In the annals of Indian cinema, no film before and after could hold a candle to Mughal-e-Azam in terms of grandeur, style, acting, dialogue-delivery, set-up, direction and music. Phlegmatic film critic Chidanand Dasgupta awarded 100 out of 100 (not today's 100 out of 100 awarded to all students!) to Mughal-e-Azam and Bunny Reuben called it, The Milestone of Hindi Cinema.
Passed on July 15, 1960 by the Film Censor Board, the movie hit the marquee on Friday, August 5, 1960 in 150 theatres across the country and abroad. Legendary film critic Iqbal Masood wrote in now defunct film magazine 'Cinema' that Mughal-e-Azam was actually an outcome of healthy competitiveness. Mehboob Khan's ' Mother India ' became a super-hit as a supremely crafted movie in 1957. That egged K Asif on to make something to emulate, nay surpass, 'Mother India.' Thus, the seed of Mughal-e-Azam germinated in the mind of K Asif.
K Asif was fascinated by Mughal history and the persona of emperor Akbar. His cardinal objective was to project an overwhelming image of Akbar on the silver screen. But at the same time, he was alive to the psyche of Indian cine-goers and their predilection for pyaar-muhabbat, naach-gaana. He then zeroed in on the apocryphal episode of immortal love of Salim (later Jahangir) and Anarkali. That Anarkali was almost a fictitious character was never an issue which bothered the uncritical movie-goers at that time. The emperor of undivided India, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, was dead against his young son Salim falling for an insignificant raqqasa (danseuse), Anarkali. And the 'recalcitrant' son (enacted on the celluloid by the peerless Dilip Kumar) was also adamant, so much so that he militated against his imperious father and the emperor!
Sandwiched between two proud and highly individualistic men, Anarkali's role was finely etched out by the ethereal and breathtakingly beautiful Madhubala. The role of a helpless but dignified Jodhabai was essayed by the redoubtable Durga Khote, who despite being a Maharashtrian, could speak Persianised Urdu and was comfortable in conversing with two Peshawaris, Prithviraj Kapoor and Yusuf Khan (Dilip Kumar) who spoke in Hindko and Pashto off-screen!
K Asif left no stone unturned to make this movie and even managed to rope in Bade Ghulam Ali Khan for 25,000 rupees (a princely sum for one song sixty years ago!) to render raag Deepak for Tansen. He sang two songs: Prem Jogan Ban Ke and Shubh Din Aayo Raj Dulara for 60 K! To quote Aligarh historian Muhammad Mujeeb, “K Asif hired not just the best, but very best for his epochal film.”
Interspersed with high-falutin Persianised Urdu, Mughal-e-Azam impacted the cinematic sensibilities of all those who watched it in theatres. Mainly a black and white movie, the famous song Pyar kiya toh darna kiya filmed on Madhubala and rendered by Lata Mangeshkar on screen, was coloured at that time. The movie was digitally coloured and re-released in the beginning of the new millennium. In the final analysis, it was a quintessential Na Bhuto, Na Bhavishyte sort of a film that's still etched in the collective consciousness of lovers of Hindi cinema. Though sixty years have elapsed, its mojo is still intact and its charisma is hither-to unsullied. True to the Arabic adjective, Azam (very great), Mughal-e-Azam is an Al-Azam (the Greatest) movie of all time. Lastly, in terms of ringing the cash register in 1960, Mughal-e-Azam eclipsed Alfred Hitchcock's ' Psycho' and Federico Fellini's 'La Dolce Vita.'
Did you know?
In 1960, the film released in Maratha Mandir with 100% booking for seven weeks even before the first show of the film. The film had an uninterrupted housefull run for three years, a record unbeaten for 44 years.
The film was made on a budget of Rs 1.5 crores — ten times the cost of an average film in 1960s.
In 1976, the movie was first telecast on Amritsar Doordarshan, which resulted in all flights from Karachi to Lahore booked for 15 days (Lahore could receive signals from Amritsar at that time). It also led to all TV shops in Lahore running out of stock.
In 2004, the film re-released on November 12 in colour and six track Dolby Digital sound. It became the first full feature-length movie to be revived/colorised for a theatrical re-release in the history of world cinema.