Mughal-E-Azam’s romance with Jaipur

Mughal-E-Azam was not the first film to be shot in Jaipur, prior to K Asif's Mughal-E-Azam, a historical epic Humayun, made by Mehboob Khan in 1945 took the genre to a new level in Hindi cinema

Prithviraj Kapoor, K. Asif, Italian director Roberto Rossellini, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar on Mughal-E-Azam set
Prithviraj Kapoor, K. Asif, Italian director Roberto Rossellini, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar on Mughal-E-Azam set

Prakash Bhandari

Sixty-one years ago, when the greatest epic of Bollywood Mughal-E-Azam was released it rocked the world of cinema. It was the biggest release of any Indian film up to the sixties and it broke all the box office records to become the highest-grossing Indian film of all time a record which Mughal-E-Azam held for 15 years. The film based on an imaginary legend of courtesan Anarkali and Salim despite its historical inaccuracies caught the attention of the cine-goers who frequented the theatre numerous times to enjoy the film again and again. The people of Rajasthan particularly Jaipur showed special affinity for the film as its storyline connected Emperor Akbar with the rulers of Amer and Jodhabai and Raja Man Singh, the supreme commander of Akbar's army. Mughal-E-Azam was special to the people of Jaipur as the film was widely shot in Jaipur.

Ironically, it was at Jaipur that Dilip Kumar met his Waterloo too as his first official directorial venture Kalinga which was based on the life and times of Emperor Ashoka and which was co-produced by him along with Sudhakar Bokade remained unfinished. This film was shot in Jaipur and Dilip Kumar with the memories of the battle scene of Mughal-EAzam, chose Jaipur as the location and the film's battle scene was created at Kukas. But the film could not be completed because of the dispute between Dilip Kumar and his co-producer over the storyline. Dilip Kumar lost a fortune in making this film.

Mughal-E-Azam was not the first film to be shot in Jaipur, prior to K Asif's Mughal-E-Azam, a historical epic Humayun, made by Mehboob Khan in 1945 took the genre to a new level in Hindi cinema. 'Humayun' was the first Bollywood film to be shot in Jaipur starring Ashok Kumar, Nargis, Veena and Chandramohan. This film was the highest earner of the time. The war scene of the film was shot in sand dunes where today stands Sawai Man Singh Stadium. My journalism Guru late S L Mathuria wrote elaborately in the prestigious Filmfare about this film's shooting. Mathuria was also there as a college student when Mughal-E-Azam was shot in Amer, Galtaji and in the open and wide Banipark and Jhotwara in 1958 when Banipark and Jhotwara had very few houses.

Mathuria would describe in detail about the film's shooting and how as a youth he would stand outside the Khasa Kothi along with other school and college boys to have a glimpse of Dilip Kumar, the Salim of Mughal-E Azam and Prithviraj Kapoor, the Shahanshah Akbar. The two stars along with producer-director K Asif would stay in Khasa Kothi, the century-old sprawling majestic building that was once the guest house of the maharaja of Jaipur. Prithviraj Kapoor stayed in Jaipur Hotel for some time which was located just opposite Prem Prakash.

Long Stay in Jaipur

Dilip Kumar along with Prithviraj stayed in Jaipur for over two months to shoot for the iconic battle scene between Salim and Akbar. 2000 camels, 4000 horses and 8000 soldiers were used. The horses and jawans of the 61st Cavalry were used. Cavalry horses and the sowars lent authenticity to the war scene. Army jawans from other military units were also used. They were attired in warrior clothes that were stitched in Jaipur. Apart from Cavalry horses, a large number of horses were procured from all over the state and the swords and arms for the soldiers were made in Jaipur and Pushkar for use in the filming. Over two dozen elephants bedecked with howdahs were pushed into action and US-trained R D Mathur, the chief cinematographer employed over a dozen cameras to film the battle scenes.

Director Asif wanted to film the battle scene on a massive frame showing vast assembly of the army and such scenes required expert camera work. He was told that no Indian cinematographer would be able to shoot such a scene in the hot summers of Jaipur. But, cinematographer Mathur, who had the experience of working in the US for MGM and Fox had shot some of the epic Hollywood war scenes, requested Asif to give him a chance. Mathur got some of the best cameras imported from the US and used them effectively to shoot the film.

An old-timer Bhure khan, who worked for Prem Prakash cinema was hired by Asif's production manager Surinder Kapoor, father of Bollywood star Anil Kapoor to procure horses, elephants, and camels for the shooting. Large number of youngsters, mostly from the Muslim mohallas of Jaipur were hired as extras for Rs. 2 a day to act as soldiers in the film.

Acknowledgement of New Professional

Mathur, who was a top professional earned a lot of praise for the way he filmed the battle scene as well as the famous Sheesh Mahal scene. The Sheesh Mahal was created by Iranian artists in Bombay. But filming such a scene showing Madhubala's image in the mirrors was a big challenge. Mathur came to Jaipur to study the Amer's Sheesh Mahal and he shot some dummy scenes there using the Amer's Sheesh Mahal's roof and walls. He used various cameras and lights at Amer and after filming the dummy scenes studied it and used the experience in filming the 'Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya' song.

