Inside Akbar's Taj Mahal...
Akbar Khan's research of 12 years is ready to bear fruit as he wraps up the final shots of his forthcoming magnum opus, "Taj Mahal", at Nagore Fort in Jodhpur.
ROYAL FRAME: The opulence and grandeur is reflected in the sets and costumes.
OPULENT, GLAMOROUS, extensive, ubiquitous yet elegant. This is the Meena Bazaar that the people of Jodhpur in Rajasthan had a glimpse of at Nagore Fort, hidden like any tiny sapling under the shade of a huge tree.
Meena Bazaar in Rajasthan? Yes, this is a Meena Bazaar created at this spacious fort stretching up to 300 acres with ample twists and turns, and a huge wall surrounding the structure. People have lapped up the chance to see the bazaar - part of the elaborate sets commissioned by Akbar Khan for his Taj Mahal which is being filmed here. They might not be able to witness such a scene again. After all, it was 20 years ago that Sunil Dutt's film Reshma Aur Shera was shot here, and since then no film crew has come to liven up the labyrinthine pathways of the fort that some believe is haunted.
Though it is said that lost time can never be regained and a lost era never revived, yet director Akbar Khan (brother of the dashing Feroz Khan) is trying to do just that. Instructing some 300 workers on the sets, his attempt is to bring alive the era of Shahjehan and Mumtaz Mahal, the glory of the Meena Bazaar - the grand marketplace reserved specially for noblewomen, to which the royal Prince was the only male who had access - and the splendour of the Moghuls. Shahjehan's Taj Mahal was built in 20 years. Seeing Akbar's passion, the remark doing the rounds on the sets is that the film will be remembered for 20 years at least.
The area behind the sets is divided into some 10 makeshift sections. Two are full of costumes of this bygone era, for junior and senior artistes. Hung across a carefully straightened wire, they have a feel of a museum of carefully preserved clothes of the Moghuls. The room also has big boxes of jewellery and meticulously wound turbans encrusted with precious stones. Anna Singh designs the costumes of senior artists while local tailors have made dresses for junior artists. Tejas Jojani of Devdas and Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham fame has designed the jewellery. Akbar says he has till now spent "Rs.7 to 8 crores on costumes and jewellery alone," and it's not hard to believe.
In one section make-up men are giving quick, final touches to the faces of young court dancers. Many are roaming in richly-embroidered, expensive costumes. They have come from Mumbai while some are local college girls. Adorned with precious jewellery, pride is writ large on their faces.
Cooking, arrangements for cold water, accounts and management are going on in other cabins.
Akbar, perched on his chair, scrutinises each detail of the Meena Bazaar that has been created out of Plaster of Paris and fibreglass. It has taken more than month to build. "POP dye takes two to three months to make while one shop in the bazaar has taken 10 days to complete. It's dismantling will take half-and-hour only," says a labourer on site. And there are many shops displaying the best of jewellery and costumes. Water flows in seven fountains - sourced from a tanker Akbar specially ordered from Jodhpur to create the opulence of Shahjehan's Agra in the midst of desert terrain.
Meena Bazaar might get a "five to six-minute slot in the film," Akbar informs. The scene to be filmed is the rendezvous of Shahzada Khurram - played by model-turned-actor Zulfi Syed - and princess Ladli Begum - played by Kim Sharma of Mohabbatein fame - who, in order to become the wife of this heir apparent tries to win him over. But the prince, lost in the charms of Arjuman - played by Noorjehan's granddaughter Sonya Jehan - has come to buy jewellery for her in Meena Bazaar. But the prince elegantly gives Ladli a piece of his mind.
Shot ready. Viewing the prince from distance, Ladli waits for him at a jewellery shop. He arrives, casually glances at her and looks at the richly displayed jewels, lost in thoughts of Arjuman.
"Aaj kis chaand ki talash kar rahe hain Shahzade?" Ladli Begum teases. "Chaand nahin, chehra," he clarifies. Taking it as a compliment intended for her, Ladli instantly queries: "Is chaand se chehre ko koi tohfa nahin dijiye huzoor?"
"Noor ke rang ko koi kya de sakta hai", he retorts adding, "use to khud husn ne sajaya hai." The prince is actually referring to God as `Noor', looking at a locket on which the word `Allah' is inscribed. As he picks up this small garland of pearls and precious stones, he sees Arjuman's face in it, who also has come to the bazaar and is standing at a distance. As she spots him staring at her, she runs away. Here Ladli Begum thinks that the price has picked it up to present to her.
Akbar okays the shot in the ninth take. He is not content with certain movements, space, jewellery display, or gestures. The film is the result of Akbar's 12 years of extensive research. Zulfi forgets his dialogue in a take. "Use to khud... " laughter all around.
"Bill Clinton once said, `There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it and those who have not seen the Taj and love it. I would like people to watch my Taj Mahal and fall in love with it," Akbar says as he readies to leave the campus. He and his crew of some 800 people have not slept for many nights. He will sleep in the daytime and come again to shoot the whole night for a week more.
The film is to be premiered in London, Mumbai and Delhi with two days' gap each "by November," he says.
RANA A. SIDDIQUI
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