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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - The footwear was expensive and custom-made for the actor already on his way to becoming a legend and the film black and white, but director K. Asif was candid if a little brutal, "If I give normal footwear, he will walk like Dilip Kumar and if I give expensive shoes he will walk like Salim."
Mughal e Azam, the epic extravaganza on the doomed love between the rebellious prince Salim and the headstrong dancer Anarkali, turned 60 this month. And film historian S M M Ausaja's recall of Asif's answer when asked why he would spend so much on shoes in a film where the colours wouldn't show up illustrates the quest for perfection that led to a classic which has stood the test of six decades - and counting. Nothing could come between the vision of a filmmaker, who was only in his 20s when he started the film that was 12 years in the making, and its realisation. There could be no compromise, not even on shoes.
Mughal-E-Azam, starring Prithviraj Kapoor in the title role as Emperor Akbar, Durga Khote as Jodha Bai and Dilip Kumar and Madhubala as the star-crossed lovers, was born of Asif's obsession to create a grand celluloid event that would be a beacon for Hindi cinema for all time.
With exquisite detailing, music by Naushad and songs such as Mohe Panghat Pe Nand Lal and Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kiya, the lavishly told tale of forbidden romance released on August 5, 1960. And Asif's dream was reallised with many thousands pouring into theatres to watch the film multiple times.
Some stories, anecdotes and quotes become part of folklore. In fact, the making of Mughal e Azam could be a film all its own with those associated with it, film historians and aficionados doffing their hats to the stubborn, perfectionist that was K. Asif.
Melody queen Lata Mangeshkar said music played a pivotal role in taking the story forward.
"I met K. Asif sahab maybe two-three times. Most of our interactions were with Naushad sahab. He would interact with the director first, understand things and then take the responsibility of scoring the best music. Asif sahab would always be happy with the songs. Shakeel Badayuni sahab wrote such beautiful lines. Every song is so beautiful," Mangeshkar said.
Recalling the recording of Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya in an era without the tech gimmicks of today, she said, "Naushad sahab wanted to add a few things and we didn't have the technology. He told me to sing the lines Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya and then slowly step back while singing so that my voice comes from a little distance."
Actor Tabassum was about 14 years old when she acted in the film.
"Asif sahab used to say, whenever a film will be made and will be lajawab (perfect), people will ask, 'Are you making Mughal-E-Azam?," she said.
"Asif sahab believed in perfection. Usually, directors would say 'ok' to a shot given by an artiste. He was adamant on getting the perfect shot and if he wouldn't get one he wouldn't move ahead. Due to Asif's sahab desire for perfection, the film took a lot of time to be made," she said.
Asif, she recalled, approached her parents for a role where she would be shown having a tiff with Jalal Agha, who was to play the young Salim. She said the shooting took place for 35-40 days but she was a little hurt as most of her scenes were cut.
The memories are precious nonetheless, she said, recalling that the film and the shooting of it represented the best of composite Indian culture with stars and junior artistes mingling freely, sharing food and bonding like a big family.
The film was shot at Mohan Studios in Andheri.
"It was like a happy family. It seemed like a prince was getting married as there was a crowd on the sets. There was no difference or distinction between actors and technicians, rich or poor or on the basis of religion."
"Asif sahab was a foodie so there were so many delicacies. There was Mughlai food for Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, Durga Khote and I loved Maharashtrian food, Punjabi dishes were for Prithviraj Kapoor ji. Everyone from actors to technicians, including lightmen, would gorge on food."
The stories abound.
Writer Rajkumar Kesvani, who researched for 15 years to write his bestseller Dastan-E-Mughal-E-Azam, recalled people repeating the dialogues of the film on the streets when he was just a child.
One day his family took him to watch the film and that's the day he said his life changed forever.
He said it was like being touched by the magic of Asif's madness, his 'faqirana mizaj'.
"The aim behind writing this book was the magnetic personality of K. Asif. I wanted to know what kind of a man would make something that people have been trying to recreate for 60 years but have failed," he said.
"He was a man who never cared for money, made a movie worth crores but lived in rented accommodations and never owned a car. He would roam around in taxis. His fourth marriage was with Dilip Kumar's sister Akhtar Asif," he said.
Akhtar once told him that he didn't know how to write a cheque. And one time, he gave away Rs 10,000 of the Rs 15,000 he had just withdrawn from the bank to a stranger who needed it for his daughter's wedding.
"He was an obsessive (junooni aadmi) man. There was a kind of stubbornness about this film because he faced a lot of hardships in making it. He had a different star cast when they did the muhurat in 1945. One fourth of the film was already made by the time Partition happened. The film's financier went to Pakistan and Chandramohan, who was playing Akbar died, forcing Asif to abandon two years worth of work," said Kesvani.
Asif found a financier, Shapoorji Palanji Mistri, but there were issues galore because of the filmmaker's spendthrift ways.
"He had become the butt of jokes in magazines about the unending shoot of the movie but these things only deepened his obsession," added Kesvani.
In 2004, Mughal-E-Azam became the first black-and-white Hindi film to be digitally coloured, 44 years after the film released.
In what is is part of film history, Anil Zankar, author of Mughal-e-Azam - Legend as Epic, said Asif was a close friend of writer Saadat Hasan Manto and a part of the Progressive Writers Movement, Asif.
"Probably it has to do with the atmosphere at that particular time and he wanted to create a different canvas," he said.
Asif, Zankar said, shot for almost two to three months to shoot the battle scenes in Rajasthan with multi cameras and deployed 7,000 to 10,000 people. In the film, it was reduced to a seven-minute sequence.
The excitement over the Salim-Anarkali romance and indeed the off screen relationship between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala built up over time with Mughal-E-Azam taking more than a decade to make. Filmistan Studios cashed in on the craze to make Anarkali in 1954.
The movie, starring Pradeep Kumar and Binu Roy, was also a superhit.
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