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It is said that if box-office figures are adjusted to inflation,Mughal-E-Azam,which premiered 50 years ago on August 5,1960,is Indian cinema’s biggest blockbuster till date. Revisiting an incomparable,unforgettable epic...


It is said that if box-office figures are adjusted to inflation,Mughal-E-Azam,which premiered 50 years ago on August 5,1960,is Indian cinema’s biggest blockbuster till date. Revisiting an incomparable,unforgettable epic

History behind the historical
K.Asif first launched this film in 1944 with financier Shiraz Ali,casting Sapru,Chandramohan and Nargis in the roles later done by Prithviraj Kapoor,Dilip Kumar and Madhubala. But Shiraz’s migration to Pakistan after Partition,the communally-sensitive atmosphere after Independence and finally Chandramohan’s death in 1949 made him drop the project.

Asif had no financier till Shapoorji Pallonji,the construction magnate,came on board in 1951. It was launched in black-and-white,but when Technicolor came in,Asif wanted to use color,and finally did so in the song Pyar kiya to darna kya and the climax. The film was finally completed at a cost of about Rs 1.5 crore in 1960. Adjusted to inflation at 50 crore-plus,this is one of the costliest films ever made in India. Among the hurdles in the making was the tiff between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala when their real-life love story soured in 1957. But they were professional enough to complete the film.

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Authentic grandeur,lavish perfection
The war sequences used 2000 camels,4000 horses and 8000 men,most of the latter being real soldiers from the Army. Prithviraj wore real armour,real weapons were crafted and real jewellery used. The best tailors,embroiders,jewellers,shoemakers and other craftsmen from across the country were employed. The chains worn by Madhubala in prison were also real. Even the statue of Lord Krishna was in real gold.

The grandeur was incomparable: the mirrors for the dance sequence on the Sheesh Mahal set were coated with a thin,transparent wax layer to prevent reflection from studio lights. The set was 80 feet wide and 150 feet long – and 35 feet high. And cinematographer R.D.Mathur would sometimes take up to eight hours to light a single shot! Sometimes,14 cameras were used when the norm then was just one or two,and unlike the normal 60 to 125 shooting days,MEA thus needed 500,with more than a million feet of negative being used.

Music director Naushad composed many more than the 12 songs finally seen in the film,and Lata Mangeshkar sang eight solos and the duet Teri mehfil mein with Shamshad Begum. The hits were led by Mohe panghat pe and Mohabbat ki jhoothi kahani.


Of these,Pyar kiya to darna kya cost Rs 10 lakh to shoot,which was equal to the production cost of a big film! This Lata chartbuster’s graph was perfected by Naushad and Shakeel in a marathon session from four in the evening to daybreak the following day on the terrace of Naushad’s bungalow. Neither ate food during this period.

A 100 chorus singers sang on Rafi’s Ae mohabbat zindabad. And since Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan did not want to sing for films and quoted an exorbitant sum to discourage Naushad and Asif,they agreed to the sum (in multiples of the topmost playback singer’s fees) and the maestro had no choice but to render Shubh din aayo and Prem jogan banke as he had no excuse left!

When completed,Asif is said to have got Rs 17 lakh per territory for the film when the going rate was Rs 3-4 lakh. The premiere invite was written in Urdu on red velvet and “stamped” with the seal of Akbar’s royal court. MEA ran for 100 weeks,was the biggest grosser of the 1960s and was finally beaten by the 1975 Sholay.


The first colorized epic – in the world!
Mughal-E-Azam went down in history again in 2004,when it became the first-ever feature film in the world to be colorized for the big screen (earlier colorizations abroad were for Home Video formats). And so it took 18 months just to develop the software.

Rajiv Dwivedi is the Founder-Director of the Indian Academy of Arts and Animation (IAAA),which did the job at the initiative first mooted by Dilip Kumar in 2001. Iris Interactive (Chennai) and Rajtaru Studios (Mumbai) were also involved in these complex processes that took 10 months of 24/7 work.

The process involved cleaning up fungus,repairing damaged emulsions and also restoring damaged and missing parts (like parts of pillars) in the frames of the master negative. A record 3,00,000 frames,each of 10 MB size,were scanned,cleaned,restored and colorized. The right colors were researched from literature,museums and art galleries and by meeting historians. The look given to the film was of how a 1960 color movie would look in 2004,so that it would look authentic! The color portions of the original film were also color-degraded just like the black-and-white sequences before the new colorization. Illustrious production designer Nitin Chandrakant Desai also gave inputs on the project.

The cost of upgrading the film with color and Dolby Digital sound was Rs 2 crore. Rs 65 lakh was spent on the Dolby 6.1 re-recording of the music alone. The orchestral part was re-recorded with live musicians,and the original singers were retained. HMV (now renamed Saregama) released a new Stereo music album.

