K Asifs

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    The greatest Indian classical love story of all times

Dr. Irshad A. Sethi traces the 15 eventful years that went into
the realization of K.Asif’s vision of Mughal magnificence and
                   justice which made history.

       Perhaps few know that Mughal-e-Azam, a milestone film, which is being

screened at Nishat Cinema in Karachi for the second time, took 15 long years to make

it to the screen and in Pakistan took more than 45 years - meaning the gap of a

generation; when the taste of the new generation had totally changed from sober,

clean romantics to vulgarity, obscenity and violence with masala added for the front

benches. The film which immortalized the Salim-Anarkali love legend was first

launched in 1945 when the Quit India movement was at its peak. Chandramohan as

the dictatorial monarch Akbar, Sapru as his lovelorn son Salim, Himalaywallah as

Salim‟s faithful friend Durjan Singh, and Nargis as the doomed courtesan Anarkali,

were in the process of recreating history at Minerva Movietone Studio when

Jawaharlal Nehru and Jinnah signed the historic pact which was to make India in

which Muslims were in minority, two separate nations. This pact lead to the creation

of Pakistan with Quaid-e-Azam as it‟s Governor General. Communal fires ravaged

the country and Himalaywallah crossed the border to the newly instituted Pakistan.

Close on his heels followed producer Hakim Shiraz Ali and shooting came to a halt. It

took Asif four years to restart his dream venture with the blessings of two grand old

men, Shapoorji, a business tycoon who had little interest in show business and Palanji

Mistri. Before leaving for Pakistan, Hakim Shiraz Ali had inspired Shapoorji and

Palanji Mistri, both Parsis for Pakistan in real state business known as Sterling

Investment Corporation. K.Asif was the maternal nephew of the famous comedian

Nazeer. K.Asif developed illicit relations with his mumani Sitara Devi (Nazeer‟s

wife) who was a versatile dancer of the 1940‟s. Nazeer divorced her when he came to

know about the illicit relations between his wife and nephew. Nazeer was a tailor by

profession and wanted K.Asif to be a tailor too. But K.Asif used to run away from the

tailoring shop to come to the studio when he was admonished and sent back only to

come again to the studio. Sitara Devi was also a flirt and their marriage did not last

long and ended in separation in less than one year. Shapoorji, an admirer of Emperor

Akbar, was easily convinced by Karim Asif‟s glib tongue. And so, in 1950, Asif‟s

chosen heroes once again faced the camera. There were many changes in the cast of

course. Himalaywallah was replaced by Ajit who was, incidentally, also a part of

another Anarkali. This one being produced by Makhanlal with Kamal Amrohi as

director, had Ajit playing Salim opposite the gorgeous Meena Kumari. However, Ajit

was not destined to play Prince Charming. Amrohi‟s romantic epic never saw the light

of day following a confrontation with Asif. Asif was afraid that his film would take

second place to a moonlit night, Salim caressing the downy cheek of the beautiful

courtesan with a feather with Prem jogan ban jaoo playing in the background in Bare

Ghulam Ali Khan‟s unmistakable voice made for one of the most sensual moments in

Indian cinema since Amrohi was also the scriptwriter of Mughal-e-Azam, so K.Asif

insisted that Amrohi put his film “Anarkali” on hold or walk out of his project.

Amrohi‟s repeated assurances that his film would be very different from Asif‟s

despite the common characters fell on deaf ears. Finally, Amrohi reluctantly

sacrificed his Anarkali at the altar of Asif‟s grand ambitions. However, Asif couldn‟t

convince Filmistan boss, S Mukherji to abandon his Anarkali with Bina Rai in the

title role and Pradeep Kumar as her Salim, which was fast nearing completion.

Interestingly, Ajit had tried to get a role in this Anarkali as well, only to be turned

down by S Mukherji, even though the actor was working in his two other projects,

Nastik and Samrat. The reason Mukherji gave for his refusal was strange. Since his

Salim was a Bengali, his Anarkali a Punjabi and his director, Nandanlal Jaswantlal, a

Gujarati, he felt that an actor who had an excellent command of the Urdu language

would highlight their flawed accents. Mukherji was determined to work only with

artistes for whom Urdu was at best a third language and still make a blockbuster. And

he kept his promise. His Anarkali was a jubilee hit not because of its direction, screen

play or acting but only because of the songs by Lata Mangeshkar and Hemant Kumar.

Incidentally Lata also sang for Mughal-e-Azam.

