‘Every South Asian Mother Is A Jodha Bai, Because Every South Asian Father Wants To Be Emperor Akbar!’
By Firdaus Ali
Whether you want to critique or applaud a film, especially when it’s the 1960s epic Mughal-e-Azam, who better than renowned screen writer, lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar to do justice to the job?
Repartees, nostalgia and many such fun facts formed part of the stimulating discussion on K Asif’s legendary film “Mughal-E-Azam,” which took 16 years in the making. The event was part of 2022 BMO IFFSA Toronto’s unique event titled, “Mughal-e-Azam: An Ode to a Masterpiece by Javed Akhtar.”
When you talk of nostalgic romantic moments in Indian cinema, the scene from Mughal-e-Azam wipes out all other scenes, where the young Emperor Salim (played by Dilip Kumar) is caressing Anarkali’s face (played by Madhubala) with light feathery strokes.
Javed Sa’ab points out that few know that Dilip Kumar and Madhubala were not on talking terms while filming the romantic scene that has gone down in the echelons of cinematic history. Both actors were embroiled in a court case, yet the scene became one of the most memorable sensual scenes of Indian cinema.
To which his wife, actor Shabana Azmi is quick to add, “Well, that’s what actors are all about,” referring to how actors can handle any situation when put in front of the camera. Not one to be outwitted, Javed Sa’ab is quick to respond, “Which is why you can never trust them.” Touché!
Javed Sa’ab spoke about how the film is based on the fictional novel “Anarkali” which is an imaginative tale spun by a writer who lived near Anarkali’s grave in Lahore and thought of connecting Anarkali to the Mughal dynasty of Emperor Akbar and Prince Salim with a romantic tale. The novel found the form of a classic Urdu play and was published in Lahore in 1922.
A few films had been made on Anarkali before, a silent film in 1928 and Anarkali starring Beena Rai and Pradeep Kumar in 1953. “But no one seems to remember those films. They were pale in comparison to the grandiose film Mughal-e-Azam. And this maybe because as Salman Rushdie once said, “Every story one chooses to tell, stops the telling of other tales.” This is even true of Mughal-e-Azam.”
Mughal-e-Azam, based on this novel was released among much fanfare on August 5, 1960. The film broke all box office records and becoming the highest-grossing Indian film at the time. “I was a young 15-year-old boy when the film released and remember seeing this epic film in a theatre in Bhopal,” reminisces Javed Sa’ab.
Mughal-e-Azam seems to be similar to many films that we have seen over the years. Shakti written by the Salim-Javed duo is one example.
While, the epic film has a magnanimous story, screenplay and dialogues, the screen writer in him is quick to point out that, Mughal-e-Azam is truly an everyday life story and the story of every household today. It is a story of a father-son conflict, a mother who is torn between her husband and her son. “Every South Asian mother is a Jodha bai because every South Asian father wants to be Emperor Akbar,” points out Javed Sa’ab with dry humour that is uniquely his.
For Javed Sa’ab, besides the brilliant acting, grandiose sets, and cryptic dialogues of the film, one common feature that stands out and binds all 197 minutes of the film together is “dignity.” “There was dignity in the romance, dignity in the father-son conflict, dignity in mother Jodha bai’s dilemma between choosing her son or her husband, dignity in how Emperor Akbar handled his son’s rebellion and dignity in Madhubala’s acting and declaration of her undying love,” says Javed Sa’ab, while going on to recite a few scenes from the film that clarifies his stance.
“Today films just don’t have that dignity because they lack the depth and longevity (tehraav). Everything is fluid, moving at a swift pace. Filmmakers, writers, actors…they don’t want to invest time on one thing. It’s like people have no confidence in what they are creating, and they want to swiftly jump onto the next item on the itinerary,” laments Javed Sa’ab.
Commenting on the fantastic script and dialogues of the film, Javed Sa’ab points out that it is the brilliant writing, direction, dialogues, sets and acting that makes for this spellbinding film. The film had four writers: Amanullah Khan (Zeenat Aman’s father), Wajahat Mirza (dialogue writer for Ganga Jamuna), Kamal Amrohi (Pakeezah) and Ehsan Rizvi. “Even though the film is credited with four writers, you never once lose the connectivity in the film. That says a lot about proficient writing and direction,” adds Javed Sa’ab.
For those who have watched the film, one definitely loses sense of time when watching this epic. The film in no way seems long despite its duration of 197 minutes. “If a film seems long, it has nothing to do with the length of the film and everything to do with the quality of the film,” he rightly points out.
Seeing the abundant learning opportunities that the masterpiece has to offer, Javed Sa’ab feels that the film should have been included college curriculums in India and across the world. The film is an institution in itself, a great learning for younger generations.”
Javed Sa’ab was greeted with silence when he asked how many Punjabi youth in the audience were familiar with Heer, Bulleh Shah and Khawaja Ghulam Farid’s works. “Globally, younger generations are moving away from their roots, their language, and their culture. We as parents, need to keep our legacy alive in our children. Our novels, our writings, our plays need to be sought by the younger generation,” he added.
Citing Emperor Akbar’s life, he calls him a visionary king of the Mughal dynasty. “Akbar changed the course of history. He had Sanskrit literature translated into Urdu and Hindi, he assigned the first church to be built in India, he collaborated with the Rajputs to keep India unified. Many such things that are recorded by historians that make him a one-of-a-kind king who did everything in his power to preserve the rich legacy of arts and culture of those times.
Lastly, the lyricist in Javed Sa’ab brings him back to the legendary film song and he ends the session by reminiscing the infamous lines, “Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya,” where Madhubala stands up to Emperor Akbar in defiance and proclaims her undying love for Prince Salim. This is an ageless song of defiance, of love rebelling against societal norms.
“Mughal-e-Azam is the ultimate irony of our times. Things change but, in the end, they ultimately remain the same!”
Thank you, Javed Sa’ab. We could not have said it better!