A Subaltern Performance: Circulations of Gender, Islam, and Nation in India’s Song of Defiance

J.P. Singh
George Mason University


This essay analyzes the iconic 1960 Bollywood song Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya (“Why be afraid when you have loved?”) from the epic Mughal-e-Azam or The Great Mughal.[1] Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya is a defiant song performed by the courtesan Anarkali in front of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, whose son she loves. The film was released in 1960 after 14 years of production, and its name is almost synonymous with representations of nation-building in post-colonial India. The essay places the defiant song in India’s cinema of enduring circulations through audiences, dealing with popular imaginaries linked to Bollywood cinema. Within the aesthetics of circulation, the song-and-dance presents a subaltern moment both for cinema in general, and for the character of the Mughal courtesan Anarkali who challenges Mughal-e-Azam Akbar. The song-and-dance is also analyzed as drag performativity at several levels: the masked identity of the actors playing the roles and for the caste, class, religious, sexual, and national transgressions. The essay concludes that the endurance and popularity of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya lies in the imperfect resolution of the social transgressions in the song-and-dance. The song’s circulations reveal changing inter-linked and contested notions of performativity linked to gender, Islam, and nation-state formation in India in the post-colonial era.

DOI: 10.18278/aia.1.1.5


There is a song of defiance in the epic Indian film Mughal-e-Azam, or the Great Mughal, one of the most spectacular film in the history of Bollywood cinema, which is now etched in the cultural memory of India. The Mughal Emperor Akbar (1565–1605) has ordered the imprisoned kaneez, or slave, Anarkali to forsake her love for Prince Salim, the emperor’s son and heir apparent, and commanded her to dance before the court for the Persian New Year.[2] Salim, acting on hearsay, believes Anarkali has secured her release by agreeing to this Mujra, a dance form for disreputable courtesans originating in the Mughal era, usually performed for male audiences. To dance before the court, he understands, is a repudiation of Anarkali’s love for him. Before the song-and-dance performance Salim confronts Anarkali, slaps her, and calls her a bujdil laundi, or a cowardly slave.

The Mujra—incorporating elements of the North Indian Kathak dance—begins before a resplendent court bedecked with dazzling Islamicate iconography: cloisters and arches, intricate floral and glass design, and Persian-influenced Indian costumes.[3] Anakali’s Kathak leads into her song: “Jab Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya” (Why fear when you have loved), in which she declares her love for Prince Salim in front of the emperor and his court. Salim begins to realize that he has been misled; Anarkali is anything but cowardly. Her defiant song-and-dance, with multiple meanings of what it means to be a woman, in love, and to be Muslim are played out before a Mughal emperor’s public.[4]

Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, as the song is formally known, is also a spectacular dance for the male gaze, extolling a mythical historic past through the performance of a female body.[5] The camera often stays centered on Anarkali’s face and, shifting its focus occasionally upon the bejeweled, but historically unauthentic blouse that enhances her breasts. Despite being produced for the heterosexual male gaze, the performance also represents a subversive disruption or a queer moment within a celebrated historical narrative where a costumed slave, a drag queen of sorts, questions class, caste, religious, gender, and national hierarchies. Butler (1990) notes that gender is constructed through a set of repeated performances; a drag queen unravels these meaning through a melodramatic performance. Drag, therefore, arises from a set of social transgressions through a bodily display, and the enduring circulation of this song attests to its repeated performances. In her drag-like performance, Anarkali challenges Mughal Emperor Akbar’s patriarchal authority and other social stratifications.[6] The script is aware of the male gaze, and the power of the dancer’s body: Anarkali oft-quoted line in the song-and-dance sequence is “purdah nahi jab koyi khudha sé, bundo sé purdah karna kya” (“when I don’t wear a purdah before God/ why should I veil myself before men”). In the next shot, the emperor reverts his gaze and looks down.

Mughal-e-Azam was released in 1960 after 14 years of being in production, and the film paralleled the emergence of an independent post-colonial India. Despite featuring a narrative about India’s Mughal past that draws heavily on Islamic and Urdu traditions, the director K. Asif leaves no doubt that the film speaks to India’s nation-building project—”I am Hindustan” announces a bass profondo male voiceover, narrating the voice of a nation, as the film opens with a map of India. However, Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya speaks to the political and cultural project of nation-building in multiple and conflicting ways. The dance and the song challenge religious strictures, social stratifications, patriarchy, and absolute imperial power on multiple registers. The performance is subaltern, that of a courtesan in the artistic medium of film which, as argued later, was marginalized in post-colonial India. On the other hand, the beguiling spectacle of cinema, the dance of the slave, and the male gaze reinforce the diffused power of historical imaginaries.[7] The spectacle, therefore, also reinforces social conventions such as sexism, objectified gender performance, and female exploitation, in this case circulated through film imaginaries.[8] As with many other films with strong female characters, we expect Anarkali’s demise.[9]