       Anarkali was hurriedly picturised in 6 months with shoddy sets and released

soon after its completion. The disinformation was circulated in the whole of India that

Mughal-e-Azam is just an improved copy of Anarkali and nothing new. Today people

talk of Anarkali because of Mughal-e-Azam and not otherwise.

       With Shapoorji opening his coffers, work on Asif‟s dream project also

progressed at a brisk pace. Ten reels had been shot when Chandramohan suddenly

suffered a fatal heart attack and shooting came to a standstill once again. The only

actor Asif could visualize stepping into Chandramohan‟s shoes was Prithviraj Kapoor,

a stage actor who in his youth had played an impressive Sikandar. Kapoor had since

put on several kilos and now sprouted a bristling moustache and spoke in a

resounding baritone. Asif was convinced this was the only other man who could

incarnate the Badshah-e-Hind. Pirthvi Raj Kapoor was a member of the Imperial Film

company and had the rare honour of working in the first Indian talkie (Alam ara). He

also acted in Grand Anderson Theatre Company in the dramas of Shakespeare but the

role of Akbar in Mughal-e-Azam became his hallmark. K. Asif wasn‟t wrong in his

choice. Kapoor lived the role. For the scene where Akbar visits the dargah of Salim

Chisti in Ajmer to ask for a son, the veteran actor actually walked barefoot on the

scorching desert sands in torrid May. Asif had promised Kapoor that he too would

stand barefoot on the sand while the actor completed his trek. It was a gesture that

touched Kapoor deeply even though he refused to let his director suffer with him.

“Why should both of us hurt ourselves?” he argued. But he could not convince K.

Asif who had a very adamant personality.

       There were times when the stalwart kept his director and the unit waiting on

the set for hours while Kapoor got under the skin of the character. But after that, it

would invariably be take after perfect take.

       Prithviraj Kapoor‟s entry meant that now the entire 10 reels had to be reshot.

Given the circumstances, Asif decided on another change in the cast. Sapru was

replaced by the more saleable Dilip Kumar who was later, though very unpleasantly

became his brother-in-law by K. Asif marrying his sister Najma who used to come to

enjoy the shooting of the film.

       Surprisingly, Bimal Roy‟s Devdas (Dilip Kumar) was most reluctant to step in

as Asif‟s Salim. His good friend, the inimitable Durjan Singh, remembers that, “Yusuf

sahab was not convinced that he‟d make a convincing prince”. Dilip Kumar hi

thought that he would not do justice to his role because he was a thespian and had

acted in a number of tragedies including Shabnam (1949), Andaz (1949), Aan (1952)

and Devdas (1955).But K.Asif had packed Dilip Kumar off to London to get himself

fitted with a tailored wig which in those days cost 3 lac rupees. When he returned

wearing the hairpiece the thespian had no more doubts that he‟d make a stately


       Dilip Kumar was a man of principles and he never worked in more than one

film at a time. Before agreeing to sign the agreement he first read the script and if he

thought he could do justice to his role only then would he accept it. He complained to

K.Asif that his role was suppressed by Prithvi Raj Kapoor. Upon this K.Asif bluntly

replied, “I am not making Salim-e-Azam, I am making Mughal-e-Azam!”

       Dilip Kumar was introduced to the screen by the green eyed, exaggerated eye

brows, Queen of the marquee, Devika Rani who acted as his heroine in Dilip Kumar‟s

first film Juwar Bhata under the banner of Bombay Talkies.

       Dilip Kumar‟s entry lead to Nargis‟s exit. Grapevine had it that she was

persuaded by that artful dodger and hypocrite, Raj Kapoor to drop out of the project.

In this way he killed two birds with one stone. He tried to make Mughal-e-Azam

devoid of a very experienced heroine and on the other hand he did not let Nargis come

near Dilip Kumar fearing he would lose the “Soney ki chirya” to whom he had falsely

promised matrimony despite being already married. The young Kapoor had gotten

overly possessive of „Baby‟ (Nargis‟s nickname fondly used by friends, family and

film units) and didn‟t want her to make a hit team with another hero. Nargis let her

heart rule her head and lost out on the dream role which immortalized Madhubala.

