What would it have been like to live in Mughal India, anytime during the period from the early 1500s to the mid-1800s? I think I would have loved the clothing and the constant attention from my own personal servants, though perhaps the idea of my husband being able to accumulate multiple wives might have felt a bit pesky. Think at times those were the good ol’ days?
You’ll be able to make up your own mind about all those questions and ideas at an upcoming film festival held at the Walter Reade Theater and organized by the ever-cultural IAAC in conjunction with the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Starting this Saturday, May 15th, with a launch party at the K Lounge in Midtown Manhattan, the ‘Muslim Cultures of Bombay Cinema’s film festival: Social Dramas & Shimmering Spectacle’ promises to sparkle, dazzle and entertain all the way. And don’t forget to don your best Mughal fineries at the opening party, in honor of Emperor Shahanshah Akbar… If you need a bit of help with that, no worries, Ashutosh Gowariker to the rescue! Check out the website for his film ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ for inspiration.
The shimmering evening will also feature a book sale and signing for the new release from Tulika Books ‘Islamicate Cultures of Bombay Cinema’ by Ira Bhaskar and Richard Allen. For those who have not been so fortunate to come across his interesting lectures and insightful film presentations, Richard Allen is Professor and Chair of Cinema Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University, while Ira Bhaskar is Associate Professor of Cinema Studies at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
I have always been drawn to the elegance and culture of Mughal India. The Mughal emperors, their conquests and the lives of their consorts reminded me of those basically civilized but heavily misguided noble men and women of Renaissance Florence. It was an easy yet deeply subconscious association for me. Until Sir Salman Rushdie made it “real” in his beautifully written novel ‘The Enchantress of Florence’. Suddenly, the similarities became eerie and the connection no longer subconscious, but deeply rooted in Rushdie’s wittily rearranged facts and creative timelines.
While my bond with the Mughals deepened even further, a certain Empress of cinematic and literary fame simultaneously became a figment of the Emperor’s imagination, a glorified ghost, at the hand of the king of poetic license himself, Sir Rushdie. Indeed, during a press conference for the launch of the book in the US - organized by the Indo-American Arts Council - Rushdie called Jodha Bai unreal, although he admitted that actress Aishwarya Rai - who plays the Empress in the film ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ - was indeed “very real, even if we wish it wasn’t so!” From his telling, the Hindu princess appears to have been a composite of several of Akbar’s wives and concubines, a single woman made up of different souls, different characters within his inner court.
However one wishes to think of Jodha - real or imaginary - her Rajput-princess-who-marries-a-Muslim-Emperor story is the stuff fairy tales are made of. And everything that seems like a fairy tale must, at some point, become a Bollywood blockbuster. This is the case with Gowariker’s ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ and indeed also the case with the classic ‘Mughal-e-Azam’ - a story loosely based on an episode in the life of Emperor Jahangir. Jahangir was, incidentally, the son of Akbar and - you guessed it! - Jodha, our imaginary princess… Just like life itself, it is all open to interpretation.
Among some of my personal must-see at this film festival are ‘Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro’ with Pavan Malhotra, a lovely man with a beautiful wife - in real life - both of whom treated me to a wonderful evening of drinking chai and talking about films, NYC and chocolate on my last trip to Bombay! ‘Fiza’ by FB friend and film critic extraordinaire Khalid Mohamed, as well as ‘Mammo’ and ‘Sardari Begum’ both by the wonderful Shyam Benegal. So many films, so little time!
For a complete list of the movies featured in the festival, check out the Film Society of Lincoln Center website. For more about the IAAC launch party on Saturday night, and to purchase tickets to the event, check out the Mughal Court invitation page.