Anarkali comes to life

It is not clear whether the enchanting story of Anarkali is a myth or reality, but the fact is that this tale has captured the imaginations of nearly all the subcontinent’s big names in the performing arts for the last 100 years. It began in the first half of the 20th century when famous drama writer Agha Hashar Kashmiri wrote his masterpiece for the stage about the dancer who fell in love with Mughal Prince Saleem.

In the 1930s, when cinema first gained popularity in pre-partition India, this story was a favourite of both moviemakers and the masses. Numerous films have been made based on the tragic story of Anarkali, the best among the lot probably being Mughal-i-Azam. Who can forget the performance of Pirthivi Raj (Mughal-i-Azam), Dilip Kumar (Prince Saleem) and Madhubala (Anarkali) in that movie?

Shoaib Mansoor, arguably one of the best television directors in Pakistan, recently made an attempt to interpret the legend of Anarkali by directing a five-minute music video. Shabnam Majeed has rendered the vocals, while the composition is Shoaib Mansoor’s own. The video has been shot at the Lahore Fort, Anarkali’s so-called tomb situated in the Punjab Secretariat and on the set of a local film studio.

This video is reportedly one of the most expensive in the history of Pakistan, the total bill being seven million rupees! In Pakistan, such a budget is usually reserved for feature films. Abid Ali’s daughter Iman Ali has played the role of Anarkali in the video and Prince Saleem’s role has been performed by a newcomer, Rizwan Haider. A student of a local fashion design school, this is his first venture in the world of performing arts. The best thing about the video is its entertainment value.

Apart from a few loopholes as far as historical accuracy is concerned, the video has all the ingredients required for success, though on the performance side there are some weaknesses. Rizwan Haider may have the looks of Shehzada Saleem, but he has failed to deliver the expressions necessary for the role. Iman Ali’s performance is at best satisfactory. Raja Maan Singh was a major historical figure of Mughal India, but in this video he is shown as a minor person with a slightly weak personality, which he was not. By far the best performance was Rashid Naz’s, a talented TV artist from Peshawar. He is lucky as he has broken the image created by Pirthivi Raj in the film Mughal-i-Azam.

The production of the video is very impressive, and once again Shoaib Mansoor has proven that he is a trendsetter. The lighting and photography is superb. The set of Emperor Akbar’s court is impressive and colourful, but one feels the props used don’t do justice to recreating the regal grandeur of the most powerful emperor of India.

The most interesting and controversial aspect of the video is its historical evidence. In written history, there is no mention of anyone named Anarkali in any credible book. Even in his autobiography, Emperor Jahangir has not mentioned the name of Anarkali, although he has mentioned his differences with his father, Emperor Akbar, on other issues. It has also not been proven by any record that the tomb shown in the video is the place where Anarkali was buried alive. Apart from these points, the fact is that the legend of Anarkali has once again been brought to life after a lengthy period of time.

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