As Mughal-e-Azam completes 62 years, we analyze what makes it one of the most iconic films of Indian cinema.
Even though it’s fictional, the legend of Salim and Anarkali continues to inspire lovers in India. Even after 62 years of its release, K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam remains one of the most iconic creations of Indian cinema. Be it the simple yet inquisitive screenplay, phenomenal acting, serene classical music, graceful dance, authentically Urdu dialogues, or rich costumes; this film aces it all. With an ensemble cast, grand production design, and a budget that outdid every previous Indian movie, this movie was for its viewers what maybe Baahubali is to us today.
What makes Mughal-e-Azam so great, you ask? The film is a perfect combination of the elegance of the 16 AD Mughal era and the charm of 1960s Bollywood. The phenomenal acting by Prithviraj Kapoor as Mughal Emperor Akbar, Dilip Kumar as Prince Salim, and Madhubala as the court dancer, Anarkali makes one deeply engrossed even when the story seems predictable. Madhubala’s mastery over her exquisite expressions is breathtaking. Even though all her expressions were enchanting, none were as beautiful as her smile.
Naushad‘s music makes one believe as if Tansen himself graced Mughal-e-Azam’s sets. The lyrics “Mohabbat humne mana zindagi barbaad karti hai, Ye kya kam hai ke mar jaane pe duniya yaad karti hai, Kisi ke ishq me duniya lutakar hum bhi dekhenge” from the song Teri Mehfil Me Kismat are just one humble instance of how richly poetic and philosophically romantic the film’s songs are. The dialogues also are a treat to the ears. “Kaaton to murjhane ka khauf nahi hota” or melodramatic ones like “Mera dil bhi koi aapka Hindustan nahi jis par aap huqumat kare,” often resemble ghazals or a Shakespearean drama. The authentically Persianised dialogues indicate that the film was not dumbed down for the masses. The makers had faith in the audience to appreciate the movie even if not understand all its complex dialogues.
Grand is a humble word for the film’s production design. The elaborate sets representing Mughal courts and palaces, especially Sheesh Mahal where the iconic song Jab Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya was picturized were awe-inspiring. For a 07-08 minutes long war sequence, the amount of personnel filmed, the vast desert that was photographed, and the lifelike fighting scenes contributed to making Mughal-e-Azam one of the greatest gems of Indian cinema. The war scenes, unlike today’s VFX-ed polished ones, were raw and rough, making them look truly realistic.
Apart from its materialistic and artistic grandness, the film is thematically rich too. It indulges in a religious commentary. As the movie begins, we hear a voice-over that says, “Main Hindustan hu.” “Akbar ne mujhse pyaar kiya,” it says. In today’s communal environment, I cannot imagine any film making such harmonious claims. Even though the dialogues are Persian, Jodhabai’s dialogues are mostly Hindi. She wears Rajasthani dresses. We see Akbar celebrating Janmashtami, and both Muslims and Hindus performing rituals for him before he goes to war.
Mughal-e-Azam shows a multitude of forms of love. How sweet-tempered and nurturing a mother’s love is, how tough yet feather-touched love of a duty-bound father looks like, how passionate, romantic love is not afraid of society let alone being afraid of death, how love for your class and your lineage can compel you to go to war against your own son, how love can keep a heart soft even if it has been torn in wars for 14 years and how love can transcend every title, every class, and every religion. And to me, it represents the love for cinema; the vast love and faith in cinema that Mughal-e-Azam makes me and countless other cinephiles feel.