In conversation with the makers of 'Mughal-e-Azam: The Musical'

Published: January 10, 2019
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PHOTO: PUBLICITY

PHOTO: PUBLICITY

KARACHI: Arguably Bollywood’s biggest blockbuster, Mughal-e-Azam – starring Prithiviraj Kapoor, Madhubala and Dilip Kumar – made waves in the 60s with a gripping portrayal of Anarkali and Emperor Salim’s epic love story.

Allegedly inspired by true events, Mughal-e-Azam went on to become the most expensive film of the era and bagged quite a number of awards.

Then, in 2016, the film was converted into a musical which has earned a cult status itself, not just in India but internationally as well, winning accolades and standing ovations in whichever city it is staged in.

After a successful first season, Mughal-e-Azam: The Musical is returning to the United Arab Emirates. It will be staged at the Dubai Opera from  January 10 to January 12, 2019. The play is directed by the accolade-winning film-maker Feroz Abbas Khan and produced by Shapoorji Pallonji.

PHOTO: PUBLICITY

PHOTO: PUBLICITY

The director and Deepesh Salgia (Creative and Strategic Vision from Shapoorji Pallonji Productions) of the awarding-winning musical spoke with The Express Tribune about the inspiration behind the play and how the team promises to uphold the grandeur of the 1961 classic.

‘The Express Tribune (ET)’: ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ is a classic. The Musical has been well received in India, thanks to its origin. The play has come to the UAE for the second time. Why do you think the audience relates to it?

Feroze Abbas Khan (FAK): Some stories are timeless and K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam is a classic. Almost three generations come together and are deeply immersed and affected by this saga of love. Each relate through their own life experiences and marvel at the intensity and madness of Salim and Anarkali, who will even defy death for each other.

Deepesh Salgia (DS): At the fundamental level, Mughal-e-Azam addresses two core issues. Firstly, it addresses the common man’s right to make love and secondly, it’s a fight for the empowerment of women. And both of these issues are relevant even today.

ET: Let’s talk about characters. How – as a director – have you managed to retain the essence of Anarkali, Shehzada Salim and Akbar?

FAK: The most challenging part was getting the audience to come to watch the play with Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala internalised as Akbar Salim and Anarkali. We worked for three weeks with the actors to ensure that they do not remotely sound like them. They had to be original and give an intimate performance. Most importantly, we had to have Anarkali as a beautiful and fine actor, dancer and singer.

PHOTO: PUBLICITY

PHOTO: PUBLICITY

DS: Mughal-e-Azam was originally a play, written by Imitaz Ali Taj. And when K Asif saw it, he was very impressed and realised that the right format for this kind of a story is cinema because in those days (1940s), compared to a stage play,  the scale offered by cinema was much higher. So, he made it into a film.

Even now – almost 55 years after the release of the film – theatre offers that kind of a scale due to technological developments. And theatre obviously has much better soul. So our brief to Feroz was, ‘Can we have the soul of a theatre and the scale of a cinema?’ And I think he has done a wonderful job in executing that. It’s that combination of scale and emotional connect.

ET: How did the adaptation come about? What challenges, in terms of art direction, did you face in bringing the 16th century back?

FAK: Recreating an era and doing a period piece is always very exciting. My producers were very supportive and wanted me to create a theatre piece that had the scale of their original creation.

ET: The transition from film to a play is never easy. How do you propose to do justice to the 1960 masterpiece in terms of its grandeur and magnificence?

FAK: Film and theatre are two very different mediums and the transition is always fraught with dangers. Mughal-e-Azam the film was inspired by a play and thus, structurally it was easier to adapt as a theatre piece. This is a homage to the genius of K Asif, we’re taking his legacy forward in a new medium.

ET: The costumes must play a huge role for the actors to get into character? Why did you think the designer Manish Malhotra fit the bill? Tell us a bit about the costumes.

FAK: This is a production on a grand scale and Manish Malhotra is a true artist. We had many discussions and finally, I told him to transport himself to the Mughal court during Akbar’s reign and imagine himself as the Royal court designer with his own chutzpah and create the costumes. He took it to a different level.

DS: When Feroz came to us to with the idea of the musical, we thought that it’s great. One of our conditions was that it had to be of the same caliber as Mughal-e-Azam. The scale had to match those levels.

Feroz agreed and reworked the designs to a new scale which is almost 10 times the scale of theatres in India. So once you increase the scale, every aspect of the musical has to reflect the same – the lights, the music, the sound, the projections, the set design and of course, costumes. In order to achieve that scale, we needed someone with that depth of thinking; someone who could do justice to Mughal-e-Azam. Manish Malhotra was, therefore, the obvious choice.

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