A myth that became a classic
THE IMMORTAL DIALOGUES OF K ASIF'S MUGHAL-E-AZAM: Nasreen Munni Kabir Tr. in English; Oxford University Press, YMCA Library Building, Jai Singh Road, New Delhi-110001. Rs. 1500.
Indian cinema has always revelled in costume dramas and extravaganzas. Not only myth and legend, mythicised history has been its regular source of romance. And here the Mughals have dwarfed others in spectacular pageantry. Moreover, Mughal themes, whether in classic "Anarkali" or maudlin "Taj Mahal' and "Jahanara", have brought out some of the most moving melodies to haunt generations of Indians across the nation. "Mughal-e-Azam" is no exception. It is not only the best example of the genre, but also an unforgettable part of Indian film history. If Prithviraj Kapoor and Madhubala had never acted in any other film, they would still be remembered for their extraordinary performances as Akbar and Anarkali in Mughal-e-Azam. Their vivid portrayals make us forget that Imtiaz Ali Taj spun out the Anarkali legend for modern Urdu Parsi theatre.
Part of the collective unconscious of Indian cineastes, Mughal-e-Azam scores on many grounds. Excellent casting and performances from minor characters like the sculptor (Kumar) and Durjan Singh (Ajit) to glamorous Dilip Kumar, fine black and white cinematography (sadly eclipsed in the recent colourised version for re-release), exquisite music by Naushad, the spellbinding "Prem jogan ban ke" Bade Ghulam Ali Khan renders for what is possibly the most poignant moment for the star-crossed lovers, shimmering lyrics by Shakeel Badayuni (Pyar kiya to darna kya, Bekas pe karam kijiye, Khuda nigehban ho tumhara) and an ethereal "Mohe panghat pe" by Raskavi Raghunath Brahmbhatt set to a dancing Gaara, a camera that captures vast battlefields as also human faces steeped in rage or tenderness... No wonder the film played to full houses for three years, more than recovering the costs of 15 years of production. Forty years later, it was digitally re-mastered and colourised by a team of 150 technicians and released successfully.
But unquestionably, what breathed authenticity into this panorama was the word. The Farsi-steeped Urdu resonated from every frame and went straight into the listener's heart. It combined majesty and lyricism. Even those who did not understand the language were able to respond to its sound qualities. Nor did the dialogue writers forget to bring the flavours of a different culture to the Rajasthan-born Empress Jodhabai. Others refers to Akbar as Zill-e-ilahi. She calls him Mahabali.
The Immortal Dialogues of Mughal-e-Azam now brings those words back to the printed page, in Urdu, Hindi, Roman scripts, with an English translation. Transcribed by Suhail Akhtar, and translated by Nasreen Munni Kabir, this heavy volume enables us to understand why "Mughal-eAzam" remains a classic of its kind. The work of four writers (Amanullah Khan, Ehsan Rizvi, Kamal Amrohi and Vajahat Mirza), based on the screenplay by K.Asif and Aman, the dialogues create not only the ambience of this period drama, but also etch character and situation. Every syllable breathes power and emotion.
The simplest phrases achieve this effect. Emperor Akbar decrees death to the slave girl Anarkali because his only son Salim has fallen in love with her. Anarkali knows her tragic fate. The book has useful appendices including glossary of Arabic and Farsi words with Hindi equivalents, 24 full-page stills from the colourised film, and film credits. It has a foreword by Javed Akhtar where he sees the dialogues creating "landscapes of pain, tears and helplessness... according an epic dignity to situations and conflicts that resonate in our lives."
The preface by Deepesh Salgia, project director of the film's colour version, pays tribute to Seth Shapoorji Pallonji Mistry, the businessman who funded K.Asif's dream with faith and munificence. The book is fittingly dedicated to him.
Nasreen Munni Kabir introduces the text and her approach to her daunting task of translating lines redolent with archaic phrases and a vanished culture, a task that she has performed with aplomb, grace and love.
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