screencap 1

Anarkali confiding her fears to her ever optimistic sister Suraiya

‘Mughal- e-Azam’ is a film I have a somewhat odd relationship with. It is a film I (like many others) rate very highly, and can watch over and over again. Yet, as a love story it has never meant anything to me. What then repeatedly draws me to it, despite the minimal emotional impact it has always had? The fact that it is so superbly written. Ninety percent of the film has aptly been described as pure poetry. There are so many stunning lines and exchanges between the characters that leave you going ‘OMG’ or ‘wow…that was some comeback!’ It is an astoundingly well written film, and that is where Mughal-e-Azam’s immortality lies. Though, of course, you have the grand sets, Naushad’s wonderful music, and for many viewers back then the battle sequences were novel and exciting. Obviously, a wonderful script has to be brought to life by good actors, and K. Asif’s ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ features some excellent performances. I think that the standout performance in ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ is that of Madhubala’s as ‘Anarkali’, followed by that of Prithviraj Kapoor’s as ‘Akbar’, then Nigar Sultana’s as ‘Bahar’, and finally Dilip Kumar’s as ‘Salim’. Why does Dilip Kumar come last in this list of four? Dilip was a very capable actor, so it wasn’t so much a case of him exhibiting poor acting skills (though in my view Madhubala certainly gave the superior performance). It was more to do with the fact that ‘Prince Salim’ as interpreted by Dilip, was not a particularly likeable person, and apparently K. Asif gave him free rein to play the part of Salim as he saw fit. The character of Prince Salim, has a lot to do with why Mughal-e-Azam, for me, does not work that well as a romantic film. But more on that below.

The script for Mughal-e-Azam was penned by Aman, Kamal Amrohi, Wahajat Mirza and Ehsan Rizwi, and these guys made the movie the literary feat that it is. It was very commonplace for people to know the film off by heart, and recite the lines to one another. Even in my home ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ was played repeatedly, and to tell the truth I was always rather bored. As a child, I was scared of Akbar when he was angry, and fled the room in the scenes which featured him fuming. That was really the only response ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ elicited in me…until a couple of  years ago when I saw the film again after a long gap, and appreciated it for the very first time. Soon, I knew it off by heart as well. While I understand it, I don’t feel quite competent enough to translate it, and am also unwilling to make a further hash out of something which already translates very poorly into English. But, because it’s something I wish to share, I will still try, though it is very difficult to narrow down one’s choice of dialogue. The script as a whole is so good that you may as well take down eighty percent of the film verbatim.

My favourite lines from the film have to be the following:

Salim, viewing statue

Salim: Santarash ka dawa yaqeenan sahi tha. Beshak is behpanah husn ki taab pathar hi hila sakta hai. Budho ki khudai tasleem karne koh jih chahta hai

Salim: The sculptor’s claim was indeed honest. Undoubtedly, only stone could withstand and encompass such boundless beauty.  One wishes to concede the divinity of statues.

Durjan: Sahib-e-Alam par budh parasti ka ilzam lag jayaga.

Durjan:  Saheb –e- Alam (the Lord of the Worlds) will be accused of idol worship

Salim: Magar wafa parasti ki daat bhi mil jayegi

Salim: but he will also be lauded for his worship of love

A more literal translation of ‘wafa’ is loyalty, but ‘worship of loyalty’ would not adequately convey what is being expressed here.


These are scenes which I also really admire:

This is the scene where the statue commissioned in honour of Prince Salim, is about to be unveiled. Bahar ( a higher ranking servant of the court) suggests a ploy by which the unveiling may prove fatal to Nadira (about to be conferred the name of ‘Anarkali’).

anarkali statue

Bahar: Kaneez ek tajwees pesh karne ki ijazzat chahti hai

Bahar: The slave seeks permission to present a proposal

Akbar: Ijazzat hai

Akbar: Permission granted

Bahar: Afsano mein hai ki mujasamo ki niqab kushaiya teeron se bhi hua karti thin

Bahar: In fables of old, statutes were unveiled by arrows

Akbar: Khoob, tajwees pasand ai. Shekhu, Afsaane Haqeeqat me badle jaa sakte hain?

Akbar: Well said, the proposal is to our liking. Shekhu (a term of endearment he has for Salim), can fables be transformed into reality?