The executive producer had planned to re-do the entire score in electronics to save on the expense. But Naushad and his arranger Uttam Singh contacted the original producer’s son in London and termed this distortion “unethical,an offence and a violation of intellectual rights as the audio in those days was a part of the negative itself”. Naushad insisted on redoing the music himself and made a click-track for every change of beat and a new track timed to the split second was generated to add to the first for Stereo. The process,with 120 live musicians,took six months and irretrievably compromised the composer’s health.


History repeated
A survey had shown that the young audiences were keen on watching the epic in color. 150 prints of the colorized film were released in Diwali week on October 12,2004 with three other films,Yash Chopra’s Veer-Zaraa,Subhash Ghai’s Aitraaz and Ram Gopal Varma’s Naach. Declared a hit by the trade,the colorized version had half the number of songs and was shorter in length by at least 45 minutes. It was later selected for seven international film festivals.

Vital Stats

Sterling Investment Corporation’s Mughal-E-Azam (1960)

Directed by: Karimuddin Asif (K.Asif)

Writers: K.Asif,Aman (Zeenat Aman’s father!),Kamal Amrohi,Wajahat Mirza and Ehsan Rizvi

Songs and background music: Naushad

Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni.

Cinematographer: R.D.Mathur

Art Direction: M.K.Syed

Editing: Dharamvir

Sound: Shaikh Akram

Action Coordinator: S.Azim

Principal Cast:

Prithviraj Kapoor – the title role of Akbar

Dilip Kumar – Salim

Madhubala – Anarkali

Durga Khote – Jodhabai

Jalal Agha – Prince Salim as a child


with Johnny Walker,Murad,Nigar Sultana,Ajit and M.Kumar

Story: Emperor Akbar opposes young Salim’s love for Anarkali,a courtesan. Salim rebels and in a battle between father and son,Salim is defeated and condemned to death. Anarkali pleads for his life,and is thus condemned to be walled up alive. However,the king owes Anarkali’s mother a past favour and has to spare her life. But the heartbroken Salim never comes to know this.



Shammi Kapoor on father Prithviraj’s performance
“When I reflect upon an emperor who ruled India with both Hindus and Muslims and dared to marry a Hindu princess,I can only imagine a giant persona. With his powerful presence and what I term a thundering performance,my father fitted Akbar’s role perfectly.

Contrary to popular perception that the film was the love story of Salim and Anarkali,MEA was about this incident in Emperor Akbar’s life,and that’s why K.Asif did not title the film as Salim Anarkali. My father Prithvirajji was the Mughal-E-Azam,the hero of the film!

I was often on the sets to watch my father shoot. During Madhubala’s defiant song Jab pyar kiya to darna kya,in the film the emperor’s eyes turn red with rage. My father did that sequence without glycerine. I recall Asifsaab telling him to take his time and watched my father grow into that mood and his eyes turning red!

My father got into the skin of the character by relying completely on the script and the director. He would be on the sets,sipping chai and smoking,normally attired,and Asifsaab would affectionately tell him to get ready for his shot. He would enter the make-up room saying,“Prithviraj Kapoor ab jaa rahaa hai”. When ready,he would come out saying,“Akbar ab aa rahaa hai!”

In the war scenes,he uncomplainingly wore the real iron armour that was so heavy. During the sequence when Akbar walks to Ajmer Sharif to pray for a son,my father actually walked barefoot in the desert sun,and his soles were full of blisters.”

Ashutosh Gowariker,
“In a historical film,three things tower over everything – screenplay,sets and property and costumes. In MEA,these together created a most believable Mughal period. Historically,we know that Prince Salim revolted against Emperor Akbar,but the cause is unknown and there is no mention of Anarkali,so it is the brilliant screenplay that created Anarkali,showcased the romance and further established that as the reason for the conflict. MEA was a major source of inspiration and learning when I was working on the idea of Jodhaa Akbar. We never question what made a Mughal emperor marry a Hindu Rajput princess and take it for granted because we are more interested in Salim and Anarkali romance. My approach in Jodhaa Akbar was to write a prequel to Mughal-E-Azam and ensure that the audiences are convinced on screen the way I was by Mughal-E-Azam.”

Surinder Kapoor,Assistant director on MEA “I recall some of the sets taking as long as six weeks to erect,and the whole industry’s presence at the premiere. The film was shot in three languages – Hindustani,Tamil and English. After the Tamil version failed miserably,the English version,planned with dubbing by British Shakespearean actors,was never released. And I mainly assisted on the English version.”

Hiren Gada,director,Shemaroo
“On the night before the ticket-bookings opened,a record one lakh people slept on the pavement outside Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir cinema to be among the first in the advance booking queue. So unprecedented was the demand that the management closed booking for three whole weeks – something that never happened before – or since. MEA was always among our permanent top ten Home Videos since we acquired its rights in 1997. But after colorization,and making it crisper and the sound contemporary,it is selling even more and remains among our prized catalogue possessions.”

First published on: 06-08-2010 at 05:40:48 pm
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