The filming of the song along with the mirror set cost Rs10 lakh which was a hefty sum then as most of the films then were made at a cost of Rs. 5 to 6 lakh. But Asif threw money like water just for one scene. He used lights and cameras and the composition of the shots to good effect. The scene of the film was a technical landmark of Hindi cinema and people frequented theatres again and again to see this song. Mathur proved that a Bollywood cinematographer could do it.

The film was shot in Amer fort, Kesar Kyari, Dalaram Ka Bagh, Kanak Ghati and other surrounding places near Amer in which Dilip Kumar and Prithviraj Kapoor figured. But surprisingly a very few of such frames eventually figured in the final version. Asif was known for filming each scene in a very elaborate manner, but to keep the length of the film limited he had to drop some scenes. Thus a number of scenes that were shot in Amer failed to find a place in the final version of the epic movie.

Dilip Kumar after a long day of shooting at Amer would return in the evening and on his way back, he would stop at Delhi Misthan Bhandar(DMB) in Chaura Rasta which was once the best vegetarian restaurant. Dilip Kumar would enjoy his coffee at DMB and would buy magazines and books from Usha Book Depot which was close by. The DMB which was owned by a person who came from Delhi to set up the restaurant was closed down some 40 years ago. While stopping at DMB for coffee, Dilip Kumar would enjoy seeing Prem Prakash whose architecture he loved especially its Pink tinge.

More Jaipur Connections

The film Mughal-E Azam has a lot of Jaipur connections as the film was premiered in Bombay's Maratha Mandir. This theatre was built by Seth Mehtab Chand Golcha and it was opened in 1958 and its capacity was 1000 seats. This theatre was built by Golcha as a unique place for cinema entertainment and Seth Golcha hired the best architects to make his dream theatre. It had large screen, comfortable seats, and a grand foyer. It had glass décor which tastefully decorated the theatre to give a very soothing feeling to the cine-goers.

Golcha promised Asif that Mughal-E-Azam would be premiered in his theatre and this would be the first film to be shown in the theatre. But the film's release was delayed for two years. However when Mughal-E-Azam was premiered at Maratha Mandir it became a mega event. The foyer of the theatre was decorated to resemble a Mughal palace and a 40 foot cut out of Prithviraj Kapoor was erected outside. The Sheesh Mahal was transported from the studio to the cinema. The invitations for the premiere were sent in royal scrolls which were written in Urdu and was made to look like Akbarnama. The films reels were brought to the Maratha Mandir on an elephant's back. The premiere saw the soldiers of the Mughal-E-Azam coming on horses and elephants and the tickets for the film was sold in black. When the film was premiered there were over 10,000 people who lined up to see the stars coming for the show. Prithviraj Kapoor came with his three sons Raj Kapoor, Shammi Kapoor and Shashi Kapoor, Madhubala, Nimmi, Nargis, Sunil Dutt, Waheeda Rahman, Nigar Sultana, Ashok Kumar, Kishor Kumar Devanand and the galaxies of Hollywood including music director of the film Naushad. Lyricist Shakeel Badayuni and other stars of the film were present. Asif, wearing his trademark kurta-pyjama welcomed the guests along with Seth Golcha, who was dressed in a shining silk suit.

The Almost Scandal

But Dilip Kumar was missing at the premiere. Dilip Kumar did not attend the premiere as he strained his relations with Asif because the director secretly married Akhtar. Dilip Kumar was unhappy with this marriage and after completing the movie never spoke to Asif and his sister. The premiere of Mughal-EAzam was a historic event, but the media overplayed the absence of Dilip Kumar. He later explained to Seth Golcha the reasons why he could not come for the premiere.

The film received huge response all over India, but Dilip Kumar never attended any of the opening functions. However, when Mughal-E-Azam was digitalized in colour by the producer Shapoorji Pallanji at a cost of Rs. 1.5 crore in 2014, Dilip Kumar agreed to attend the theatrical rerun of the movie in Mumbai. This digital movie in colour was shown all over India and it earned Rs. 11 crores. The original cost of the movie was Rs. 1.5 crore which was at that time the most expensive film.

Prior to the release of Mughal-E- Azam a good star cast film could garner a distribution fee of Rs. 3 to 4 lakh per territory. But Asif insisted that he would sell his film for nothing less than Rs. 7 lakh per territory. Subsequently, he sold the rights for Rs. 17 lakh per territory. Thus it set the record for the highest distribution fees received by any Bollywood film at that time.

But according to Nandu Jalani from the famous film distributor family of Jalani of Jodhpur said his grandfather, Manak Lal Jalani bought the right for Central Province, Central India and Rajasthan for Rs. 11 lakh only. Later, Jalani also distributed the digital version. The Jalanis were respected by Asif and also by Dilip Kumar. Jalanis have been pioneer in film distribution since 1946 and their distribution company Jodhpur's George Talkies Circuit is the fourth generation in the business. They are known for their honesty and ethics. They also distributed Dilip Kumar's film Ganga Jamuna.

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