Saturday, April 08, 2006

inverse epic proporitons: Mughal-e-Azam

I do not like epic films - except Asoka, for reasons I cannot quite explain, although I suspect they might have to do with its eerie, unreal quality, amazing music, and Shahrukh being noble and wet. I digress. I rented Mughal-e-Azam because it seemed like the kind of thing I should see in order to continue my Bollywood education. I don't respond well to insta-love and big decisions when they're couched in hand-to-forehead turn-away drama-o-rama. The more they crank out the conflict and obstacles, the less interested I am. Perhaps because the obstacles in real life, while perfectly dramatic, are often nuanced and subtle and unexpected, as opposed to punctuated by thunderclaps and edicts and armies. I know, I know, no one said the movies had to be like real life, and there are many decidedly unreal Bollywood conventions that I adore and respond to, but somehow my disbelief can't cover them.

I wish I could have seen it in black and white. I have read about the colorization proces, including the official website's justification of doing it (which has a pooh-pooh-to-you-for-questioning-us tone, in my opinion), but to me the results were mixed. Much of the time it seemed the colors really didn't go with each other, that they fought for visual peace. Other times I thought I was looking into a shoebox diorama - a lavish, lush, beautiful one, to be sure - with the actors on one plane, the archway behind them on another, and then the mountains on a third, with no flow in between layers.

The language, though. Wow. Lofty and powerful and rich, and I'm sure I missed huge amounts of it, reading in subtitles. Even though the dialogue mostly expressed ideas I don't believe in - "the only story of lovers is to pine, heave sighs, and choke to death" - it was a joy to read. Dismissive and curmudgeonly as I am about the plot, even I was enchanted by the words.

All this and elephants too! That's what I call a night (okay, three) at the movies.

9 comments:

Stella_1 said...

Hi, great site, Mughal-E-Azam was the second Bollywood movie that I ever saw after KKKG. And it was hard to watch the whole thing. But I did it and liked it so so. Until like a year later, after seeing Mother India, Barsaat and so on I watched it again and really liked it. Maybe it's because I had gotten and liked the music, well anyway. If you want to check out my blog it's called Parties, Sarees and Melodies. ( http://partiessareesandmelodies.blogspot.com/ ) Anyway keep watching Bollywood, I love the oldies.

bindifry said...

wow-usually i agree with you, but this film is probably my favorite of all time. it must be viewed on the big screen , though. madhubala blows my mind. and i thought the colorization was amazing. did you know the film, which took 10 years to make, had a color dance sequence at the end because by that time, color was being used. it was intended to be made in color. and madhubala was dying during the filming (she had a hole in her heart) & was desperately in love with dilip kumar. the story behind the filming is very interesting.

Ellie said...

I'm definitely with you on this one, Beth-- we watched it as part of the ongoing Filmfare Project (read: because we had to) and I just... don't quite understand. The spectacle was spectacular and the music was wonderful, but Madhubala in particular left us cold-- most of her communication was conveyed by slumping to the floor and staring into the distance with the lost stare of the empty heart and so on. The looming, talking topographical map of India at the beginning and the end kind of blew my mind though. Umrao Jaan did it later, but (I know this is sacrilege and I'm sorry) did it better, mostly because it is the Aish version to which I refer and the costumes were unbelievable and made me want to run out and buy silks and just hang them up on the wall, and that alone carried me through the epic tragedy of it all. I am so shallow.

Ellie said...

PS By the "it" done better by Umrao Jaan in the above, I refer to the plot of Mughal E Azam, NOT to the talking topo map of India, which is sort of a shame.

Beth said...

Wow, I really don't remember a lot of this stuff! How do I not remember a talking map?!? I sort of want to rewatch this film now that I know more, but...yeah, no. I do love Madhubala now, though.

rhilex said...

Would you recommend this film? I feel like you can't say you have sufficient knowledge of Hindi films without viewing this one, as it seems to be a classic that's on many, many people's favourites list.

Beth said...

I would recommend because of its classic status; I don't know if I think its status is really merited. The colorization is truly horrendous, but I still want to see it again at some point to understand it better. (After 4.5 years of watching over 260 Hindi films, I still haven't seen Mother India, though. Someday.)

themuse said...

hi beth,
Mughal e azam is a love story;i dont knw why u didnt like it; it is a very popular indian tale and and there r a lot of shayaris written on those 2 character; it ha a status of pride and prejudice in India;
What i remember about the film is where she dances in the Sheesh Mahal and the scene where Dilip kumar stroke her face with a feather; the emotions were amazing.
In reality dilip kumar had filed a suit against madhu bala and both were at logger heads with each other; guess thats the magic of cinema
One of the reasons people liked the movie bcoz it involes our favourite Mughal; Akbar;and the sets of course; Amazing

Beth said...

Hmm. Well, I still haven't seen it again since I last posted here a year ago; I have, however, seen some more Madhubala and Dilip Kumar films of this approximate era, so it's quite possible I would get more out of it this time since I have better context to put it into. If I do see it again, I most definitely want the black and white.