Directed and screenplay by K. Asif
The plot for this movie comes from the legend of Prince Salim. The staging (very set-specific) of this film is a relic of the time, but this has the advantage now of heightening the legend effect. Also heightening this is the recolored version that was released in 2004, and which was the version I saw. The bright colors have the disadvantage of not being as nuanced as films actually shot in color later. Even if you obtain a black and white version, two songs and the last half hour will be in color (this was all they could afford at the time, since the movie was already becoming the most expensive one made). Not once does the viewer feel that the story is taking place on a realistic plane, but the immersion in the legendary plane heightens the intensity of the script, which is poetry, and the scenes, which are fantastic (a girl as a statue, a palace of mirrors, speaking in candlelight). The story follows the romantic relationship between Prince Salim and one of the palace servants, Anarkali. As a Western viewer, it was unclear to me exactly why their relationship was so forbidden, but I think it was due to differing religions, the way they kept it hidden at first, and the laws of the time, which lead to Anarkali having to be put to death. Her last request is to spend a night with the Prince. There are many stunning scenes, a few of which I mentioned earlier, but of note should be the final plot twist, which is more heartbreaking than normal.
Dilip Kumar, as Prince Salim, turns in a stone-faced performance, but like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix, this does, for once, work in the character’s favor. Salim is a stalwart future leader, and his stony stares at Anarkali are easily interpreted as the fixed gaze of someone who does everything in straight, strong lines.
Song Highlights: The great Naushad was the music director here; the songs are interesting but not particularly memorable. Plot points do move forward during the songs, which is true of all good Bollywood movies (in particular, plot points involving character development and relationships). Anarkali does sing a heart-rending plea when she is locked in the dungeon.
Tidbits: There is much to be in awe of during this film, and one of the most amazing aspects is the script. Credit must also be given to whoever did the translation, but the script in the original language is so strong that it shines through and supersedes the translation. Here is a sampling of some of the best lines:
“They are not wounds, but flowers. For flowers to die is an insult to spring.” (Salim says this while refreshing himself in a battle tent. Then he looks at his sword) “It is not only an assassin but also a beloved. It is rose-bough and also a sword.”
“The mind accepts the beauty of your art. The heart does not.” (when viewing work by the royal artist, who could be said to be responsible for the whole mess. It’s also something that I could say of many current literary fiction writers.)
“It quivers; perhaps the prince’s heart is in it.” (when looking at the candle flame)
“Anarkali, your opinion is: we agree that love devastates life. Yet is it not fulfilling that after death the world remembers you? We shall see, by shaking someone’s world with our love. For that you get these thorns.” (Salim to Anarkali when presenting her with thorns.) She replies, “—I am fortunate. Thorns need not fear fading.”
“Did God grant your prayer for my life so you could be master of it?” (the queen to the prince) He replies, “Master of my heart beats?”
“Our India is not your heart to be ruled by a slave-girl.” (the king to the prince) He replies, –“And my heart is not your India, for you to rule.”
“Then the emperor should also punish unruly moths which fall in love with the flame…imprison the flower-loving bumblebee that hums sweet melodies of love…dam the stream that would be one with the ocean.”
Rating: As with Baiju Bawra, the legendary nature of the story lends itself well to cross-cultural acceptance.
Library Collection: A definite must for a historical collection; this was an important and famous film.