Madhubala was the Indian Ingrid Bergman. She brought with her a dewy freshness,

that luminescence, those apples in her cheeks, those lush lips that would widen into an

incredibly innocent yet seductive smile at will- they were the hallmarks of

Madhubala. She was one of the first celluloid heroines who could sizzle on the

screen-and fully clothed too. You only need to think of Sangdil, Tarana and Mehal to

name a few to realize her caliber. That it was offset so beautifully by her smashing

good looks was a bonus. The actress who came to be called the Venus of the Indian

screen was a virtual nobody when she started shooting for Mughal-e-Azam.

Madhubala not only made a mesmerising Anarkali but what gave her an edge over

Bina Rai (who played the title role in S Mukherji‟s Anarkali) was the fact that she

actually began to empathize with the courtesan; in the ten years that it took Asif to

complete the film her own love story had run a similar tragic course. She and Dilip

Kumar were all set to tie the knot when the actor was forced by circumstances to give

evidence against Madhubala in a court of law. BR Lal scheduled Madhubala for

breach of contract after her father Ataullah Khan, a Pathan and an extremely greedy

man, had refused to let her accompany the unit for an extended outdoor shoot of Naya

Daur in Bhopal.

       It was because of her relationship with Dilip Kumar that her father did not

want them to go on outdoors together. He suspected that they might get married in his

absence and the “soney ki chirya” will fly out of his hands. But the director of Naya

Daur was insistent about shooting outdoors. This infuriated Madhubala‟s father and

he filed an injunction against the director and they went to the court. The case went on

for almost a year. Dilip Kumar appeared in the witness box for 7 days. He knew that

the director was blameless and he stood by him in the court even though he was very

friendly with Madhubala. He made a statement in the court declaring that he would

always love Madhubala when it was suggested that he had turned against her.

       It was Nargis‟s stupidity to have a tramp like Raj Kapoor who at the same

time was having a pseudo affair with Lata Mangeshkar whom he also promised to

marry. He asked both of them to remail simple by wearing white sarees. At parties

they always wore the same dress. Thus he was sailing in three boats at the same time.

He was a big hypocrite and in once due to his notorious behaviour, in heat his wife

left home with his children which was the talk of the town. It was only on the

intelligent and diplomatic compromise through Dilip Kumar that she returned home to

raise the family. He was miles different form the great thespian who had a long and

happy marriage with Saira Bano after his love-failures with Kamini Koshal,

Madhubala and Nargis. After this “betrayal” Madhubala was never the same again.

Her heart literally broke. And, about that time, doctors detected a hole in her heart,

which, they feared, would restrict her movements and cut shot her life. She was

cautioned against any over-exertion. However, Madhubala, was determined to excel

herself in Asif‟s film, and insisted on doing even a shot which required her to run

quite a distance. As the cameras followed her, capturing every heart-breaking

moment, she made the hundred-meter dash knowing it could cost her life. “When she

collapsed on the floor in a heap at the end of the shot, there were tears in every eye,”

Ajit had recalled in an emotion-choked voice.

       Madhubala herself shed many tears during the making of Mughal-e-Azam.

Every shot with her prince was a trial and caused her trauma. The erotic electricity

was only for the screen. Once the cameras went off there was a strained silence

between the prince and his heartthrob on the sets. In the privacy of her make-up room

Ajit often found Madhubala in tears, haunted by memories of a love lost.

       However, despite personal hassles, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar made a

classic couple. They not only bewitched the viewers but also brought a smile to the

lips of a peeved Ustad, the great Bade Ghulam Ali Khan.

       K. Asif selected Naushad as a music director of the film. Naushad‟s music was

a strong blend of classical raags and folk bandishein. He aid great premium on strong

poetry and shayari as Naushad was a writer and poet himself. He also pioneered many

indigenous technical improvisations in the age of technical recording facilities. He

advised Shakeel Badayuni as the lyricist. Shakeel Badayuni was the perfect blend of

simplicity and depth, with an uncanny grasp of the situation and a perfect sense of

metre. A very prolific and flexible writer, he never changed with the times without

losing his pitch. His songs often had a deep, philosophical and practical insight. His

other specialty was an intense description of rebel female expression which can be

very easily felt in Mughal-e-Azam in which all the songs except one are all sung by

the female protagonists. A case in point are the lyrics, “Pardah nahi jub koi Khda sey,

Bandon sey pardah karma kya?”

