i've just seen Mughal-e-Azam, the 1960 megabudget spectacular Bollywood epic that was ten years in the making and involved a multitude of craftsmen and women from all over the country.
There once was a spoiled disobedient young prince who was sent by his father the great Emperor to fight in battles to add steel to his soul. When he had proven his valour and manhood, he returned to the palace. There it was that an artist had made a magnificent sculpture, to bring Emperors and Princes to their knees in awe. And it came to pass that the sculpture was alive, a slave girl, and the Prince's heart was smitten with her beauty as exquisite as lotus blossom in the moonlight. And though fearful, the slavegirl loved the Prince. But the Emperor's heart was hardened with pride and power and he forbade the love to continue. And enmity grew between the Emperor and his son, and enmity turned to war, for the Prince's love was strong and could not be turned, and the Emperor decreed that the slavegirl must die..
Kitschy, seductive, sensuous, baroque, bombastic, romantic, Asif's classic milks myth and melodrama to the last drop. Shamelessly unsubtle- its old-fashioned macho father-son power struggle dispensing with Freudian niceties, (no cynical post-modern cool intellect here, and it's a long way indeed from Antonioni's L'Avventura of the same year)- the film basks in its grandeur, the staggering deep sets and sparkling, dazzlingly gorgeous colour sequences glory in their lushness. It's indebted to Sternberg and Eisenstein (Ivan the Terrible, Alexander Nevsky). It makes for interesting comparison with Mizoguchi's beautiful 1955 colour film Yang Kwei Fei, about an Emperor whose empowerment of a beloved concubine provokes a military revolt. To many, it may seem ludicrously, laughably over the top. But.. watch it with an open, self-indulgent frame of mind, forget nuclear weapons, world poverty, the ozone layer, the argument you've had with the neighbour and you may find it's among the most spellbindingly wonderful 3 hrs cinema has to offer.
Drawing the viewer deep into its intimate centre- one love scene involving a feather is swooningly erotic- it's a feast of close-ups, of kaleidoscopic patterns (Leone and Busby Berkeley, eat our hearts out!), female beauty ravishingly bathed in light (a la Sternberg + Dietrich), while the music, costumes and dancing are a constant pleasure. Dilip Kumar is satisfyingly noble as Prince Saleem, Prithviraj Kapoor suitably regal as the 16th century Mughal Emperor Akbar with a booming voice (later tragically lost by the actor), and Madhubala as lovely Anarkali... well, i felt for her plight. I fell for her too. Oh yes, a wonderful 3 hours indeed. I'm going to bed happy.