Salim: Zil-e-Elahi, hukm ki tameel hogi

Salim: Shadow of God, your order will be obeyed

Akbar: Subhan Allah, maloom hota hai ki kissi farishte ne aasman se uttar kar sange mar mar me panah leli hai

Akbar: Glory be to God, it appears that an angel has descended from the heavens and found refuge in marble.

Anarkali: Kaneez farishta nahi, insaan hai

Anarkali: The slave is not an angel, but is human

Akbar: Magar tujhe Budh banne par kissne majboor kiya?

But who compelled you to become a statue?

Anarkali: Aap ke sultanat ke ek ziddi santarash ne jo gumnaami ke parde se nikalna nahi chahta

Anarkali: An obstinate sculptor, from within your realm, who does not wish to come out of the shadows of obscurity

Akbar: Santarash ka yeh anokha fun yaqeenan daat ke qabil hai. Lekin, teer chalte waqt tu khamosh kyun rahi?

The sculptor’s unique art is indeed praiseworthy. But, when the arrow was about to leave the bow, why did you not speak?

Anarkali: Kaneez dekhna chahti thi ki afsaane haqeeqat me kis tarah badle jaate hai

Anarkali: The slave wanted to see how fables are transformed into reality.


After having performed before the royal family on the occasion of Krishna’s birth, Anarkali is besotted with Salim (for reasons best known to her). She is in love with him, but believes that their love has no future. Because of the vast gulf between them in terms of status and rank, she does not want his reputation to be tarnished because of his association with her. Contemplating all of this silently, she has gone into a shell of sorts. Her mother arrives, and questions her on this new desire for solitude.


Anarkali’s mother: Nadira, tum yakayak is tarah gum sum kyun ho gayi beta? Kahin aana jaana, logon se milna agar chor baithegi, to log kahenge khitaab se sarfaraz hote hi maghroor ho gayi.

Anarkali’s mother: Nadira, child, why have you become quiet all of a sudden? If you leave off going places and visiting others, people will say that having been distinguished with a title, she has become arrogant.

Anarkali: Allah, Majboor ko maghroor kaun kahega?

Anarkali: God, who would call helplessness arrogance?

Bahar (Nigar Sultana) now arrives in their presence.

Bahar: Dushmano ki zubaan kahin roki jaati hai, Behno ki kahaniyan tum kya jaano?

Bahar: Who can stop the tongues of enemies, what would you know of the tales women weave?

Anarkali’s mother: Aao Bahar, zara isse bhi apne saath rakha karo

Anarkali’s mother: Come Bahar, you should keep her close to you

Bahar: Aap fikar na karien main isse apne saath le jaane ke liya haazir huin hun.

Bahar: You need not worry, I have come to take her with me

Anarkali’s motherToh phir samhalo isse, main chali.

Anarkali’s mother: Then handle her, I shall leave

Bahar: Anarkali, kitna khoobsurat hai tumhara naya naam.

Bahar: Anarkali, how beautiful your new name is

Anarkali: Haan, jaise jalte aur pighalte hue moem ka khoobsurat naam Shama hai

Anarkali: Yes, as beautiful a name as that of the flame which burns and melts with wax.

Bahar: Ab shama ban chuki ho to parvano se kyun daaman bachati ho?

Bahar: When you have become that flame, then why evade the moths?

Anarkali: kaise parvane?

Anakali: What moths?

Bahar: Jaise ki hum…kabhi apne Hujre se hamari mehfil me bhi aao.

Bahar: Such as us….sometimes leave your quarters and join our gatherings.

Obviously here, the wordplay present (maghroor and majboor) is lost in translation, but the language throughout the scene (and really, throughout the film) has been so elegantly employed, that it’s just a pleasure to listen to.


Akbar compels Anarkali to put up a facade of opportunism and false love.

Aarzooen barh jayengi

Akbar: Humme yaqeen hain ki qaedkhano ke khaufnaak andhero ne teri arzoo-on me woh chamak baaqi na rakhi hogi jo kabhi theen.

Akbar: I am sure that the fearful darkness of the dungeons has diminished the light of your aspirations.

Anarkali: Qaedkhano ke andhere kaneez ke arzoo-on ki roshni se kum the

Anarkali: The darkness of the dungeons were less than the light of the slave’s aspirations

Akbar: Andhere aur barhadiye jayengi

Akbar: The darkness will be increased

Anarkali: Arzooen barh jayengi

Anarkali: My aspirations will increase

Akbar: Aur barhti hui arzoo-on ko kuchal diya jayega

Akbar: And these heightened aspirations will be crushed

Anarkali: Aur Zil-e –Elahi ka insaaf?

