Mughal-e-Azam, 50 years later
As the colourised classic is being re-released for the second time to coincide with Id festivities, Deepa Karmalkar checks out if the film, which had a historic premiere, still retains its charm

Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam
Madhubala in Mughal-e-Azam

In 1960, Mughal-e-Azam premiered at Maratha Mandir, Mumbai, in regal grandeur as the print of the film was ushered in on elephant back to the roll of drums. "We were completely mesmerised! Prithiviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala had cast a spell then," recalls octogenarian Shrikrishna Ranade, who had attended that historic premiere. Forty-four years later in November 2004, he was fortunate to attend a lavish, star-studded premiere of the restored and colourised version of the classic at Eros theatre in Mumbai.

"This time, Dilip Kumar was also there," adds Ranade excitedly. But now on Id, even as Mughal-e-Azam is being re-released, Ranade remains unaware of it. Sounding a trifle miffed, he grumbles, "I havenít even seen any advertisement this time."

Is the lack of publicity and marketing buzz going to steer fans away from their beloved classic, K Asifís labour of love, which was in the making for nine long years?

Bollywood trade pundit N. P. Yadav, a die-hard fan himself, shrugs off apprehension, "It is a long weekend and there is a great festive mood. Of course, people will go all out to watch their timeless favourite. Count me in ó I can never get enough of that dialogue-baazi. We are used to watching films in colour, so we can enjoy the new version far better," he adds buoyantly.

Likewise, Vinod Mirani, veteran trade analyst, is optimistic about the turnout, "Dabbang is a solo big release so there is definitely a good scope for Mughal-e-Azam for its deserved run. It is a film of such grand proportions in terms of the sets, scenes and the star cast that nothing less than a big screen viewing can do full justice to it," he asserts.

During the re-release, the film ran for 25 weeks and against that too pitched against Yash Chopraís Veer Zaara and Abbas Mustanís Aitraaz, reminds Yadav.

But Amodh Mehra, the noted boxoffice expert, is not too optimistic about the boxoffice prospects of the second re-release, "People have already seen the colourised version and even the DVDs are out now. The owners of the film have already milked the cash cow dry," he opines about the film that was the biggest grosser of its time until Sholay tilted the scales 15 years later. Mehra feels the "low buzz" will only add to its woes.

But Udaya Tara Nayar, the chronicler of Dilip Kumarís authorised biography, begs to differ, "As many as times as it is re-released, the colourised version will always have a draw among fans. Because colours have really enhanced the visual appeal of the film. The Sheesh Mahal, the war scenes and Madhubalaís beauty is magnified tenfold. To enjoy its sheer beauty, content and visual grandeur, only the big screen can do justice," she points out.

K. Asifís magnum opus was wrapped on a budget of Rs 1.5 crore, an exorbitant price back then. K. Asif wanted to remake the whole film in colour, but the distributors lost patience, and the film was originally released with 15 per cent in colour and the remaining 85 per cent in black and white.

Asifís dream was fulfilled when the film was colourised at the expense of Rs 10 crore for colouring 3,00,000 frames. The year-long colourisation process was undertaken by Sterling Investment Corp Pvt Ltd., a company part of Shapoorji Pallonji Group, the original financiers of the film, using the technical expertise of IAAA (Indian Academy of Arts and Animation), Acris Laboratories, Rajtaru Studios.

The low key publicity this time has been attributed to the lack of initiative on part of the distributor of lesser repute, who just wants the birds to come home roosting. Never mind the marketing jargon and gimmicks or the lack thereof, the fact remains that Mughal-e-Azam has a timeless appeal and even 50 years later ó there will be takers for Prince Salimís tragic romance with the ethereally beautiful courtesan Anarkali.

Salim recalls

Dilip Kumar was considered for the role of Salim by K Asif when he was a star on the rise. Asif wanted to make Anarkali then but he failed to raise the requisite funds then for his dream venture. But Asif promised himself that he would make the love story of Salim and Anarkali someday and he would cast the handsome Yusuf Khan in the role of Salim. Asif couldnít forget the aristocratic bearing of Dilip Kumar and the intensity in his eyes. By that time, he was ready with the idea of making Mughal-e-Azam, Dilip was already a superstar. Dilip remembered the earlier proposal and was still keen on playing the Mughal prince. "We worked together on many scenes and the hardest part was the shooting in the Rajasthan desert location with all the armour and make up," Dilip saab recalls.