       For the prince‟s first meeting with Anarkali, Naushad had composed a

classical number, Prem jogan ban jaoon in raag Sohni. He suggested that Bade

Ghulam Ali Khan Sahab be approached to render the song. K.Asif wanted a return to

the era of Tan Singh and for that the his classical raags would have been perfect. But

the Ustad didn‟t sing for films. “He will sing for my film,” asserted a confident Asif

and one Sunday morning drove down to the Ustad‟s house with Naushad. For Bade

Ghulam Ali Khan sahab it was hate at first sight. “Who is this arrogant man? Doesn‟t

he know this is a musician‟s house and smoking is forbidden?” he whispered to

Naushad. The man he was talking about was unruffled by the whispered conference.

Flicking ash on the floor, Asif told the Ustad imperiously, “You will be singing in my

film. Just name your price.” The Ustad was appalled by the director‟s impertinence

and retorted, “Rs. 25,000!” This was an unheard of sum in those days but it did not

perturb Asif who, without a moment‟s hesitation, handed over Rs. 10,000 as advance

and promised to deliver the rest of the money on the day of the recording. And the

Ustad was stuck with an unwanted film assignment with a director he didn‟t think

much of. However, on the day of the recording he reported to Mehboob Studio on the

dot and immediately hollered for his „gadda, chaddar and takiya‟. Asif waved his

magic wand and within minutes the recording studio had been transformed into a

baithak. Mollified, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan began with the gamak taan. “It‟s too

heavy, I‟d like something softer,” Asif suggested, and Bade Ghulam Mi Khan

stomped out of the studio in a fit of rage, telling the impertinent young man that now

he‟d sing only after he‟d seen the scene. The scene had already been shot and after

editing it overnight Asif arranged a special preview for Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. One

look at the beautiful Madhubala and the maestro was bowled! “Anarkali kafi

khubsoorat hai. Shehzada bhi kafi khubsoorat hai. The scene‟s been photographed

beautifully,” the Ustad acknowledged with an approving smile. He returned to the

baithak and sang the song four times. Each time the scene had to be rewound and

played for him. The marathon session ended with a simple parting statement from the

maestro, “Use whatever you want...But see that it is good.” A moonlit night, Salim

caressing the downy cheek of the mesmerising courtesan with a feather and Prem

jogan ban jaoo playing in the background in Bade Ghulam Ali Khan‟s unmistakable

voice made for one of the most sensual moments in Indian cinema. Later Ustad was

cajoled to render another song, Shubh din aayo, which Tansen sings at the request of

Jodhabai to drive the memory of the battle-scarred fields and cannon blasts from the

mind of Salim, returning home from the wars after 14 years. This 15-minute segment

cost Asif another Rs 25,000. When the film was finally completed, Ustad Bare

ghulam ali Khan‟s name was placed at the top of the credits.

       Another maestro whose name is associated with Mughal-e-Azam is Lachchu

Maharaj. He choreographed the song Mohe panghat pe nandalal chhed gayo re which

was performed at the Mughal court on the occasion of Krishna Janmashtami. This was

the scene where Anarkali, as Radha, was introduced to the prince and Asif was

determined to get the best choreographer possible to direct it for him. It was Naushad

again who suggested the name of the great kathak exponent. Lachchu Maharaj, who,

when he heard the number for the first time, started weeping, much to the amazement

of Asif. Later the maestro confided to Naushad that his father, Alkaji Bindadin had

been a dancer in Nawab Wajid Ali Shah‟s darbar and Mohe panghat mein was his

favourite composition. “This song, which I‟m hearing after all these years, brings

back so many memories of baba,” Lachchu Maharaj sobbed quietly.

       It took the Maharaj five days to choreograph the number. His Radha was a

beauty but no dancer. So one of his boys would double for her in the long shots with

the camera zooming in on Madhubala only during the close-ups. A stranger was

present on the sets during every one of those five days. He was the late Pakistani

premier, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was staying at Worli those days and would drive

down everyday to Mohan Studio to watch the song being picturised. About 20 songs

were recorded for Mughal-e-Azam, 10 of them no one ever heard, including a

classical Shamshad Begum-Mubarak Begum-Lata Mangeshkar number, Husn ki

baraat chali. It was left out on the editing table, along with the boathouse scene of