Anarkali: And the justice of Zil-e-Elahi (Shadow of God)?

Akbar: Kamosh! Hum ek lafz aur nahi sunna chahte. Akbar ka insaaf uska hukm hai.

Akbar: Silence! We do not wish to hear another word. Akbar’s justice is his order.


Following on from the ‘Pyar kiya toh darna kya?’/ ‘When one has loved, why fear?’ song where Anarkali has made an open declaration of her love, an internally seething Akbar proceeds as follows.

zil-e-elahi ke faragh dilli se yahi umeed

Akbar: Yeh teri bekhauf mohabbat, ye raqs, ye dilchasp andaz-e-bayan yaqeenan humare inaam ke mustahiq hai.

Akbar: This fearless love, this dance, this engaging mode of expression, is surely deserving of our reward

Anarkali: Zahe naseeb. Zil-ellahi ke faragh dilli se kaneez ko yahi umeed thi

Anarkali: My good fortune. This is what I expected from the largeness of Zil-e-Elahi’s (the Shadow of God’s) heart.

The cool confidence with which these lines are spoken make them stand out. As Akbar calls on the guards to transport Anarkali to the darkest dungeons of the palace, the look of vulnerability, yet pride and longing, Anarkali throws at Salim is noteworthy.


There has been a verbal confrontation between Akbar and Salim over Anarkali. The Queen (Salim’s mother) Jodha reproaches her son for arguing with his father over a mere court servant.

magar iska soodh mujhse na wasool kijiye

Rani Jodha: Salim, Mahapali ka saamna ek laundi ke liye?

Rani Jodha: Salim, confrontation with the King over a slave girl?

Salim: Nahi! Uske liye jo mere ahad mein khudaar Mughlon ki aabroo aur Hindustan ki malika banegi.

Salim: No! For her who will become the Queen of India and the honour of worthy Mughals

Rani Jodha: Khudaar Mughlon ki aabroo itni halki nahi ki ek naacheez laundi ke barabar tul jaye. Aur humara Hindustan tumhara dil nahi ki laundi jiski malika bane.

Rani Jodha: The honour of worthy Mughal’s is not so light as to be weighed up against a worthless slave girl… And our India is not your heart, over which a slave can preside.

Salim: Toh mera bhi dil koi aap ka Hindustan nahi jispe aap hukumat karein.

Salim: Nor is my heart your India, over which you can rule.

Rani Jhoda: Tumhaare dil pe humara joi ikhtiyar nahi, lekin khud tum par hamara adhikar zaroor hai. Akhir tum humaari aulad ho.

Rani Jodha: We have no right over your heart, but we certainly have rights over you. After all, you are our child.

Salim: Haan mai aap ki aulad hun. Lekin, mujh par zulm dhaate hue aap ko yeh sochna chahiye ki mai aapke jigar ka tukda hun, koi ghaiz ya ghulam nahi.

Salim: Yes I am your child. But in inflicting cruelty on me you should remember that I am a part of you, not a servant or slave.

Rani Jodha: Nahin Salim, Nahin! Tum humari barsoan ki pratna ka phal ho. Humari zindagi bhar ka sarmaya ho. Humare ladle ho.  Magar yeh Rajneeti hai. Tum isme humaari mamta ko awaaz na do. Humari garden mein apni mohabbat ki zanjeer dal kar humme humare farz ke daere se bahar mat kheencho. Humari zimedari aur apne martabe ke lehaz karo. Ruswai aur badnami ke garhe mein mat aao.  Anarkali ko apne dil se nikaldo. Main tumhe apne dudh ka vaasta detin hun.

Rani Jodha: No Salim, No! You are the fruit of years of prayer, the hope of our lives. You are the son we dote on. But this is politics, do not place the noose of your love around our necks, and divert us from our duty. Respect our duty and your stature. Don’t draw close to shame and disgrace. Remove Anarkali from your heart. I bind you by my milk.

Salim: Aap apne dudh ka mujhse muavza maangtheen hain?

Salim: Are you exacting payment from me for your milk?

Rani Jodha: Nahi Salim, Nahin.

