Much has been written about the Indian period film Mughal-e-Azam and much more shall continue to be written. The world shall never get tired of interest in this popular movie that has an inexhaustible reservoir of enchanting details. The film is centered around the mythical, tragic love affair between the Mughal heir-apparent Prince Salim and a palace employee girl named Anarkali. Released in August 1960 in black and white (except one song in colour) and re-released in November 2004 in colour, it remains an evergreen classic. This article is about “Jab pyar kia to darna kia;” its most iconic song, and the inter-personnel tensions during the filming of the film. The opening line of the song means “Why fear falling in love?”
A brief comment on the film. K. Asif, the producer and director, conceived the idea of this film in 1944 after reading the play Anarkali written by Imtiaz Ali Taj in 1922. Ardeshir Irani made a black and white version of the play in 1928 and Nandlal Jaswantlal a colour version in 1935, both titled Anarkali and based on the same play. The latter was the highest grossing film of the year. However, it did not deter Asif. First with producer Shiraz Ali and then with financier Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry, he started working on his dream project. Mughal-e-Azam is a long film, running for 191 minutes but each minute is worth the effort it took to be shot and edited. Being the highest budget Indian film ever, it cost $25 million and grossed $55 million, earning its producers a healthy profit of $30 million. Along with Mother India and Sholay, it stands at the pinnacle of popular Indian films. Some surveys name it the best Indian film ever. Anecdotes related to its production, actors, music, songs, distribution, screening and popularity are now the stuff of legend – and have filled the pages of many a full-length book.
The replica of Sheesh Mahal in the movie is the most celebrated Indian film set. Shakil Warsi has written extensively about the film in his 2009 book
The song “Jab Pyar kia…” can consume many superlatives and all would be justified. Its lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni, composition by Naushad, direction by K. Asif, set by M.K. Syed, presence of all the leading protagonists on its set and their enacted symbolisms are now part of Indian cinematography folklore.
All of these aspects form the subject matter of this article.
The song is picturised on a magnificent set that showcased the grandeur of the Mughal court. This set, that alone cost more than the entire film of that time, is ingrained forever in the memory of the cinema-goers and is a role-model for similar grand settings for films. Every worker and artist hired for the project knew that K. Asif wanted nothing but the best for the film.
M.K. Syed – the art director of the film – and K. Asif wanted to create a replica of the Lahore Sheesh Mahal, which made historical sense. Emperor Akbar left his newly founded capital city of Fatehpur Sikri in 1585 and settled in Lahore to quell a rebellion by his brother Mirza Hakim, the subedar of Lahore and Kabul. During those years, Akbar demolished the old mud fort and built the existing structure of the Shahi Qila – the Royal Fort. In fact, the city itself can be dated to that era. Having been destroyed a number or times, the city was totally ransacked by Emperor Babur in 1524, burning every building, killing every resident and raping every woman that his soldiers could lay their hands on. Akbar initiated the process of rebuilding the city.
Prince Salim, born in 1569 at Sikri, was then a licentious 16-year-old, entering his luxuriant adolescent years. Akbar couldn’t leave the city for thirteen years till 1598 when Prince Saleem had turned into a rebellious man used to epicurean lifestyle. The events involving the play and the film, therefore, would have occurred, if indeed they ever did, in Lahore. Tomb of Anarkali itself is located in the city in the grounds of Punjab’s Civil Secretariat at the eastern end of the Mall Road. Sheesh Mahal was actually built by Jahangir’s son Shahjahan and the film has taken poetic license by depicting it in Akbar’s time.
The song was picturised simultaneously in black and white, and in colour. The B&W reel was played after the shooting and found not impressive. However, when the colour version of the picturised song – that had been processed in UK – was screened, the distributor is reported to have asked to forget about the film and give him the song only
The replica of Sheesh Mahal in the movie is the most celebrated Indian film set. Shakil Warsi has written extensively about the film in his 2009 book titled Mughal-E-Azam. He writes that the Sheesh Mahal set cost 1.5 million rupees, though some conservative estimates put the figure at Rs. 700,000. This was more than the budget of an entire film at the time. No expense or effort was spared to finish the set to perfection.
