why Mughal-e-Azam was such a big deal

This rare video footage of the premiere of Mughal-e-Azam at Maratha Mandir in Mumbai is a reminder of how different a film premiere was back in 1960.

Shriram Iyengar

Mughal-e-Azam is one of the greatest films, if not the greatest film, ever made in Indian cinema. For a film that took 14 years to complete, it proved to be well worth the wait. For a generation that grew up on the internet, with access to live television and movies on Netflix, it is hard to understand the craze of such a delayed movie being released online. This rare video promo created for the premiere of Mughal-e-Azam is an interesting look into the phenomenon that was the film. 

Beginning with a chaste description in Urdu, the promo speaks about the obsession of filmmaker K Asif to create Mughal-e-Azam. In fact, the film was almost shelved after its initial hero, Chandramohan, died in a car accident. Asif had already shot for over a truckload of film when he decided to reshoot the entire story with a different cast.

The film was finally premiered at Bombay's Maratha Mandir on 5 August 1960. The story of a Mughal prince's passion for a courtesan, and how it almost brought one of the great empires of the world to its knees, took India by storm.

The video also focuses on the art direction which continues to be hailed as a high point in Indian cinema. The narrator mentions how the set design of Asif's film was so spectacular that it attracted attention from guests from all over the world. Renowned directors like Roberto Rossellini and David Lean visited the sets to get a peek at its magnificence.

Lean would later go on to direct another magnificent film of similar scale, Lawrence of Arabia (1962), for which he wanted to cast Dilip Kumar in a role that was eventually essayed by the Egyptian actor Omar Sharif. But that is a tale for another day.

It is during the premiere of Mughal-e-Azam, however, that the true extent of the film's magic opens up. The crowds of people rushing to get tickets and the magical premiere at Maratha Mandir are a throwback to the days when cinema was an escape from the reality of people's lives. In an age when film premieres are increasingly turning into a show of clout within the fraternity, Mughal-e-Azam's premiere saw the industry arrive and celebrate the opening of a much-awaited film. 

The presence of the entire industry at the premiere is a stunning surprise. From Nutan and Shobhana Samarth to Shammi Kapoor in his prime, stars landed at the premiere to be welcomed by Asif himself. In an age when the Hindi film industry is divided into camps, it is interesting to watch as both Raj Kapoor and Dev Anand arrive at the premiere of their peer Dilip Kumar's film. Even famous auteurs like Guru Dutt and Bimal Roy, who were known for their minimalistic and non-commercial filmmaking style, are seen at the premiere. Also, keep an eye out for little Honey and Daisy Irani. That really was a different time.