Salim presenting trophies to the court dancers. Another Shamshad Begum song,

Chala ja re nami chhalakte huaa was also edited out of the final print because

Anarkali never did send her Salim a love letter in a floating lotus. Akele mujhe chod

kar kahan chale re and Aai ishq yeh duniyawale bekaar ki baatein kartein ham were

other casualties. There were times when Naushad wondered why he had accepted the

assignment. But then who could say “no” to Asif? Naushad remembers he was

upstairs in his music room when Asif, despite the pleas of his family not to disturb

him, barged in and announced, “I‟m making Mughal-e-Azam!” Naushad, immersed in

a score he was working on, didn‟t hear him. Not getting the expected reaction, Asif

repeated himself. Naushad still didn‟t react. Asif then threw a bundle of notes on his

harmonium and informed Naushad that he was composing the music of his film. This

time he got a reaction. Naushad was a ghost. He glared at Rs. 75,000 scattered all

around the room. When the servant came up with tea he found his master and the

visitor glaring at each other, currency notes strewn all around them. Horrified, he

rushed to Naushad‟s begum who shrugged, “Perhaps they‟re not real currency notes,

just counterfeit.” The servant however insisted that they were real and begum sahiba

finally went up and gathered them, unnoticed by her husband, who was still glaring at


        Up till his death, Naushad was glad he did Mughal-e-Azam because the

rebellious song Pyar kiya to darna kya has written his name in the history books.

Inspired by a folk song from East UP, Prem kiya kya chori kari hai, it was

transformed into a memorable ghazal by Shakeel Badayuni overnight. “It was almost

midnight when I recalled the folk song,” the veteran composer recalls. “We‟d worked

on two lyrics through the day and rejected both. By the time Shakeel sahab was

through, it was morning, 6.00 am...” Pyar kiya to drana kya was filmed on a dazzling

set at Mohan Studio. The Sheesh Mahal was constructed with glass specially imported

from Belgium. It was 30 feet high, 80 feet wide and 150 feet long. It took the workers

from north India two years to build and cost producer Shapoorji Rs 15 lakh and

almost gave him a cardiac arrest because an expert from Europe knowledgeably

insisted that it would be impossible for Asif to shoot on the set as the walls and pillars

inlaid with a thousand coloured mirrors would reflect the lights. Asif told the man

arrogantly, “If I can‟t photograph the set, I‟ll destroy it.” Hearing this, a horrified

Shapoorji was convinced his director had gone mad. He ordered the Sheesh Mahal to

be destroyed immediately and rushed to Sohrab Modi whom he persuaded to take

over from Asif and complete the epic extravaganza in a month. However, the next

day, when Modi accompanied Shapoorji to Mohan Studio to discuss the possibility of

a new set, they were told by Asif, who was smoking in his usual style with the of

closed first and the cigarette between his middle and ring finger jerking away the ash

with a gentle shake of the wrist seated on Badshah Akbar‟s takht(throne) that whoever

dared break his set would end up with a broken leg himself!

       Asif later apologised to the veteran director and his producer and begged

Shapoorji to let him shoot just one scene in his Sheesh Mahal. Shapoorji relented.

Using a new method of lighting the sets with reflectors, Asif took a few shots which

were rushed to London for processing. A cable from London pronounced that the

results were fantastic. And Asif told Shapoorji that he was leaving and he should

select a new director. Highly mpressed with the rush prints Shapoorji told him that he

considered K.Asif as his own son and there was no point in leaving the film in the

middle. Shapoorji flattered K.Asif so much that he agreed to stay back and the

shooting went on.

       The Sheesh Mahal stayed put at Mohal Studio for two years after shooting had

been completed and attracted hordes of tourists who had to remove their footwear

before entering the mirrored palace. When one visitor objected saying such a rule was

not enforced on any other set, his friend laughingly pointed out, “But this is not just

another set, this is Shahpoorji‟s grave and you can‟t walk on someone‟s grave with

your shoes on, can you?” after the shooting of the song Jub pyar kiya to darna kya.

       There were indeed times when the old builder was afraid he had committed a

grave error by agreeing to back Asif. One such occasion was when the director

approached him with the request for Rs 15 lakh for an outdoor in Jaipur. Shapoorji

absolutely refused to pay more than Rs 3 lakh. That was his first and final offer. The

wily Asif then arranged a special screening of the rushes he‟d shot so far for his

producer. All the scenes featured Akbar, the old man‟s favourite historical character.

Every time Shapoorji wah wahed a scene Asif reminded him that you needed money

to do a good job. He got his Rs 15 lakh and the unit moved to Jaipur for a long

outdoor schedule.

