A taunt heard often when anything takes too long, has been “Kya Mughal-e-Azam bana rahe ho?” A sarcastic jibe, but nonetheless, a worthy tribute to K Asif’s magnum opus, Mughal-e-Azam, an apocryphal salute to love, and its consequences. The film, which released 57 years ago, will be staged as a musical in Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Indoor Stadium on September 8.
With a crew of 175, enough lights to light up 20 football fields, and standards of London’s Westend and Broadway, it’s a marriage of sheer splendour and excellence. “The producers, Shapoorji Pallonji & National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), have made huge investments for the venue. This will enable the Delhi audience to experience Mughal-e-Azam in its full glory,” says Mumbai-based filmmaker and director Feroz Abbas Khan. Khan has formerly dabbled in themes starkly different, like the film Gandhi, My Father (2007), which showed the troubled relationship between Mahatma Gandhi and his son, Harilal. “I decided to do something completely against my grain. I wanted to share this great piece of cinema as a huge theatre experience,” says Khan.
The production celebrates excellence, rigour, and delivers the familiar with panache. Fashion designer Manish Malhotra’s interpretation of the costumes retains the royal and luxurious look, yet presents a contemporary feel, without being over the top. Khan says, “Manish challenged himself and created 600 costumes of exquisite beauty and grace.” The film, of course, took 500 shooting days and nearly a decade to make.
In the absence of reverbs and other sound-effects, legend has it that the song, Pyar kiya to darna kya was recorded in a studio bathroom. The song, which alone cost more to shoot than the entire film, was set to music by Naushad, but only after lyricist Shakeel Badayuni rewrote it 105 times. The physical recreation of Sheesh Mahal is supposedly spectacular on stage, and the credit goes to John Narun, the projection designer, while choreographer Mayuri Upadhyay has given an audacious interpretation to the song, says Khan. The musical, with English translation and live singing, makes a fine break with the playback tradition that has almost been uniquely Indian. The epic battle scene in the film between father and son, Akbar and Salim, used 2,000 camels, 4,000 horses and 8,000 soldiers. The play of course uses other devices, with lights, shadows and sound to make an impact.
Deepesh Salgia, Director, Sharpoorji Pallonji, says, “The audience wants to see and experience large-scale productions. In achieving that, art should not take a backseat. Our brief to Feroz was to make a play that has the scale of a cinema and yet has the soul of theatre. He has delivered it to perfection.”
But why a play about Mughals and the opulent display of riches, velvet, and lace in these times? Should not a grand production have been about more contemporary concerns, a Les Miserables, for example? But the team disagrees. The central theme of young love, and a sense of defiance always wins hearts, they say. Pyar kiya to darna kya speaks to all of us. Now, let us hear it again from a stage full of mirrors. And with reverb.