Mughal-E-Azam—The Musical is a supreme stage experience

Priyanka Barve as Anarkali andf Dhanveer Singh as Salim in the stage play Mughal-E-Azam—The Musical. Photo: Deepesh Salgia / Shapoorji Pallonji

The film Mughal-E-Azam was not just an extraordinary spectacle for those days (its release was in 1960, the movie was partly in color, and its premiere was an unforgettable event, complete with its film reels arriving on an elephant!) but became the biggest hit of the decade. It was only in 1975 that Sholay crossed its business and audience footfalls.

Mughal-E-Azam, the only film produced by real-estate giants Shapoorji Pallonji, remains an epic, and also the first and, as of now, only film to succeed again when colorized and released in 2004 in a crisper format—it proved a hit against contemporary co-releases Veer-Zaara and Aitraaz. Its music by Naushad (with Shakeel Badayuni’s monumental work as lyricist) and characters live on, despite claims that Akbar’s wife Jodha and Anarkali both never existed in reality.

One could say that it is also India’s first-ever production by a corporate firm! The stage version, also produced by Shapoorji Pallonji, premiered in Mumbai six years ago to a roaring applause. Directed by stage veteran Feroz Abbas Khan from the same story, with many of the original Naushad songs performed live on stage, the play pioneered many technical firsts on the Indian stage. Since then, it has performed over 200 shows globally. It returned to Mumbai in the third week of October and by popular demand, has been extended twice, with the last show now expected on November 20.

The story is known to all: Prince Salim, born to Emperor Akbar (the Mughal-E-Azam) after prayers for long by the childless king, is a debauch since childhood. The father, therefore, sends his son to 14 years of battle training and he returns as a brave warrior and a deserving successor to the Mughal lineage. The lady who brings the emperor the good news of his son’s birth is given a ring by Akbar, along with a promise that he will grant her anything she desires from him once in her life.

A chain of events lead to Prince Salim falling in love with a commoner, Anarkali, and obviously, this is frowned upon by his father. Salim rebels and goes to war against his father, loses the war and is sentenced to death even as Anarkali is imprisoned. What happens next?

It is a no-brainer that most of the audiences who loved the K. Asif original featuring Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala as Akbar, Salim and Anarkali would flock to see this play. However, what is truly remarkable is the timeless appeal of this love story (Anarkali in 1953 was based on this story and was that year’s biggest hit, MEA in color and finally the play are all blockbusters as well). More than 80 percent of the audience I saw during the performance was under the ages of 35-40!

But the most important element here is the passion and care seen in re-creating the stage presentation of the movie, based on Imtiaz Ali Taj’s play, Anarkali, which has resulted in this wider appeal.

The technical side is magnificent. Sarosh Patel of Effects Tech Sets has created the astounding sets that rise, fall and move with a remarkable fluidity. The astounding scenic design is by Neil Patel. John Narun is the production designer.

Dhanveer Singh as Salim confronts Nissar Khan as Akbar (left) in Mughal-E-Azam—The Musical. Photo: Deepesh Salgia / Shapoorji Pallonji

The awesome almost kaleidoscopic lighting is an ever bigger highlight, if possible, and is the handiwork of Lighting Designer David Lander and Ulhas Sahasrabuddhe. The Sound Design is by Richard Nowell and is path-breaking for an Indian stage presentation.

Add world-class (or probably beyond!) choreography of the songs and dances by Mayuri Upadhya and background score and additional music by Piyush Kanojia and we have a 150-minute play that is nothing short of an audiovisual feast.

At the very beginning, it is announced that the female songs are sung live to minus-one tracks, and the lead singer is Priyanka Barve as Anarkali. Her singing skills obviously outclass her acting capabilities, but the latter are very good!

Dhanveer Singh as Salim even faintly resembled the 1960 Dilip Kumar and put in a seasoned performance. Nissar Khan, of Crime Patrol fame, by now is so ‘settled’ as Akbar that he could probably be flawless in his sleep! He is simply phenomenal. Tariq Ahmed Khan as the sculptor who is also the narrator elevates the audience anticipation with his excellent essay.

The rest of the cast is equally competent, with special mentions needed for Yudhvir Ahlawat as the young Salim, Rupsha Mukherjee as Bahar (she also gets to sing the iconic qawwali with Priyanka: Teri mehfil mein qismat aazmakar hum bhi dekhenge) and Rachna Gupta as Suraiya deserve special mention.

A word about the more than 20 Kathak dancers: They do the play, the art form and the choreographer proud.

This play is beyond any rating: it is stupendous.




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