Rani Jodha: No Salim, No

Salim: Toh phir u nahi. Wahi aapka dudh jo khun ban kar meri raghon me daur raha hai. Kahiye toh sab aap ke qadmo mein bahadun magar uska mujhse soodh wasool na karien.

Salim: No? That milk of yours which is flowing as blood in my veins. If you wish, I will drain it all at your feet, but don’t exact interest on it from me.

These lines are awesome…but they really translate so poorly into English, ‘don’t exact interest on your milk’? That just sounds so strange in English. Any non-Urdu/Hindi speaker will be like ‘huh?’ What do non-Indian’s make of Mughal-e-Azam?….Most of the time, they must really be wondering what all the fuss is about, and probably simply attribute the film’s status to the scale and grandeur with which it was made.


After the battle between father and son, Akbar has sentenced Salim to death. Anarkali agrees to forfeit her life in exchange for Salim’s freedom. She will be walled up alive after administering to Salim the scent of a flower which will render him unconscious (and allow Akbar to finish her off without external interference).  Akbar is ordering Anarkali to act in accordance with their agreement.

kaneez kab ki mar chuki

Akbar: Agar aisa na hua to Salim tujhe marne nahi dega aur hum Anarkali tujhe jeene nahi denge.

Akbar: And if this does not happen, Salim will not let you die, and we, Anarkali, will not let you live.

Anarkali: Kaneez toh kab ki marchuki. Ab janaaze ko rukhsat ki ijaazat dijiye.

Anarkali: This slave has been dead long since. Now, release the funeral procession

Akbar: Tum jaa sakti ho

Akbar: You may leave

Anarkali: Shahenshah ki in behisaab bakhshishon ke badle, Kaneez Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar ko apna khoon maaf karti hai.

In return for the Shahenshah’s (King of King’s) endless favours, this slave forgives Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar her blood.


At the end of the film, where Akbar is obliged to keep his promise to Anarkali’s mother, he releases the Anarkali with these parting words.

shayad tum humme maaf kar sako

Akbar: Bakhuda hum mohabbat ke dushman nahi, apne usulon ke ghulam hai. Ek Ghulam ki bebasi par ghaur karogi to shayad tum humme maaf kar sako.

Akbar: By God, we are not the enemy of love, we are simply slave to our principles. Observe the helplessness of a slave, and then perhaps you will be able to forgive us.

Obviously, the train of thought this exchange leads to is never really pursued in the film: If it were, the premise on which Mughal -e-Azam is constructed would collapse and the basis around which the central conflict evolves would dissolve. If the precise scope and content of Emperor Akbar’s ‘duty’ or principles were expounded, they could be demolished with great ease. Akbar cannot accept Anarkali as his daughter-in-law and prospective queen because she is a mere court dancer. And this view of Akbar’s is never really directly attacked by Salim on the basis of human equality, Anarkali’s worthy character, her courage and loyalty making her a worthy potential queen etc. K. Asif deliberately ensures that his writers consistently portray the conflict as one between ‘farz’ and ‘mohabbat’ or ‘duty’ and ‘love’.  Akbar’s allegiance to a particular (very faulty) conception of what duty entails, is not subjected to vigorous direct criticism in the film. If it was, how then could Akbar ultimately be hailed as ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ or ‘the Great Mughal’ at the end…and this convenient angle which K. Asif has decided to espouse, does work quite well for the film.


Mughal-e-Azam as a Romance

Coming back to why I have never regarded Mughal-e-Azam as a great love story, this view of the film is strongly connected with my response to the character of Prince Salim. Yes, he confronts Akbar, and orchestrates a rebellion against his father for Anarkali, but all this really just fits into the rhetorical arch of the film: the court dancer who defied the Emperor, and the Prince who relinquished his prerogatives as Prince for his love. Ultimately, both prince and court dancer willingly embrace death in asserting their love for one another etc. But when we look at how he actually conducts himself towards Anarkali, Prince Salim has no humility, or tenderness or warmth as a lover. Granted, humility was probably not the strong point of Mughal princes, but when he says to her ‘Main aaj bulandi aur pasti ke deewar gira dena chahta hun…bhool jao ki tum ek kaneez ho’/ ‘I wish to do away with this wall of hierarchy and class…forget that you are a servant’, this is purely rhetorical. The fact is that the master/slave dynamic is strongly reflected in every interaction between them, even in the so-called most romantic/erotic scene in Hindi film history, where he is stroking her face with a feather. For all his passion for her, a certain imperiousness is ever present in his deportment towards Anarkali. When Akbar imprisons Anarkali, and coerces her into falsely indicating that she never loved Salim, what is Salim’s response? He never considers that she may have been placed in false position, or may have temporary faltered under intense pressure. He calls her a whole lot of nasty things (‘daghabaaz, buzdil laundi, sharmnaak badnaami ki daagh’/ ‘treacherous, cowardly slave, a shameful stain on him’) and then proceeds to hit her hard across the face. Some prince charming. He places the onus of proving love, on a person who is already very vulnerably situated. The modern Indian equivalent to this, is a well to do person falling in love with their maid or driver and saying ‘If you really love me, then shout it out to everyone, take on the world right now….and if you can’t do that, it means your love is a sham, and you yourself are worthless trash’. This is really what his actions amount to. Audiences in 1960, may have been more willing to overlook this, or may have been allured by the ‘grand narrative’ of the film, but ‘Prince Salim’ does not go down well with me.

