What was it that was so poignant about the movie? Its sheer romanticism, I would think. Not the content, but the form. fterall, every second Indian film has the same story as that of Prince Salim and Anarkali in "Mughal-E-Azam", the rich man who falls in love with a slave girl in his father's court, a commoner that the Mughal king, Akbar, would never accept as the future queen of Hindusthan.
"Mughal-E-Azam" is full of such haunting scenes, and a viewer is mesmerised time and again by such lovely lines that underline Asif's commitment to tell not just a romantic story, but some thing beyond that.
Take, for instance, the scene where Salim caresses Anarkali with a feather: probably this can go in the annals of cinema history as one of the most erotic. And here is eroticism without the slightest trace of vulgarity that highlights the beauty and nobility of love.
Asif takes this idea of love to an almost sublime dimension when he picturises the great song, "jab pyar kiya to darna kya": the timid Anarkali dances in a symbolic and defiant step of courage and ultimate love angering Akbar, whose imposing personality bursts into a flame of temper.
It is this "Mughal-E-Azam" which has just been released in India, but in colour achieved through a computer process. The opulent sets of Akbar's court look awesome all right in their myriad hues. Some of the private chambers even more so.
Prithviraj Kapoor as Akbar is a sight to behold with his impressive acting skills -- more suited, though, today for a form of theatre rather than for cinema -- that push to the shadows those of Dilip Kumar as Salim and Madhubala as Anarkali. In fact, my own quarrel with the movie today would be precisely on these grounds: Kapoor is often allowed to overshadow Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, who are certainly central to the plot, though the tile itself is a distracting feature. For, the story is not as much about Akbar as it is about the two lovers.
In the final analysis, the question remains, how effective is "Mughal-E-Azam" in its colour version ? One would like to answer this with another question: how would "Casablanca", for instance or "Pather Panchali", for that matter, look in colour?
Some of these greats in cinema are perhaps left alone in their original forms, which reflect not just a certain cultural edifice but also an attitude.
Does Madhubala look prettier with painted lips and rose-tinted cheeks than she did shorn of these embellishments in the 1960 black and white edition? Will Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart in "Casablanca" appear more attractive than they did in black and white ? And, will at all, Appu and Durga, in Satyajit Ray's maiden classic, "Pather Panchali", seem more real than they did in the 1950s version ?
One has doubts about these, and would add that much like Shakespeare or Dickens, whose extraordinary literary works will lose their magic if they were to be rephrased in modern English, celluloid creations such as "Mughal-E-Azam" are best kept away from the gloss and sheen of colour. If they have to emerge out of the shadows today, they would perhaps look more inspiring in their original tone.
(This review appeared in The Hindu dated November 19 2004)
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