The high-tech stage adaptation of the legendary Mughal-e-Azam recreates the tragic romance between the charming prince Salim and the beautiful courtesan Anarkali with remarkable results, says Runa Ashish.
A walk down memory lane for old timers and a novel opportunity for the young to live the tragic romance for the first time, the epic retelling on stage of the iconic Mughal-e-Azam deserves all round applause. Prince Saleem and fiesty Anarkali relive their legendary romance as director Feroz Abbas Khan recreates the magnum opus on stage. Honestly, a theatrical adaption of the K. Asif ’s 1960 classic was never easy as it uses timeless music, opulent sets, memorable dialogues and stirring performances to tell the love story so deeply entrenched in popular culture that even a tribute could be taken as scurrilous if not treated with virtuosity. Its memorable dialogues and lilting music are part of cinematic lore, referred to by film scholars and college students alike. “I always felt that yeh theatre hi hai (it’s already very theatrical),” says the soft-spoken Khan, whose career has encompassed theatre, film and television. Khan explains that in several ways, the original film is already a musical with theatrical aesthetics. “It has songs, vocals, sufi, and qawwali. Its roots are also in theatre. The film was even inspired by a play called Anarkali,” says the director, who has retained all original songs from the film, barring two. Khan, who has directed well-known dramas like Tumhari Amrita, Salesman Ramlal and Mahatma Vs Gandhi, says, “Yes! It was a tough decision to create a drama from a film like Mughl-e-Azam. For me it was tougher to convince my audience to accept Mughl-e-Azam in a different medium because people are emotionally connected with the film, or they have read about it or they already know about it.” Having directed both films and plays, Khan has learnt over the years that the two art forms differ broadly in terms of their aesthetics and language. Taking a close-up, for instance, is unattainable onstage. “If I had a close-up, Anarkali’s eyes would say everything,” smiles Khan, who created a dream sequence to convey the same emotions. “She’s imagining her marriage to Salim, they’re dreaming together, and then it goes into dialogue to supplement it.” According to Khan, he has successfully translated most of the classic to theatre language. But in the process, he trimmed the three-hour, 18-minute film to a two-hour, 15-minute play. In fact, the story was originally created as a play, written in Lahore in 1922, titled Anarkali, he points out. The saga had various tellings in the film too, including the 1953 hit of the same name, starring Pradeep Kumar and Bina Rai. While K. Asif shot Mughal E-Azam over 500 days and took nine years to complete, Khan’s play was set in motion in January and premiered in November this year. “We know we can’t measure up to the film,” says Khan. “But we’ve surely created a new theatre experience,” he declares. Thanks to Khan’s tremendous effort, it’s for the first time that Mughae-Azam is being presented in a Broadway format by an Indian. In a way we can say that for the first time in India, Broadway has taken off.
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