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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 17 January 2019

Bollywood classic Mughal-E-Azam brings colour and song to Dubai Opera

A feast for the eyes with elaborate sets and colourful costuming, but perhaps a little long

Kathak dancers perform as part of Mughal e Azam the Musical. Courtesy Feroz Abbas Khan 
Kathak dancers perform as part of Mughal e Azam the Musical. Courtesy Feroz Abbas Khan 

It is a brave move to take a timeless Bollywood classic and turn it into a stage show. Mughal-E-Azam, released in 1960, was lauded for its grand sets and attention to detail, raked in the big bucks at the box office, and held the record for the highest grossing film of all time in Bollywood for 15 years. The landmark performances by Prithviraj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, as well as the film’s soundtrack, are regarded as some of the best in Hindi cinema.

Set during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar, Mughal-E-Azam is the tragic love story of prince Salim, who falls in love with Anarkali, a dancing girl in Akbar’s court. The king obviously does not approve, and does everything in his power to keep the unlikely couple apart – even going to war with his son at one point. And as someone who has seen the movie and knew exactly what was going to happen at every turn, I was still completely blown away by Feroz Abbas Khan’s adaptation for the stage.

Still from Mughal-e-Azam the musical. Courtesy Feroz Abbas Khan 
Still from Mughal-e-Azam the musical. Courtesy Feroz Abbas Khan 

Mughal-E-Azam is the first large-scale Indian Broadway-style musical and has completed 12 seasons, coming to the Dubai Opera for its 13th.

The production value of this musical is high – the elaborate set features various backdrops of grand Mughal-style architecture in rich jewel tones, complemented by stunning lighting effects – providing the perfect setting for this story. Be it the king’s court, the royal bedroom, the moonlit verandah or the war scenes in the desert – the visual appeal of this staging is a major highlight. Another bonus is the English translation on the sides of the stage, which will be helpful to those who don’t speak the language, but still want to see the show.

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The music was all performed live on the Dubai Opera stage, but the dance performances truly stand out. Choreographed and executed to perfection, their moves seemed fluid and were an absolute delight to watch. I particularly enjoyed the use of ghungroos (a band of metallic bells worn by classical dancers) to add extra drama – especially at the beginning of Pyaar Kiya Toh Darna Kya, where the increasing and decreasing tempo added a new twist to the classic song. Part of the credit of these stunning routines also goes to the beautifully designed colourful costumes by designer Manish Malhotra.

The original film clocked in at 3 hours 15 mins, and even though the stage show has a run time of about 140 minutes plus a 20-minute break, it does feel like a lot to take in. Most of the musical performances are set in the first act, making it the more entertaining one of the two. The second half gives the actors a chance to show off their acting prowess, but it does tend to drag a little.

The actors who play Salim and Akbar gave standout performances, and although the actress who played Anarkali had a beautiful voice, she seemed to have some trouble hitting the higher notes and sounded a bit off-key. She also seemed to try a little hard to sound like Madhubala in her dialogue delivery, but if you’re someone who hasn't seen the film, this will not seem bothersome.

Whether you love the film or enjoy Indian classical music, take the time out to experience this audio-visual extravaganza, which will transport you to a different era and make you fall in love with this classic all over again.

Mughal-E-Azam is at Dubai Opera on January 11 and 12. Tickets cost from Dh250. For more details and ticket information, visit www.dubaiopera.com

Updated: January 11, 2019 10:48 AM

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