Bollywood Mood!

I've been watching my Bollywoood films again! I'm a recent huge fan - I traveled to India for a month in December 2004.

India made a very strong impression on me, and my experience was very mixed - in some ways I loved it and embraced it; and in others I found it foreign and difficult and was/am very critical of it. I loved the cultural aspects of India (fashion, architecture, hyper-decoration, movies, vehicles (so many cool transports), all the animals everywhere -- cows, camels, donkeys, elephants, horses, and dogs all over the road), sound (music, language), and taste (the food is amazing and the chai seems to run out of the faucets). I was constantly inspired by everything around me.

One of the most enjoyable experiences of my entire trip was seeing the newly re-released colorized version of the movie Mughal-E-Azam at the Raj Mandhir theatre in Jaipur (the Paramount Theater of Rajasthan). The movie was gorgeous (possibly the most beautiful I've seen), as was the theater and since it was a Sunday afternoon, it was filled with Indian families (young and old), men and women and nobody was trying to sell me anything, we all had our assigned seats and since it was dark, I wasn't being stared at. I ended up getting a bootleg dvd of Mughal-E-Azam (I also got the soundtrack) and when I first returned I was watching parts of it every day for about a month (I also went to LA for the US premiere).

Mughal-E-Azam was released in 1960 (more about the film below); while this is my favorite Hindi film, the era that I especially love from Bollywood is the late '60's and '70's. Most Indians would think I were crazy for this; however, as a foreigner to the culture - these are the films I love the most - they're pre-bellybutton (I really hate the new films that bare almost all and just look like some sleezy MTV music video), and I love their interpretation of Hollywood films - very cool hybridization - especially the James Bondesque films, like Don. Other favorites include: Hamraaz, Sharaabi, Purab Aur Pachhim, and Shakti.

Oh yeah, you must check out this site for a great compilation of soundtrack cover jackets!!!!

More on Mughal-E-Azam:
Starring: Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, Nigar Sultana, Ajit and Durga Khote. Screenplay: K. Asif, Aman
Dialogues: Aman, Kamal Amrohi, Ehsan Rizvi, Wajahat Mirza
Cinematography: R.D. Mathur
Lyrics: Shakeel Badayuni
Music: Naushad
Produced and Directed by: K. Asif

Synopsis: Mughal-e-Azam is the love story between a commoner Anarkali (Madhubala) and Prince Salim (Dilip Kumar) the heir apparent. When his father Emperor Akbar (Prithviraj Kapoor) finds out, he is furious and does his best to thwart the romance saying a commoner could never be the empress of India. Salim however is adamant and rebelliously leads an army against his father. He is defeated in battle and brought before Akbar who sentences him to death. Anarkali agrees to sacrifice her life for Salim to be spared and after spending the night with him is taken to be entombed alive in a brick wall.

The Film: The Anarkali-Salim legend is unsupported by historic evidence but the story of thwarted youthful love in conflict with convention and authority provides rich dramatic material with immense popular appeal. It is no surprise therefore that this popular legend has been filmed many times on the silver screen but Mughal-e-Azam is perhaps the definitive version of the doomed love story.

Mughal-e-Azam hit the screens in 1960 after almost fifteen years in the making, its initial cast being Chandramohan, Nargis and Sapru in the roles finally played by Prithviraj Kapoor, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar. Produced at a cost of Rs 1.5 crores in those days filming took over 500 working days! It was easily the costliest Indian film till date. Tailors were brought from Delhi to stitch the costumes, Hyderabad goldsmiths made the jewellery, Kolhapur craftsmen the crowns, Rajasthani ironsmiths fabricated the shields, swords, spears, dagger and armour, specialists from Surat-Khambayat were employed for the exquisite zardosi embroidery on the costumes while the elaborate footwear was ordered from Agra! For one of the songs, Ae Mohabbat Zindabad there was a chorus of 100 singers used!

Premiered simultaneously in 150 theatres all over the country the film became the biggest money grosser in those times. In a rave review, Filmfare wrote"Mughal-e-Azam is a tribute to the imagination, hard work and lavishness of its maker…For its grandeur, its beauty and the performances of the artistes it should be a landmark in Indian films."

The breathtaking battle scenes, the sumptuous splendour of the Mughal Court, some of the most seductive song and dance ensembles ever filmed, the confrontation scenes between Akbar and Salim - the best of Mughal-e-Azam has never been surpassed and is the finest testament to K. Asif's cinematic talents.

That is not to say the film is without its flaws. In his anxiety to show Akbar as a compassionate king and to provide his film with a so-called happy ending Asif changed the popular legend by letting Anarkali escape through the false bottom of the wall that opens out into a tunnel unknown to Salim. This however defies the internal logic of the tragic love story.

The performances too are a mixed bag. Dilip Kumar looks strangely uncomfortable in the role of Salim and Prithviraj Kapoor goes way over the top as Akbar. However his robust voice and regal bearing still carry him through. At the other end of the coin Durga Khote is splendid as Rani Jodabai caught between her husband and son and Madhubala is the life of the film as Anarkali. An immensely underrated actress, Mughal-e-Azam showed off the finely modulated depth she could bring to her performances if given the opportunity. It is without doubt the greatest performance of her career.

Of course the highs far outweigh the lows. Naushad's superb musical score stands out particularly the two songs by noted classical singer Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (Shubh Din Aayo and Prem Jogan ke Sundari Pio Chali). It was indeed shocking that he lost the Filmfare award that year to Shankar-Jaikishen for their populist score in Dil Apna Aur Preet Parayi (1960). R.D. Mathur's expansive camerawork lifts the film even higher particularly the song Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya shot in colour in the famous Sheesh Mahal or Palace of Mirrors. The film deservedly won Mathur the Filmfare Award for Best Cinematography. And last but not least, Mughal-e-Azam has perhaps the most sensitively portrayed erotic scene ever on the Indian screen as Dilip Kumar tickles the impassioned face of Madhubala with a white feather shot mainly in extreme close-ups of the two. Magical! (