       In the 1950s not many directors chose to shoot on location because lighting

often posed impossible problems. If a film needed battle sequences, directors merely

incorporated clippings from Hollywood films. Asif refused to even contemplate such

a shortcut. He wanted real soldiers and actual shooting. He called his friend Krishna

Menon, the then Defence Minister, and requested him to send an infantry division

from Delhi. He had already got permission to use the cavalry force of the Jaipur 56

regiment. Soon Asif had built up a 2,000-strong army for his film and picturised some

of the most realistic battle scenes in movie history.

       A war, even a staged one, often results in tragic deaths and the battles fought

for Mughal-e-Azarn were no exception. Ajawan on horseback was blown to bits when

a cannon was fired a minute too soon. Another stumbled off the terrace on his way to

the toilet and yet another was lost in the battlefield. These unexpected tragedies

slowed down proceedings and when, at the end of a fortnight, the Delhi battalion

announced that it was time for it to return to the capital, the director was in a tizzy. He

sent a message to Delhi that the train which was to transport the soldiers back had

broken down and it would take another fortnight before it was back on the rails.

Krishna Menon replied with a terse telegram: „If your work is not finished keep the

soldiers. But the financial burden is yours.‟ It wasn‟t just unforeseen accidents that

threw the schedule haywire. Also to blame was Asif‟s quest for perfection. A shot was

rarely okayed without 10-15 retakes. Work at Mohan Studio never began before 2

p.m. because Dilip Kumar never woke up before noon. Even after he had reported for

shooting it would be another six hours before he was on the set complete with

costume and make-up. Around 8 p.m. rehearsals would begin. Then Asif would fiddle

around with the lights and camera. Around 2 a.m. the unit would break for dinner. It

would be another two hours before Asif okayed the first shot. By then his actors

would be wrecks. Ajit once confessed that there were days when they would step out

for a walk around dawn and never return. Asif took their truancy in his stride. “ Kya

hua? Character bhaag gaya? Theek hai, doosra shot lagao,” he‟d guffaw. He forgave

them, remembering those sweltering hours in Rajasthan when both actors had stood

under the desert sun in heavy armour and quilted leather suits, bathed in sweat, but

never complained. Asif himself slept on a straw chataai (mat) on the floors of Mohan

Studios while the film was being made and spent the monthly salary he received from

Shapoorji on the film. But he refused to compromise on the film. For the final scene

of Anarkali‟s entombment, he wanted real marble for the scene. Shapoorji, already

poorer by over a lakh, reasoned that there was no way the audience could tell real

marble from plaster of Paris on screen. When Asif insisted, Shapoorji asked him in

exasperation, “Do you want real marble to make Anarkali‟s tomb, or mine?”

       When the time came to write the ending of Mughal-e-Azam, K.Asif‟s panel of

four esteemed writers was stuck. They did not want to show Anarkali being entombed

by Akbar because that would have negated Akbar‟s legendary justice. The writers

brainstormed day in and day out. At last a weary Asif announced a prize of Rs. 85,000

for any one who could come up with a suitable ending. A few days later, as soon as

Asif had returned from a night long shooting and had just gone to sleep, a man

excitedly rushed up to him, exclaiming “I have found the ending”. Relieved, Asif

welcomed him with open arms and offered him tea and biscuits. The man disclosed

his perfect ending, “Akbar draws lots from amongst his courtiers to see what should

be the fate of Anarkali. Whichever chit comes up, Akbar follows that course!” K. Asif

politely asked the man to return the tea and the biscuits and leave the premises at

once. An ending could not have been more stupid. It would have destroyed the movie.

Finally it was decided that initially Akbar promises Anarkali‟s mother the acceptance

of her any one wish. When the time comes, Anarkali‟s mother requests her daughter‟s

life, which as a man of his word, is grantd by Akbar.

       At the end of the marathon schedules Asif had in hand 80,000 feet of negative.

Only 400-500 feet were eventually used. With what was left he could have made at

least two more Mughal-e-Azams. But he was content with the one he‟d made and

swore he would sell it for no less than Rs. 15 lakbs per territory, at a time when the

rate per territory at the time rarely crossed four lakhs. He adamantly refused to show

the finished film to distributors, yet managed to sell the film for the unheard of price.

On August 5, 1960 K Asif‟s magnum opus finally premiered at Mumbai‟s Maratha

Mandir. The theatre, ablaze in the glow of a dozen spotlights, was the place to be that

evening. Chief Minister YB Chavan, business magnates, movie moghuls, glamorous

stars everyone was making their way to Maratha Mandir‟s darkened auditorium to

watch the first screening of the movie that had had tinsel town wowing for a decade.

