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Interview Hindi

Took 15 years to write the book Dastan-e-Mughal-e-Azam, says author Rajkumar Keswani


The journalist and author looks back at the entire experience of writing a book on the classic Mughal-e-Azam, on the 60th anniversary of its release.

Keyur Seta

K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam is not just another successful Hindi film. Starring Dilip Kumar, Madhubala and Prithviraj Kapoor, the film is a historic piece of art that has stayed fresh and relevant even though it was released six decades ago to the day.

It is this X factor in the film that made journalist and author Rajkumar Keswani a fan. So much so that he took up the task of writing a book on the film even if it meant spending 15 years at it. Titled Dastaan-e-Mughal-e-Azam, it features the making of the film from the moment Asif conceived of the thought till it achieved the status of a classic.

As Mughal-e-Azam completes 60 years today (it was released on 5 August 1960), Keswani shared with Cinestaan.com his profound fondness for the film and the writing of his book.

Rajkumar Keswani

It was not the multi-starrer cast of the film but the vision of the director that bowled Keswani over. “The echoes and images of the movie always used to haunt me," he said. "The character of K Asif always stood before me as a great inspiration. His steely determination to turn every impossible into possible would lure me to go closer to this character and study the elements which make the man K Asif.”

Keswani admitted that he fell in love with the persona of the filmmaker as he tried to study him and that’s when he felt a book could be written on the film. “I have no idea as to when I actually jumped into this ocean of K Asif," he remarked. "The realization dawned upon me only when I found, in some sense, that my hands were full of some beautiful pearls unknown to the world. That’s when I decided to travel deep into it and bring out everything possible.”

Mughal-e-Azam review: Grand tale of doomed love that stands the test of time

Mughal-e-Azam tells a simple story of the emperor Akbar's unrelenting opposition to his only son and heir Salim's love for Anarkali, one of the hundreds of servants in the royal palace. Akbar’s wife Jodhabai is torn between her love for her son and her devotion to her husband. This conflict and its consequences form the rest of the story.

Veteran film journalist Ajay Brahmatmaj had told this writer that Keswani worked on his book for as long as 15 years. Asked about it, Keswani said, “It indeed took me 15 years to research, write, re-write and re-write the book and get it published. Ajay Brahmatmaj is like a brother and knew about this mad venture of mine for long.”

Coincidentally, the making of Mughal-e-Azam was also a 15-year-long journey. Asif launched the project with Chandra Mohan, DK Sapru and Nargis as Akbar, Salim and Anarkali, respectively, soon after his debut film, Phool (1944), was released and became a hit.

But then came Partition and Asif's producer, Shiraz Ali Hakeem, left Bombay to migrate to the new country called Pakistan. Two years later, Chandra Mohan died of a heart attack. Eventually Asif persuaded businessman Shapoorji Pallonji to finance the film and the project was resumed in 1951 with a new cast.

Talking of the challenges he faced in writing his book, Keswani said the biggest was that generation after generation has heard, read and spoken of this movie in these 60 years. “A lot has been written about the movie. Hence, it was a challenge to go beyond all that repetition of facts and fiction. And yes, it was a challenge to separate fact from fiction, which had got mixed up over the past 60 years,” he said. 

Prithviraj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar

Keswani added that it was also a gigantic task to trace and speak to the family members of some of those who had been a part of the project. “I had to contact and convince the families of all those involved in the making of the movie. I had to dig deep for the old-time publications in various languages, ranging from the early 1940s to the present,” he said. 

When Mughal-e-Azam was ready to roll with Prithviraj Kapoor as Akbar and Dilip Kumar as Salim, the makers were unable to find an actress to play Anarkali. Interestingly, the producers even issued advertisements in newspapers about an audition for an actress to play Anarkali. While a lot of young women responded and came for the auditions, the role eventually went to the luminous beauty Madhubala.

Madhubala and Dilip Kumar

Keswani’s book touches upon this aspect in detail. “I have reproduced those ads," he said. "It was the perfectionist K Asif who was trying to find a face for Anarkali he had visualized for his movie. Hence, he went on rejecting a number of leading ladies of those years and launched a quest to find a face of his dreams from anywhere in the country. But it had to be Madhubala eventually."

Keswani has lost count of the number of times he has watched Mughal-e-Azam. “It’s like asking someone how many times you have told your beloved ‘I love you’," he quipped. "There is no count. Ginti vyapariyon ke liye hoti hai, aashiqon ke liye nahin [a count is kept by traders, not lovers]."