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In the corridors of dreams


Akbar Khan's much-awaited "Taj Mahal - An Eternal Love Story" is ready to kiss the silver screen. The director cannot tire of talking and dreaming of the timeless romance of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz.

I hope I have been able to capture the throb, the passion of the romance Akbar Khan

THE MASTER AND THE MUSE Akbar Khan says he opted for Sanya Jahan (below) for he wanted his Mumtaz, an untouched beauty.

For three and a half years he has done nothing. That is, nothing except eat, drink, sleep and dream "Taj Mahal - An Eternal Love Story". Speaking to Akbar Khan over this period was almost always an occasion to hear the couplet he knows with as much clarity as the romance of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz. Whether one-to-one or over the phone, he does not tire to relate, almost like an enthusiastic upcoming poet, "Taj naghma hai mohabbat ke dharakte saaz ka, Yeh woh aaina hai jisme aks hai Mumtaz ka, Mumtaz tujhe dekha, jab Taj Mahal dekha, Phir aaj ki aankhon se guzra hua kal dekha".

And all this sustained passion, this little dream residing in his heart was supposed to find expression on the silver screen this Friday at a time when the faithful are celebrating Id and the Diwali mood has still not given way. Alas! Not to be. However, his gratification has merely been deferred, not denied, and this Rs.50 crore extravaganza shall keep its date with cinemagoers later this month.

Says Khan, whose chance visit to the Taj Mahal gave birth to a dream whose consequence is this film, "We did not want to get in the mad rush. We have waited long enough for the film to be released. It won't hurt if it is deferred by a couple of weeks."

Fair enough. After all, "Taj Mahal" is supposed to be an eternal love story based on the romance of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz. It encapsulates their first meeting at Meena Bazaar. It talks of their conversation, albeit dramatised, and seeks to do justice to history. It brings with it the old charms of Naushad's music, and the thrill of watching royal romance again, just as cinemagoers had done in 1941, when Nanabhai Vakil made "Taj Mahal" with Kumar-Sarojini-Suraiya. Or when in 1963, Roshan came up with everlasting tunes for M. Sadiq's "Taj Mahal", starring Pradeep Kumar-Bina-Jeevan-Helen. Hardly anybody had forgotten "Jo Wada Kiya Woh Nibhana Padega" that Naushad has tried to reproduce the magic.

Thrilled at release

Little wonder, Khan is thrilled at the prospect of the release. After all, he envisioned the film nine years ago, and then researched for a year before starting the shooting. "I am all excited about delivering the film to the audiences, to the cinemagoers the world over. I have gone through extended labour pains, but now the baby is ready. By the grace of Allah, the film is complete and ready for release. I hope this saga of timeless romance of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz, which is probably the best love story of all times, penetrates the heart and soul of cinemagoers. I hope I have been able to capture the throb, the passion of their romance."

He defends the great time lag between the conception, shooting and release of the film. "It is not a film that could have been shot in some discotheques, in some hotels. We needed to reproduce the grandeur of the Moghul era. We needed to do justice to the majesty of the times, keep in mind the dignity associated with the royalty. It is not some teenybopper romance that you can wrap up in three months. But I have finished the film in two years and four months with 245 days of shooting. It is better than the figures recorded for films like `Lagaan' or `Asoka'."

Khan is understandably keyed up for the release. There are, he informs, 550 prints going to be released across the country and another 250 abroad. The film's music was released earlier this year, but despite Naushad's nostalgia value, has not quite clicked with the masses. Khan differs, "We have not sold the music rights to anybody. We have released it ourselves. I get thousands of calls from the world over. It is a big hit. Its purchase will not go down. It is not the kind of pop number album that is there at the top one week, and gone the next. And the music would have done even better had it been released just before the film. However, the film did not follow the music release immediately, and that gives the impression that it has not done well."

Then he recounts that his two-year-old kid sings its songs every day while another three-year-old kid compares its music with that of "Mughal-e-Azam" which, incidentally, was also composed by Naushad.

Safe subject

Khan claims the film is not merely about he being inspired by the timeless romance while on a visit to the Taj. He sees it as simple logic. "Taj Mahal is a proven subject. The first film on the subject was a runaway hit. And the songs of the other one are sung even now. Era subjects have always provided good material for films. With this film, a new trend is likely to emerge. People will come back to see the glory of the bygone era." He dismisses all suggestions that the lack of a star cast will affect the box office standing - the film stars Kabir Bedi and Zulfi Syed as the old and young Shah Jahan respectively, while Sonya Jahan, Noor Jahan's granddaughter, plays Mumtaz, with nice supporting parts by Manisha Koirala, Kim Sharma and Pooja Batra, none of whom creates a ripple at the box office any more.

"I avoided big stars as they come with a fixed image. I wanted my Mumtaz to be an untouched beauty," Khan reasons.

Akbar Khan's talent in personal conversation is impressive. He speaks with unmatched confidence, taking care to add a dash of humility to his high decibel speech. His powers of oratory leave you mesmerised. A drawl here, a guffaw there never compromises the accuracy of his words. And as one said earlier, he can narrate history with a tinge of nostalgia, relate an anecdote with accuracy, reel out entertainment with pleasure.

Now if he can reproduce the same magic wielding the directorial baton! Maybe, just maybe, we might get to see a tale we can listen to and watch with unhindered pleasure, and enjoy a film where all the money spent means keener fare to relish.

Then we, and not just Khan, may eat, drink, sleep and dream of "Taj Mahal". Dreams seldom come with better repeat value.

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