Anarkali – The Tale of a Doomed Courtesan!

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It has been 60 long years since “Mughal-E-Azam” first hit the silver screen in India and turned on to become a cinematic masterpiece that it is today. All the actors, including the film, created history. One character that became immortal was the one that was played by the mesmerizing beauty Madhubala – ‘Anarkali’. Given the fact that one cannot imagine any other Indian film actress personify the part of Anarkali so convincingly, only cements the fact that Madhubala was a force to reckon with in the 1950’s and 60’s. A courtesan who was forbidden by society to fall in love, doomed her fate by falling in love with the Mughal Prince – Salim (played by another living legend – Dilip Kumar). The illicit love affair that not just lead to a war between the father-son duo (Emperor Akbar and Salim) in the film, but also led Anarkali onto a path of loneliness, heartbreak and self destruction. 

Bollywood Trivia – Did you know? Anarkali’s role was to be portrayed by Nargis. But later the role went to Madhubala.

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The cameras first rolled on Mughal-e-Azam in 1946 at the Bombay Talkies Studio. Actors Chandra Mohan, D K Sapru and Nargis were cast to play Akbar, Salim and Anarkali respectively. However, the project faced multiple hurdles. Communal rioting surrounding India’s partition and Independence led to the film financier Shiraz Ali abandoning the project and migrating to Pakistan. A business tycoon-Shapoorji Pallonji was brought in to fill seats as the new producer. Moreover, the actor Chandra Mohan passed away and casting changes became mandatory. Actress Suraiya was offered the role of Anarkali but as destiny has it, the role finally fell into the lap of Madhubala.

As shooting resumed with the new cast, the love affair between Dilip Kumar and Madhubala reached its peak. However, an ugly court case brawl resulted in the end of Dilip Kumar and Madhubala’s 9 year relationship.

Having an uncanny resemblance to her disturbed personal life, Madhubala who was suffering from Ventricular Septal Defect (hole in the heart) and failed relationships couldn’t have been a better choice suited for the role of ‘Anarkali’. Despite deteriorating health, Madhubala pumped enough blood into the veins of the character that eventually cemented her position as a powerhouse performer forever. Though collapsing during the shoot of one of the songs of the film where she had to wear the heavy metallic chains on her body, Madhubala’s portrayal of the courtesan immortalised ‘Anarkali’ forever. From “Mohe Panghat Pe” that led to Anarkali seducing Salim to subtly challenging the powerful Emperor Akbar in the song “Pyar Kiya Toh Darna Kya” and eventually accepting her defeat with the song “Mohabbat Ki Jhooti” gives us a sneak peek into the roller coaster ride of emotions within Anarkali’s heart.

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After a delay of almost 16 years, this cinematic grandeur was finally released on August 5, 1960 at Maratha Mandir. Crowds thronged the theatre to watch this historic masterpiece and as they say ‘the rest is history’. The film went on to win the National Film Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi at the 1961 National Film Awards and bagged 3 Filmfare awards in the Best Film, Best Cinematography and Best Dialogue categories. The colourised version of the film was released on 12th November 2004 which met with equal success. On a closing note, all we can say is… “Zindabad Zindabad Ai ‘Mughal-E-Azam’ Zindabad!


Mughal-e-Azam is an Indian historical drama film directed by K. Asif released in the year 1960. It is available (colourised version) on Disney+ Hotstar for Online Streaming.

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Character Biopsy written by Vivin Esstibro (Venito).

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