salim slaps anarkali

Shahzade Salim, You were no prince charming

A key writer of Mughal-e-Azam, Kamal Amrohi, was at this time also directing the film ‘Pakeezah’ which was not released until 1972. Some surface parallels can be drawn between the ‘Salim’ of ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ and the ‘Salim’ of ‘Pakeezah’. Both rebelled against authority and defied societal convention for the women they loved. But they were fundamentally different men in terms of how they conducted themselves towards the objects of their affection. ‘Shahzada Salim’ is obnoxious (high-handed, intimidating, without empathy) and ‘Salim Ahmed Khan’ is someone you fall in love with. More broadly, for me, ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ is a film you admire (a lot), but ‘Pakeezah’ is a film you love.

Interesting trivia:

Mughal-e-Azam was in the making for over a decade, and was an intensely anticipated film. You can gain a real sense of what a huge deal the movie was when it finally came out, by watching this fascinating short documentary (the documentary film itself was made in the 1960’s). It is here:  The commentary for the two reeler film was scripted by Aman (one of Mughal-e-Azam’s writers) and Shakeel Badayuni  (the man who wrote the fabulous lyrics of the songs of ‘Mughal-e-Azam’). People were queuing for tickets weeks in advance, and spending nights sleeping on footpaths while in the queue. Mughal-e-Azam’s premier was very glitzy, large scale affair and there is considerable footage of it in the documentary film.  I was watching another CNN-IBN documentary on ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ and, interestingly, it is noted therein that while the premier was a massive star studded event, the actual response to the film at the premiere was pretty lukewarm….many of the attendees felt that the film was too long and dragged considerably in parts. I actually agree with this criticism to some extent. I also find that the battle scenes, the scene which precedes the battle, and the scene where Prince Salim is about to be finished off with the canon, do drag a bit. However, there is so much else in the film to make you go ‘wow’, and this does make the response of the premiere attendees much less reasonable.  A quite lengthy, more recent documentary on Mughal-e-Azam, containing a lot of interesting trivia can be viewed here:

The Colourised Version

Finally, I really disliked the colourised version of Mughal-e-Azam. It wasn’t just a question of limitations in terms of the craft not having been perfected, and the end result looking artificial, but the choice of colours as well- sharp incongruous colours being dashed together. It seemed a case of ‘now that we’re colourising it, let’s put in as many colours as possible in the most unseemly combinations; It doesn’t matter if it looks completely garish, it has to be clear to the audience that Mughal-e-Azam is now in colour!’ Except in the odd scene, the film was not well colourised. It was not even consistently colourised. In the original 1960 release, apart from the ‘Pyar kiya to darna kya’/ ‘When one has loved, why fear?’ song, the last twenty minutes or so of the film are in colour, and Anarkali is attired spotless white. It is meant to signify a shroud of sorts as Anarkali has willingly embraced death. In the colourised version, in the scene immediately preceding this (in which she is wearing the same outfit) they have coloured it grey. Not only does it look plain bad, but the symbolism is kind of lost as well. Unfortunately, I have been obliged to provide screencaps from the colourised version as that is the only version available online. The copy of the original (largely black and white) Mughal-e-Azam I own, is actually in the form of an old cassette, which I cannot really obtain screen caps from. ©

recolourisation 2

The white shroud like yet beautiful, dress in the 1960 original version

recolourisation 1

The very same dress in the 2004 recolourised version