The city of Firozabad is known since long for artisans working with glass. Even now, the best bangles in India are manufactured in the town. Firozabad borders the district of Etwah, the birth place of K. Asif. It is reported that for the Sheesh Mahal, he ordered glass from Belgium and artisans from Firozabad.
The set in the Mohan Studio took two years to build. It was a gigantic piece of art – 150 feet long, 80 feet wide and 35 feet high – replete with arches, pillars, cupolas, throne and thousands of mirrors.
Asif wanted to reflect a dancing swirling Anarkali in every one of the thousands of mirrors of his Sheesh Mahal. For the lighting, he reportedly deployed 500 truck lights and 100 reflectors. However, the mirrors reflected too much light and glare. Leading experts on the subject – including Hollywood great David Lean – were consulted, who thought that it was not possible to get the results that Asif wanted. Dismantling the expensive set became a possibility.
When K. Asif proposed dismantling the set due to lighting issues, Pallonji, the financer, went into shock. K. Asif confined himself on the set with the lighting crew. Ultimately, a solution was found by covering all the mirrors with a thin layer of wax. The cinematography director, R.D. Mathur, placed strips of cloth at various locations to implement the idea of reflected light.
The song was picturised simultaneously in black and white, and in colour. The B&W reel was played after the shooting and found not impressive. However, when the colour version of the picturised song – that had been processed in UK – was screened, the distributor is reported to have asked to forget about the film and give him the song only, as he could make 10 million from it. Ultimately, the producers’ financing paid off, as the film made a huge net profit. The set was not dismantled for another six months and made open for public viewing.
Perhaps because K. Asif had serious issues with the lighting, he did not use any lamps on the set. This makes the scene timeless. Absence of lamps suggests a pre-evening time, whereas the reflected lights indicate that its post-evening. However, general ambient glow and absence of shadows during the whole song sequence betrays the presence of good lights all around the set.
Five decades later, Nitin Desai, the art director of Ashutosh Gowariker’s 2008 film Jodha Akbar, cited Mughal-e-Azam’s art director M.K. Syed as his mentor and used two million glasses and mirrors to create his own version of the Sheesh Mahal.
The musical score of the film was created by Naushad, the celebrated music director. It is said that when he decided to enroll Naushad for the film, K. Asif took a brief case full of money to Naushad’s home and asked him to work for him. Naushad was offended by this overt offer of money, and emptied the suitcase out of the window. Eventually, Mrs. Naushad made peace between the two great men. Of the twenty songs composed by Naushad for the film, twelve were included and they run for one fourth of the film length. When composing this particular song, he used raag Darbari for the opening and then employed raag Durga. Darbari is a royal court raag, as the name suggests, developed by Tansen, that creates a sweet and heavy melody. Durga is a sweet nocturnal composition.
When K. Asif proposed dismantling the set due to lighting issues, Pallonji, the financer, went into shock
As the song was to be the center piece of the film, K. Asif was more fastidious than his usual very perfectionist self. Naushad had issues with the original lyrics written by Shakeel Badayuni. One day, Shakeel went to Naushad’s home at six in the evening for a marathon sitting. He emerged at dawn the next day with the lyrics finalized. For the opening line, Naushad recalled hearing a Purbi-language song with the opening line as “Prem Kiya, Kya Chori Kari.” They picked this line and modified it for the first verse, for a song that boldly confesses love and defiantly proclaims it, even at peril of death as the words “jaan bhī le le chāhe zamāna” indicate, meaning “Even if circumstances take my life.”
“Jab pyar kia” is a cleverly crafted song full of symbolism. When Anarkali sings the words “bandon sey parda karna kia” (Why conceal from the world?), she looks at the Emperor fearlessly, and it is the later who blinks. In the whole song, the dancing-girl is confident and defiant, the Prince cheerful and triumphant, the Emperor agitated and flustered, the vamp sulky and piqued, and the Empress torn between her love for her father and son.