Among the celebrities were Prithviraj Kapoor‟s two sons, Raj who had air-dashed

from Czechoslovakia and Shammi who had also cut short a trip to the Far East. There

was Dargah Khote, Dev Anand with his wife Kalpana Kartik, Surraiya, Nutan and

Devika Rani to name a few. But the man who was sadly conspicuous by his absence

was Dilip Kumar because the Pathan was exceedingly annoyed with Karimuddin Asif

for seducing his younger sister into matrimony without his consent and already having

2 wives besides being a womanizer.

       At 9.00 P.M, the epic unveiled. Within the first half hour, there were yawns

and whispers of “boring hai”. At the end of the 19 reels the unanimous verdict

expressed in muted tones was that the film was a disaster. The atmosphere in the

brightly-lit foyer of the theatre was funereal.

       Prithviraj Kapoor, the imperious Akbar, tried to melt into the shadows. When

Ajit, the valiant Durjan Singh, rushed across to touch his feet, he enveloped him in a

bear hug. It was the embrace of a dying man. A man who had for 10 long years fought

a losing battle and was finally forced to acknowledge his defeat. The only man who

refused to be disheartened was the K Asif. He had organized a champagne party at his

house after the show and handing out the bubbly to his crestfallen warriors he

promised that the film would pick up in a week. “Meanwhile eat, drink and be merry”,

he prodded them. Sure enough for the first few days the 150 theatres screening

Mughal-e-Azam were near empty. The Gujarati viewers couldn‟t understand why

Akbar kept asking for a takiya (He was actually saying talkhiya which was the royal

way of saying „leave me alone‟). And why no one obliged him with a pillow if he was

sleepy? After all, it was a simple enough request.

       However, before the first week had ended collections suddenly escalated and

Shapoorji, who had for almost a decade, driven to Mohan Studio in his Dodge with

cheques and choicest abuses for Asif, finally smiled at him when told that the first

week‟s earnings were an impressive Rs 40 lakh. His 1.5 crore gamble had eventually

paid off; and how!

       The film earned more than 10 crore rupees in a span of 2 years. Shapoorji and

Palamji went laughing all the way to the bank. And what about poor Karimuddin

Asif? He kept on living in a rented house and traveling in a hired taxi. Honesty is the

best policy. It really paid off. But certainly not to K. Asif whose every parchi to be

paid to someone was really meant to be paid for the film. When the film was half

made, Shapoorji was over certain that K.Asif ahs destroyed him financially. At that

time Dilip Kumar‟s own film Ganga Jamuna was near completion. Shapoorji called

K. Asif and told him that he had ruined him. He gave him 50,000 rupees as a

commission and asked him to recommend Dilip Kumar to give him the rights of

screening Ganga Jamuna. Extremely annoyed, K. Asif threw away the money and

walked out. The next day, he brought the agreement papers of Ganga Jamuna from

Dilip Kumar and kept it on Shapoorji‟s table and quipped, “Do you think I am worth

only 50,000 rupees? You are the sole distributor of Ganga Jamuna for the whole of

India and I have not done any favour to you, Sethji!” Shapoorji looked aghast. In his

heart he knew that Asif was really a very honest man.

       One of the only dreams which remained unfulfilled was that K Asif wanted to

make the whole film in colour but the investors refused to give more money so he had

to be content with filming one song for Sheesh Mahal in colour in which a dancing

Madhubala‟s reflection can be seen in more than a thousand mirrors and even

Mughal-e-Azam raises his head to see the dancing queen with awe.

People were expecting that the film will bag at least 10 film fare awards, Best Actor -

Prithvi Raj Kapoor, Best film, best director, best actress-Madhubala, best supporting

actress - Dargah Khotey, best supporting actor - Dilip Kumar, best musician -

Naushad Ali, best lyricist - Shakeel Badayuni, best playback singer, best story, best

cinematography, best screenplay, best dialogue, best editing, best art direction, best

choreography and best costumes. The president of India Dr. Rajindra Prakash was

welcomed to the 8 th film awards by a glamourous bunch of actresses that included

Sadhna and Ayesha Parekh. Music directors Shankar Jaikishen coordinated a 60 piece

orchestra for the occasion. It was a year of surprises and disappointments. Mughal-e-

Azam won the best film award but didn‟t fetch K.Asif the best director trophy (it went

to Bimal Roy for Parekh). The film picked up only 2 more awards: Best

Cinematograhy award for R.D Mathus and best Dialogue shared by 4 writers –

Amanullah Kahan, Wajhat Mirza, Ahsan Rizvi and Kamal Amrohi. K. Asif and his

team walked out of the award ceremony refusing to accept what they considered a

mere pittance of their due.

