It’s not an easy task to write about a film that has been called “one of the greatest films ever made in Indian cinema”. Not only was the film exceptional, on numerous levels, but the fact that it took 16 years from the start of shooting till its release, is proof enough that one must harbour a certain passion for cinema in order to write about this path-breaking film.
Anil Zankar is a film scholar and his academic background reflects in the way the book it presented, as well as how the film is analysed. Legend as Epic has been divided into subparts, making it a more structured read. The attractive factor of the book is that Zankar doesn’t simply keep his observations limited to the film, but he goes back and gives a history of how certain artistic and technical aspects, such as script and dialogue, came to develop over time and were eventually utilized in Mughal-E-Azam. There is no question that Zankar is extremely learned in this art form, but unfortunately, at times the book takes a more academic approach to the film, and this is where it begins to wane.
One issue I have come across the books released by this particular publisher, in this cinematic series, is that they are not edited well. Here again, the ghost of repetition plays havoc, frustrating the reader with the same information being presented again and again throughout the book. Luckily enough, it isn’t as bad as some of the other books, but while reading a 200-page book it is noticeable and irritable.
Leaving the editing aside, what really bothered me was that Zankar on one occasion explains the “Rhetorical style of speech” used in the film by demonstrating a conversation between Anaarkali and Akbar. Unfortunately, just a couple of pages later, he uses the exact same scene and dialogue to demonstrate the “understanding of mise en scene” even though he ends the chapter by stating “the film has a number of dramatic conversations expressing opposite views, for example, between Akbar and Anaarkali, Akbar and Jodhabai, …Saleem and Anaarkali. They are all treated in a similar manner setting up the intense, dignified atmosphere of the film.” Why then the author decided to use the same scene twice is beyond comprehension.
A film that had twelve songs, each integral to the story and the progress of the movie, deserves a separate chapter that discusses the beauty of music. Zankar gives due consideration to this, but his rather long chapter on music is full of unnecessary information that literally bored me to the extent that I was compelled to skip a few pages, something I wholeheartedly try to avoid. Once again, Zankar has great insight into the various characteristics of the music in the film, but he takes on each song individually explaining the technical aspects behind them along with detailing the actions of the actors on screen. This gets tedious especially when the reader has gone through a chapter wherein the entire story of the film was re-told.
Furthermore, so engrossed is the author in looking at every minute professional detail of the film that he completely ignores the human aspect so much so that the reader is left without any knowledge of some of the best acting performances given, ever.
Although Mughal-E-Azam: Legend as Epic might seem like a scholarly paper at times, one that has all the information but lacks heart, it is still a pleasant look at one of the finest films to have been ever made in the world. Zankar’s extreme knowledge is both the high point of the book but also a curse that makes reading the book slow and difficult to enjoy. Legend as Epic is a recommended read for serious cinephiles only.
I know you are wondering how a book on Indian Cinema ended up here, in the middle of a travel blog. Last year, around this time, I went off on a tangent and decided to focus on films, via reviews, which captured different aspects of life from across the world.
Similarly, I feel that Indian Cinema is an integral part of who we are here in this country. Most of us breathe movies, love them, and hate them, with equal passion.
Going to the cinema is second nature to Indians. It is a chance for the family to enjoy a “masala blockbuster” together. A way for lovers to hide in the darkness of the theatre for some intimate time. And of course, an opportunity to forget about real life and lose ourselves in the stories on the silver screen for a few hours.
So, this time I decided to feature books based on Indian Cinema (and on a couple of occations World Cinema) that should hopefully give you an insight into what films mean to the people in India and also highlight some individuals who made “Bollywood” what it is – the largest film industry of the world.
Note: This article contains Amazon affiliate links. If you use these to buy the book, you get it for no extra cost, while I get a small commission from Amazon in return. Thank you