Anarkali is attired in a white dress of purity with a long red-coloured scarf, the colour of love. The dance sequence opens with her standing regally in the richly decorated set, dancing for a formal royal function with everyone dressed in their evening best. Behind her, on either side of the ornate alcove, there are four standing and two sitting girls. These twelve girls remain motionless throughout the song and appear part of the other
Midway through the song, from 02:10 to 02:20, for ten seconds, the regal Anarkali twirls before the Emperor under a red-coloured chandelier, with the set draped in splendid colours and reflecting mirrors, in a segment that is captured in one take without any breaks, creating a mesmerising sequence.
The high point of the dance-song, and which attracted the most interest worldwide, is Anarkali reflected in thousands of intricately placed mirrors. Scene is captured in many segments from 03:15 to 03:54, near the end of the song. K. Asif has the dancer reflected in several sets of mirrors. The line of the song being played preceding the mirror sequence, very appropriately says,
Chhup naa sake gaa ishq hamaaraa
Chaaron taraf han unkaa nazaaraa
(Our love cannot be subdued; its glory has spread all around)
During the mirror-dance at 03:45, Anarkali is captured by a top camera, twirling against the patterned floor. Her wide skirt, made from a white see-through cloth, allows the reflected ground light to shine through, which is a harbinger of the scene to follow where her red scarf twirls prominently in hundreds of small mirrors. Looking at the mirrors, the viewers get the feeling of the love between the Prince and the lowly girl spreading through the entire world.
A few words now about the vamp, named Bahar in the film, hence painted as a Muslim but addressed as a neutral ‘Dilaram’ in the original book by Imtiaz Ali Taj. In the song at 1:13, she is sanding by the chair of Saleem. Saleem is shown twice before this scene but only in close ups and the viewers are unaware of the presence of Bahar. As Saleem casts a stern glance at her, she retreats behind his chair, a symbolic indication of her acceptance of defeat and withdrawal from her contest to win over the royal heart. She is shown once more but only on the left edge of the stage; out of focus but the audience knows that in this love triangle, she would have the last laugh.
The fascinating song-dance sequence on a resplendent set concealed the real-life tensions between leading members of the crew. Dilip Kumar and Madhubala had been intensely in love for a very long time. He, hailing from Peshawar, wanted to marry the exquisitely beautiful Pakhtun fellow star, hailing from Swabi. They were in a very public relationship for nine years. However, Madhubala’s father Ataullah had a large family to support with only the actress daughter as the earning member. To her credit, despite her love for Dilip, she didn’t rebel against her father. The relationship broke when Mughal-e-Azam was being shot. It is amazing that despite their private acrimony and the fact that they were not even on talking terms, they enacted amazingly natural love scenes.
Another resentment on the sets was the souring relationship between the lead actor and the film director, i.e. between Dilip and K. Asif. The latter had an amorous heart and, once smitten, adopted a carefree anti-social attitude. While still being a struggling young man, he was taken to Bombay by his sister’s husband, a film actor whose second wife was a fellow actress. At that time, Asif too was already married. However, he developed romantic relationship with the second wife of his brother-in-law. She got divorced and married Asif. Later, he got married to actress Nigar Sultana, who played the role of Bahar in Mughal-e-Azam. During the shooting of the film, Asif used to visit Dilip’s home very often and fell in love with latter’s sister, Akhtar. They got married, much against Dilip’s will. The relationship between the Asif and Dilip got so strained that they were no longer on talking terms and the latter even refused to attend the premier of the film. It is certain and natural that Asif’s relationship with his wife Nigar Sultana would also have come under stress. It is remarkable, therefore, that the film not only got completed but was so well made and achieved great success.
Some movies become unforgettable. Mughal-e-Azam remains relevant even after passage of six decades. It’s a trans-generational film that is universally popular and has given pleasure for millions of movie lovers.
Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org