          K. Asif didn‟t live long and had a sudden death in 1971. Dilip Kumar was at

that time in Bombay but he did not attend his own brother-in-law‟s funeral. So much

was the fury against him that it lasted throughout Asif‟s life. On the other hand when

Madhubala died in 1969, Dilip Kumar was in Bangalore busy in shooting. He

immediately left for Bombay and from the airport went straight to the graveyard and

wept profusely like a child. So was his love and so was his hatred, a true son of a


          Through out his life up till his death, K.Asif used to mention his dream to his

son, Akber Asif. It was the idea of Dilip Kumar that the film should be made in colour

because the technology had a advanced so much that it could have been easily done.

Both Palamji and Shapoorji had died in the meantime. Akber Asif contacted the sons

of Shapoorji who are now the directors of Sterling Investment co. They agreed to

make the film in colour. The estimated cost of the making was more than 100 crores.

So it was decided that the original film be turned into colour.

          During these 4 decades, the negatives had become so worn out that it was very

difficult to process them. After a lost of search, a negative film was found which was

made in 1980. It had 300,000 frames. These frames were scanned by Wet gate

scanner. Then this film was processed into cinemascope by terabyte technique which

is equivalent to 1 trillion bytes. For this process Onex 3200 super computer and

inferno was used and perfect negatives were recorded.

       Now it was the turn of Sterling Investment co. to colour these negatives. This

was done under the directorship of Tapeesh Salkiya. After this process, the colours

were adjusted to make them vibrant and suitable for the scene. The blurred frames

were made sharper by special software. This was done by Iris Interactive, a software

company which specializes in these processes. To bring a balance to the colours the

film was sent to Rajtru Studio. They are all digitized and the damaged frames

reconstructed. In this way the negatives of the film were secured. On every step, 3000

G.B data was required for processing.

       Since the jewellery and costumes used in the film were traditional and of

intricate designs, it was extremely difficult to colour them. For this special software

designs were created which had never been done before. Since the colours were of the

days of the Mughal Empire, therefore before colouring the film was sent to Indian

Academy of arts and animation which worked for 18 months starting October 2004

and colours pertaining to the Mughal period were selected with startling reality.

       All the songs were recorded in mono. Now the technology of music has

advanced so much that instead of one track more than eight are used separately for

sound, voice and different types of music. It was yesterday once again. Naushad was

again in the picture after 4 decades. He agreed to recompose the music in 6.1 dolby

dts. Multi level processing was used which was possible by the cooperation of Chips

Production; L.A, U.S.A. Naushad used a 60 chorus singers team and 120 classical

musicians and made the original background music.

       The film was released in November 2004 and the dream of K.Asif became true

after 44 years. In that week 4 big budget films were released bringing two titans face

to face – Shahrukh Khan and Dilip Kumar. The premier of Mughal-e-Azam was held

and was attended by a large number of celebrities. The three living legends were the

centers of attraction. Dilip Kumar was overwhelmed when he entered the theatre and

he became so emotional that he had tears in his eyes. He was accompanied by his wife

Saira Bano. Naushad Ali was there in a wheel chair but very bright and inquisitive.

Lata Mangeshkar whose every song of Mughal-e-Azam was a great hit, was also

present. It was just like yesterday once again. These three were the special guests

because they had worked in Mughal-e-Azam 44 years back. Sadly Prithvi Raj Kapoor,

Dargah Khotey, Ajeet, Madhubala, Mohammad Rafi and a number of other people

associated with the film, had passed away. The film‟s collections in the first month

were 96%, more than Veer Zaara. Overseas the film made 6 Crores and thus it was a

huge success once again.

          In December 2004, Akber Asif presented the film to Pakistan‟s President

General Parvez Musharraf and requested him that the film should be released in

Pakistan. It was the first time after 1965 that an Indian movie was screened in

Pakistan. Unfortunately the taste of the public here has changed from cinema halls to

the small screen and Mughal-e-Azam failed to perform up to the expectations of

Nadeem Mandivalla, owner of Nishat Cinema, who had bought the film for 2 Crore


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