Theatre resembles a Mughal court, complete with filigreed doors, crimson gauze curtains and ushers in the royal costume. An elephant ambles up, a palanquin carrying rolls of film balanced on its back. Dashing soldiers unload the print and carry it up to the projection room.
In the brightly lit foyer, excitement is running high. Mughal-e-Azam is returning to the theatres in all-colour after 44 years and everyone wants to be a part of history. “I’ve seen the film two times already, I can’t wait to see it again,” bubbles Tabu. “The only film in recent years that can compare with Mughal-e-Azam is Devdas,” asserts Rani Mukherji.
“The charm of Madhubala is exquisite and eternal,” smiles today’s Venus, Aishwarya Rai. The milling crowd is dotted with more famous faces… Rekha, Sridevi, Anil Kapoor, Govinda and Akshaye Khanna. And then, the one everyone has been waiting for, Dilip Kumar, walks up, debonair in a suit and still a prince charming.
He admits to feeling “choked” by the significance of the occasion. On August 5, 1960, when Mughal-e-Azam had first premiered at Mumbai’s Maratha Mandir, Saira Banu had been a face in the crowd. She had returned home disappointed because her shehzada (prince) had not shown up. Four decades later, she was at his side as they walked into Eros, his ‘begum’.
A couple of days earlier, I had connected with Dilip saab over the phone. My questions had been long and verbose, his answers short and staccato. I later learnt that the avid cricket buff had been watching India take on one of its cricketing rivals. And showing complete ignorance and little consideration for his passion, I’d dragged him away, even if only for 10 minutes, from the on-field action. Unforgivable!
Magic of colour
Still, I’d managed to learn that the idea of colourising of the film had come from him. In 1957, when colour first came into Indian cinema, K Asif, the film’s director, had experimented with the new technology in reel 10 featuring the immortal, Pyaar kiya to darna kya… The effect had been magical! The monochromatic frames paled in comparison and Asif had announced that he’d scrap everything he had shot so far, which was 85 per cent of the film, and re-shoot it in colour. His producer, Shahpoorji Pallonji, was aghast. And the distributors who had been waiting almost 10 years for the epic, threatened to release the film in its existing form even without Asif’s consent.
Dream come true
Later however, after his Rs 1.50 crore gamble paid off, Shahpoorji regretted not giving in to Asif’s whim and promised him that one day, his technicolour dream would come true. Sixty-nine years after it went on the floors and 44 years after its release, Shahpoorji’s heirs, under the banner of Sterling Investment Corp. Pvt. Ltd. spent another Rs 10 crore in adding colour to 3,00,000 frames.
“Asif saab was very confident of his film, back in the 1960s. Four decades later, I’m equally confident that Mughal-e-Azam will do well in its all-colour, digitalised version,” reiterated Dilip saab, recalling how he had initially been reluctant to do the film because he had never played a character like Salim before or enacted a role of such dimensions. “But Asifsaab was convinced I could do it, and Shahpoorji also insisted I play Salim. I’m glad I did it because Mughal-e-Azam wasn’t just another film.” Touché!