by Allan Fish
(India 1960 195m) DVD2
A pretty petrel
p Karim Asif d Karim Asif w Karim Asif, Aman, Kamal Amrohi, Ehsan Rizvi, Wajahat Mirza ph R.D.Mathur ed Dharamvir m Naushad art M.K.Syed cos Jaggi
Prithviraj Kapoor (Emperor Akbar), Madhubala (Anarkali), Dilip Kumar (Prince Salim), Durga Khote (Maharani Jodha Bai), Nigar Sultana (Bahai), Ajit (Durjan Singh), M.Kumar (sculptor), Murad (Man Singh), Jilloo Maa (Anarkali’s mother), Sheela Dalaya (Suraiya), Jalal Agha (young Salim),
“History and legend link the story of our past. When both are fused in the crucible of art and imagination, the spirit of this great Lord is revealed in all its splendour and beauty.” So begins the film that has been, at one time or another, claimed as India’s biggest epic, the supreme Bollywood production and indeed India’s most beloved film. Seek it out on DVD now, however, and a quandary is presented. Virtually all prints are now of a 2004 colourised version of the film.
Colourisation is a topic likely to cause the mildest mannered of film buffs to spurt steam out of their ears like dragons. To even think of calling it a no-no is to understate the feeling of intense hatred caused by the cronies of Ted Turner and the use of this process from the 1980s. One recalls poor Orson Welles dying and begging those round him to ensure Turner didn’t get his crayons on Kane. Or those poor souls unfortunate enough to have sat through colourisations of everything from Laurel and Hardy to Alastair Sim’s Scrooge and It’s a Wonderful Life who still require therapy. There was always a difference with regard to Karim Asif’s film, however, in that those doing the colourisation felt they were abiding with his wishes. Asif had wanted Mughal-e-Azam to be in colour throughout its three hour plus running time. As it is, with the budget swallowed up by the vast sets and colour stock at an absolute premium, he only got enough Technicolor film to shoot two sequences.
If we look at the results, we would have to admit that, as colourisations go, it’s a labour of love, rather than the usual ‘colour it for the idiots who can’t watch anything in black and white’. Yet the difference between the colourised majority and the actual colour sequences becomes all the more pointed. I longed to get my mitts on the original black and white version and finally did so. From the two colour sequences one could imagine the grandeur of the sets through the black and white surface, appreciate the incredible detail that would cause people to come from miles around just to see the sets both during shooting and afterwards. Truly the use of colour design would not be supplanted until Zhang Yimou’s The House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower in the digital era. It was a decade in the making. It just had to be something prestigious and indeed it was.
Those au fait with Bollywood will know there’s little restraint here, it’s all about as subtle as a whoopee cushion, with dialogue often not so much spoken as recited as if from a holy book, dance sequences – eight in all – often coming at the most ridiculous moments. But who can deny the power of the choreography and music, of the very notion of duelling singers fighting for favour? As for the story, it’s that old warhorse, told by the Indian nation itself, or Hindustan as it was then called, of the events in the Indian empire of the 16th century, as a prince grows up to love a slave girl against not just his emperor father’s wishes but against tradition, the revolt that results and the sacrifices made in reconciliation. More important is the detail, for Mughal is quite simply an all you can eat buffet of sub-continental sensibilities. You come out feeling completely stuffed, ever so slightly nauseous, and you wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s also helped by its cast, who each act as if they believe in this codswallop. Kapoor is delicious as the blunderbuss emperor, Kumar ideal as the romantic hero and Madhubala edible as the luckless heroine. It may not be a masterpiece, but it’s an undoubted classic – even suggesting otherwise might see you buried alive in India!