My Yahoo! Movies column, first published here.
As Aurangzeb jumps out of the underworld and into our lives today, it would be a worthwhile exercise to look at his ancestors. Mughal emperors – with their pomp and grandeur – have been a big favourite of Bollywood directors. Here are some of them, in reverse chronological order.
The first name in the list enters somewhat slyly. Because the film never got made!
Aakhri Mughal was supposed to be Abhishek Bachchan’s launch vehicle. Directed by J.P. Dutta, it was the tale of Bahadur Shah Zafar’s relationship with his son. Apparently, the rights were with Kamal Amrohi once upon a time and he had wanted to make the film with Amitabh Bachchan, after
seeing him in Zanjeer. It did not happen then. It did not happen with the son.
With all star sons getting launched in all-singing-alldancing-all-muscle-flexing roles, a debut like this would have been very different (to the point of being risky). But then, so was Abhishek’s actual debut film—Refugee—with the same director.
A monument as timeless as the Taj Mahal has been accorded not one, but two movies named after it. Quite unfortunately, neither of Shah Jahans evoked much excitement.
In the 1960s version, Pradeep Kumar played Shah Jahan and the movie was famous for excellent music composed by Roshan. The soundtrack included the superhit Jo vaada kiya woh nibhana padega which the hero sang soulfully for the benefit of Bina Rai.
Emperor Trivia: Pradeep Kumar has the distinction of playing Shah Jahan in this movie and Jahangir in another movie called Anarkali.
Akbar Khan made Taj Mahal: An Eternal Love Story with a lavish budget and not much commercial success. Zulfi Sayed played the young Shah Jahan while Kabir Bedi donned white tresses to play the old version. Pakistani actress Sonya Jehan played the object of affection and devotion. The romance of Prince Khurram and Arjumand Bano Begum reached its culmination in the white mausoleum – a symbol of eternal love as well as a place where a king’s dreams lay buried.
Jahangir was immortalised by his birth name – Prince Salim – where one of India’s greatest actors played him in Mughal-e-Azam. K Asif directed Dilip Kumar in the magnificent saga of a prince rebelling against his father the emperor for the love of a woman. Before he became the ‘conqueror of the world’, Salim was just a man in love and frustrated by his class-conscious father. In some of the largest battle scenes filmed in Bollywood, Prince Salim took on Emperor Akbar and lost spectacularly. Prithviraj Kapoor played the baritone voiced emperor whose kingship forced him to take up arms against his rebellious son.
And there was Madhubala, who was worth every war fought in the history of India.
Emperor Trivia: In Anand, Johnny Walker also played Salim in a theatre production and uttered the immortal lines that Anand would make his death speech. Zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath mein hai, jahanpanah...
More Emperor Trivia: In an absolutely obscure film Angaar, Kader Khan played a Robin Hoodesque Mafia don – Jahangir Khan – who ruled Bombay with an iron hand and velvet gloves. His (and his sons’) run-ins with hero Jackie Shroff formed the crux of this eminently forgettable movie.
In Jodha Akbar – a film which was historically before and chronologically after Mughal-e-Azam – Akbar was no longer the spoilsport but a rather flamboyant lover. Hrithik Roshan – he of the sculpted body and chiselled looks – romanced Aishwarya Rai – she of the dulcet voice and mesmerising eyes – in the grand film.
Ashutosh Gowariker invented several new historical ‘events’ to concoct this tale of love and honour between the Muslim ruler of India and his Hindu wife. When Akbar acquiesced to each of Jodha’s demands in order to marry her, who knew he would soon be haranguing his son for marrying a girl of his choice?
The final name in the list in Babar or – more accurately – Baabarr, a crime drama set in the ganglands of Uttar Pradesh where one Baabarr Qureshi ruled the underworld with aggressive help from the police and politicians. It traced his rise from a poor little boy to a dreaded gangster and pitted him against two charismatic actors as police officers – Om Puri and Mithun Chakraborty. The movie’s tagline ominously declared “I was... I am... I will be... Baabarr” which did nothing to improve the collections and Baabarr collapsed at the box office.
Historical Alert: The last time Om and Mithun formed a team was when the former was the latter’s manager in Disco Dancer and you could say Mithun was the Emperor of Disco!