100 years of Salim Anarkali : Love, Legend and Longevity


100 years of Salim Anarkali  : Love, Legend and Longevity

There are certain faces that make certain stories legends. Besides other factors, adaptations and the reward system too play a key role in the process

Also published in The Quint

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Yes. You are reading it correct, the story of Salim Anarkali is only 100 years old. The legendary story was penned by the eminent playwright Syed Imitiaz Ali Taj in 1922. And since then, this story has been experienced by audiences in multiple formats - Radio Play, Theatrical play, Silent film, B&W film, Colour film, Book and Broadway style musical.


As a legendary story, its uniqueness lies in it actually being just 100 years old. Most legendary stories that have survived the time are actually several centuries old  - be it Romeo & Juliet, Laila Majnu or Dhola Maru. Legendary stories, in their kernel, have some special element that ensures that the story keeps connecting with its audiences over multiple generations and in newer formats. And in many cases, it is not just the original author but multiple writers who, over the years, add strength and longevity that transform a story into a legend. The story of Salim and Anarkali being a classic example. In the Imtiaz Ali Taj’s version, Anarkali is punished to death. But when the writers for Mughal-e-Azam ( K Asif, Amanullah Khan, Ehsan Rizvi, Kamal Amrohi and Vajahat Mirza) wrote the story, they not only added new hues to characterisation but also gave a twist to the climax. As a result, the story reached new heights. 

A still from the film Mughal-e-Azam

Good writing is not necessarily about writing original stories but it could also be about writing good adaptations. Adaptations are not always remakes or copies, new authors add their own creative juices as they experience new audiences and new formats. And it is the success ratio of adaptations that is the current topic of discussions in  Bollywood. A few years back the issue being discussed was that Bollywood lacks original writing. But I think, that these discussions are only digressions from the real issue. The real issue is Bollywood’s failure in providing the appropriate platform for writers to flourish.

 Writers write multiple stories, not all stories taste success. Story writing is like a start up activty. Angel investors fund start ups but only a few reach the stage of VC, fewer till PE and even fewer get the unicorn valuation and IPO status. But this does not mean that the young founders who work in unsuccessful start ups do not get paid anything at all. The same should hold true for writers. Good writers cannot survive in an eco-system that pays them only a success fee. The system also needs to feed writers continuously for them and their creative juices to survive.

A still from Mughal-e-Azam : The Musical



Producers like Raj Kapoor, BR Chopra and many others would hire writers and regularly pay writers. Not all stories would get transformed into films but that risk was borne by RK Films, BR Films etc. and not with the writers. In short, the connect between writer-producer then was that of a relationship and not that of a contractual transaction.  Writing is a process of hit and trial and few writers have the risk appetite to survive till the success. It is only when writers get an appropriate platform for curation that legendary stories are born. It is no surprise that best stories from Bollywood have come in 1950s and 1960s when this culture of curation of writers was at its peak.

K Asif had originally started Mughal-e-Azam with Shiraz Ali Hakim along with plans to write and direct other films as well with Shiraz Ali. When Shiraz Ali shifted to Pakistan, K Asif did not leave his co-writers. He continued with them and approached new financers (as a founder of start up would do today) and kept the writers away from that pain and ultimately found Shapoorji. It is this kind of approach that is required to nurture writers and curate the writing process.  And let me surprise you with a not so commonly known fact. The next project planned by K Asif and Shapoorji was Ramayan, however, by the time Mughal-e-Azam was complete, Shapoorji had grown old. I only wish that the second project too had seen light of the day, we would have seen another legendary Indian story on an international canvas (see pic from original promotional material of Mughal-e-Azam).


A snapshot from the original brochure of Mughal-e-Azam ( 1960 )

Now, in 1922, as we celebrate 100 years of the story of Salim and Anarkali, we incidentally also celebrate the 100th anniversary of K Asif ( 1922-1971).


Today, neither K Asif is there, nor the writers who wrote or adapted the story of Salim Anarkali but this line from Mughal-e-Azam would provide all those writers a valuation bigger than any unicorn of today………..Yeh kya kam hai ki mar jaane pe duniya yaad karti hai…! 


Deepesh Salgia 

Design and Direction for Mughal-e-Azam ( Colour version )

Creative and Strategic Vision for Mughal-e-Azam : The Musical



  1. Human spirit is built on creative works of individuals. Art , cinema is no exception. Original or adaptation or remake there is always the identity of the creator in it and that make the out come unique. Nice piece Deepesh.

  2. Many thanks, Vasant. True, every individual adds unique dimension of creativity. This ensures larger connect to the audience

  3. वाह! सही पकड़े है... नाटक के सृजन से लेकर फिल्मांकन और मंचन के शिखर तक के सफ़र का सारगर्भित विवरण दिया आपने... और आसिफ़ के साथ नाट्य लेखन का दिलचस्प संयोग उजागर किया. आलेख की पूर्णाहुति यानी आख़िरी लाइन भी शानदार- यह क्या कम है कि मर जाने जाने पे दुनिया याद करती है! 👌🏼👍🏼आपकी कलम को सलाम, आपको आत्मिक बधाई और अभिनंदन. 💐🙏

  4. Very good research, Deepeshbhai. This should put at rest the debate whether Anarkali did exist in reality or she exists in fiction and whether Salim, indeed, fell in love with her. A. T. Shah


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