Mughal-e-Azam turns 61: Dilip Kumar, Madhubala were not on talking terms when they shot Indian cinema’s most romantic scene

As Mughal-e-Azam turns 61, here's looking back at one of the most iconic romantic scenes of all time and how it was shot by Dilip Kumar and Madhubala at a time 'they were not even greeting other'.

K Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam is often referred to as one of the most iconic films of Hindi cinema. The grand sets, the majestic dialogues, and the glorious cast of Dilip Kumar, Madhubala, and Prithviraj Kapoor has cinephiles celebrating the film even 61 years after its release. But what’s now remembered as a triumph on the silver screen was exactly the opposite in real life for its lead actors.

Late actor Dilip Kumar’s turn as Salim is often remembered as one of his best works but it is not just Salim who made a mark in cinematic history. Madhubala’s Anarkali was applauded for her delicate screen presence and her poised performance. The story of star-crossed lovers gave Indian cinema one of its first iconic love stories that has proved to be timeless. But here’s when the difference between reel and real creeps in. What we saw on screen was drastically opposite to what was transpiring in real life.

When Dilip Kumar and Madhubala were cast in K Asif’s magnum ops, it was said to be the perfect pairing. Stories of their raging romance were all over the place and Yusuf Sahab himself wrote about the same in his biography, Dilip Kumar: The Substance and the Shadow. “The announcement of our pairing in Mughal-e-Azam made sensational news in the early 1950s because of the rumours about our emotional involvement. In fact, K Asif was ecstatic with the wide publicity and trade enquiries he got from the announcement,” he wrote.

He candidly shared that they were both attracted to each other while filming Tarana (1951) so when Mughal-e-Azam eventually landed in their lap, they were more than happy to embrace the roles of divine lovers. He wrote, “She filled a void that was crying out to be filled – not by an intellectually sharp woman but a spirited woman whose liveliness and charm were the ideal panacea for the wound that was taking its own time to heal.”

Since Mughal-e-Azam took years to shoot because of its expansive sets and production design, things were drastically different between the lead pair by the time they shot the famed feather scene. Dilip Kumar and Madhubala “had completely stopped even greeting each other” when they shot for the scene that is now remembered as one of the most romantic scenes in Hindi cinema’s history. For shooting this successfully, he gave credit to their professional attitude who respected the director’s vision. “It should, in all fairness, go down in the annals of film history as a tribute to the artistry of two professionally committed actors who kept aside personal differences and fulfilled the director’s vision of a sensitive, arresting and sensuous screen moment to perfection,” he wrote.

But what really tore apart the famed couple? Dilip Kumar shared in his biography that contrary to popular notion, Madhubala’s father Ataullah Khan wasn’t opposed to their match but instead, wanted to turn this marriage into a business venture which did not land well with Dilip Kumar. Madhubala’s father had his own production company and wanted to bring in the two stars under his roof but Dilip was not in favour of this idea.

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“I explained to both of them that I had my own way of functioning and selecting projects and I would not show any laxity even if it were my own production house. It must have tilted the apple cart for him and he successfully convinced Madhu that I was being rude and presumptuous,” he wrote. Dilip Kumar shared that Madhubala tried convincing him a lot and promised that “that it would all be sorted out once we married” but Dilip was not ready to “surrender to someone else’s dictates and strategies.”

This led to their break up which made Dilip think that this was probably for the best. “I was truly relieved when we parted because I had also begun to get an inkling that it was all very well to be working together as artistes, but in marriage it is important for a woman to be ready to give more than receive,” he wrote.

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