(Left) Beena Rai as Mumtaz and Pradeep Kumar as Shah Jehan in ‘Taj Mahal’ (1963)
I have never quite seen any point to marking anniversaries of anything but in so much as it helps me peg this post, let me mark the 50th anniversary of this movie and song. ‘Taj Mahal’, directed by M. Sadiq, was released in 1963 and it featured Pradeep Kumar as Shehzada Khurram, later to become Shah Jehan, and Beena Rai as Arjuman Banoo, later to become Mallika-e-alam Mumtaz.
To make it more graspable for the less informed it is a love story that purportedly led to the creation of the Taj Mahal. Shah Jehan or A’la Azad Abul Muzaffar Shahab ud-Din Mohammad Khurram, was the fifth Mughal emperor of what is now India. He reigned between 1628 and 1658. Mumtaz was his queen for whom he built the Taj.
This particular song, “Jo baat tujh mein hai”, has been playing in loop both in my mind and on YouTube for the past few days.The only way I can purge myself of it is by writing about. It’s a lovely song sung with his trademark mellifluousness by Mohammed Rafi, brilliantly composed by Roshan and written by the great Sahir Ludhianvi. You don’t have to know the language to enjoy its cadence and to know that it is a romantic number where the Mughal emperor is reminiscing about his queen’s beauty, saying things like, “What you possess in person is so lacking in your portrait”. Trust me, it sounds so much more telling in Urdu.
He also says “Rango mein tera aks dhala, tu na dhal saki, Sanso ki aanch, jism ki khushboo na dhal saki. Tujh mein jo loch hai, Meri tehrir me nahi” (The colors capture your image but not you, Not the warmth of your breath, nor the fragrance of your body. The delicateness that you possess is missing in my description).
I am guessing the emperor and his favorite queen are not together for some reason, which is a great excuse for Shah Jehan to break into poetry as imagined by Sahir. This is, of course, a Hindi movie which may not necessarily accurately depict a day in the life of a Mughal emperor. Presuming it does, it must have been a great life, matching the colors of his royal silken robes with the tapestry, upholstery and linen of his king-sized bed. They are all various hues of ochre and it is hard to decide where the tapestry ends and upholstery begins and where the upholstery ends and the robes begin. It may not sound like that but I am actually praising this color coordination.
The indolent hedonism of the Mughal sultanate lording over a fabulously rich India must have been some life for its emperors. Even the vain royal white pigeons seemed to obediently curtsy in the courtyard as Mumtaz dances gently, caressing her face with a giant feather from a different bird. She also teasingly lifts the sheer white veil to the strains of the Sarangi and smiles in apparent acknowledgement of her lover’s poetry. The Mughal emperors, with the exception of Aurangzeb who disdained poetry, music and entertainment in any form generally, were known to be partial toward the pleasures of the senses. They did find a lot of time from their statecraft to indulge themselves. It is hardly surprising that Aurangzeb, not distracted by such things that distracted his father Shah Jehan, managed to pull in a hefty annual tribute of over 3.8 million pounds in 1690. In any case, what dad splurged on the Taj had to be recouped.
Coming back to the song which has triggered this post I wonder what Sahir might have said if Shah Jehan was a 21st ruler. Perhaps “Jo baat tujh mein hai tere Instagram mein nahi” (What you possess in person is so lacking in your Instagram).
None of my snickering mockery reduces the loveliness of the song, nor the opulence of Shah Jehan and Mumtaz’s lives. As if to rub it in, I write this sitting in my unfinished basement from whose overhead beams spiders and other insects occasionally fall on my desk.