Friday, April 25, 2008


I have so much respect for this movie.

I finally got to sit down and watch Mughal-E-Azam after hearing so many references to it on other blogs and films. Because most Hindi classics take me some time to sink into, I expected this to be a bit of a struggle, yet was dedicated to make it all the way through. To my surprise, this took very little effort. It was just like a fairy tale...a handsome prince, an elegant palace, even a cunning villain. I truly enjoyed watching it.

My copy was in color, so I'm judging this without seeing the black and white original, but there was something about the fake-looking candy-coated hues in this film that I found comforting. From Madhubala's face to the dance sequences to the flowers and feathers, the whole look of the film was as magical as a classic should be. And considering that Hindi cinema prides itself in beautiful visuals, my expectations were high for a Bollywood staple like Mughal-E-Azam. Fortunately, I was not disappointed.

But Mughal-E-Azam was more than just flashy. Some of the scenes were unforgettable, with subtle details that added just the right touch. For example, the message passed in the lotus flower was a sweet idea, and Anarkali's entrance as a statue was impressionable. The scene where Prince Salim caresses Anarkali's face with a white feather was touching and erotic, containing little direct physical contact by the lovers. Finally, the sequence were Anarkali "drugs" the prince at their pseudo celebration was filled with appropriate foreboding. In that dramatic climax, the irony of Bahaar singing and the transvestite dancer led up to what we knew was inevitable as we watched the prince and maiden through a white veil. Holding my breath and praying for fate to intervene on the couple's behalf, I was practically on the edge of my seat.

The songs were not wasted in this film- the director used them to tell the story, and they were very effective indeed. In "Pyar Kiya Tho Darna Kya", we see the building tension in the room released in the music as the camera cuts from Madhubala's spinning skirt to the hands beating on what I think is called the Pakhawaj (looks like a drum), then back to the Emperor's face as it goes from simmering to boiling mad. Towards the end of the song, we see the image of Madhubala practically multiply before our eyes as it reflects in the glass ceiling and walls, a vibrant symbol of the dizziness of Prince Salim's love and the mounting irritation of Akbar.

Mughal-E-Azam was my first Bollywood movie from this time period, and therefore I had never seen anything with Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, or Prithviraj Kapoor in it. Dilip was absolutely amazing--his facial expressions were very controlled yet able to convey a raging desire at the same time. Prithviraj was equally grand as Akbar, a mighty emperor who placed duty to Hindustan first and foremost, yet was unable to harden his heart completely to his disobedient son. Madhubala, in my opinion, was reminiscent of a Hollywood starlet, particularly Marilyn Monroe, with a sensual allure and charming smile. Yet she wasn't just another pretty face--Anarkali showed her strength as a woman not to be messed with when she bravely stood up to Akbar and declared her love in "Pyar Kiya Tho Darna Kya".

As if that weren't enough, there was an additional performance that impressed me in Mughal-e-Azam. Nigar Sultana in the conniving role of Bahaar was as mischievous as Catwoman in the Batman comics. With her sultry beauty and snake like movements, she was the perfect depiction of a villain. Oh, how I enjoyed hating her character!

With its elegant beauty, effective directional moves, and stellar performances, watching Mughal-E-Azam reminded me of sitting down to a rich French dessert. I'm not trying to sound cheesy here, but it was just that much of a treat--the sets and costumes were exquisite, the love story tenderly sweet. I'm really, really glad I decided to watch this one.

Text © 2008 Nida Nazir Bitten By Bollywood


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