Is Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya a defiant song of the subaltern or crass sexist commercialism? Spectators and scholars would find it hard to affix a simple linear understanding for song-and-dance performances in films that are both defiant and obedient of social norms. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, therefore, invites a multilayered understanding, which this essay adopts from queer theory for drag performativity. Queer theory shows that a male drag queen in stylizing normative femininity also simultaneously deconstructs it through performativity while offering a pleasurable spectacle (Butler 1990, 1993; Barrett 1999). The gender performativity, to use Judith Butler’s phrase, in actor Madhubala’s Anarkali is similar because it both preserves and challenges social conventions and their meanings, which must be understood through a series of circulations rooted in historical context and audience participation. Therefore, Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya challenges discourses of power on the gendering and sexualization of the body, while at the same time appealing to historical imaginations that preserve patriarchal practices of the nation-state, embodied in the Great Mughal Emperor Akbar as the benevolent patriarch who stands in for post-colonial India.

Cultures reproduce and evolve through the circulation of their symbols, rituals, and representations. This main argument in the paper is advanced through a multilayered argument regarding India’s “cinema of circulations” based on a close reading of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya in the context of its on-going social circulation among Indian audiences over multiple generations. Song-and-dance sequences in Indian cinema can circulate independently of the film and take on meanings that may or may not conform to those of the film’s narrative. Gender, religion, class, sexuality, and nationhood in Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya and Mughal-e-Azam can be interpreted through the circulations of the film’s imagery in the last 56 years. The intent of the film’s director and the love for this song among the film’s audiences, I argue, speak to a subaltern voice that represents a post-colonial India and its expansive and deep social stratifications along class, caste, gender, sexual, and religious lines. The film’s circulation also continues a colonial embarrassment, which exploited historical Hindu notions of social respectability: I suggest that the dismissal of commercial Indian cinema among Indian intellectuals might exhibit a post-colonial upper-class shame about the Indian body, which recalls its regulation from the British administrators.

The essay first presents a few words on the endurance of Mughal-e-Azam and Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya’s circulations, before presenting a multi-sited ethnography, in part autobiographical, of the song and the meanings it suggests within various circulatory contexts. The song-and-dance borrows from highbrow Islamicate art practices, but only to legitimize its subversion. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya is foremost a subaltern performance: that of a courtesan and a woman with little agency dancing across an empire’s patriarch. The performance remains imperfect, contradictory, but defiant—hence the song’s appeal to an emergent India, and its dismissal among the political elite ascribing to a linear and hopeful narrative for India. For its transgressive possibilities, the song continues to endure as an unofficial anthem for the powerless and disenfranchised, particularly from the arenas of love and marriage where religious, caste and class boundaries are strictly enforced and carefully policed. Cultural circulations are complex and contradictory, especially when they embrace the imperfections of the subaltern.


Enduring Circulation

Mughal-e-Azam has never gone out of circulation since its release in 1960. As a celebrated cultural artifact, the film has bridged boundaries with India’s imperial history, its neighboring states, and helps interpret the notion of Indian-ness among communities in diaspora. In April 2006, with a personal signal from President Parvez Musharraf, Pakistan edged toward lifting the ban on Indian films enacted in 1952. Mughal-e-Azam, as a film that glorifies Mughal history, was exhibited in Pakistani theaters alongside the similarly effective Taj Mahal (1963). The scattered anecdotes collected below are few instances of the enduring influence and the political economy of circulation of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya andMughal-e-Azam.

In November 2004, Sterling Pictures and Eros Entertainment, respectively, the rights holder and a leading distributor with nearly 2,000 films in its library, reissued a computer colored version of the classic Mughal-e-Azam to much fanfare. A bonus disc in newly released DVD of the film, hereafter “bonus DVD,” features interviews with fans and celebrities from the Hindi film industry based in Mumbai (Sterling 2006). As they reflect on the significance of the film, they sing Jab Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, the first line to the lyrics of a song now firmly ensconced in the national imaginaries of India as an anthem of defiance. One young interviewee notes that she has always known the song, and now it is her turn to see the movie, remarking on the continued circulation of the song over the film itself. Others recall hearing their parents and grandparents talk about Mughal-e-Azam: they have heard them fondly hum the song as an intergenerational code signaling the acceptance of an art form that was otherwise dismissed as “low brow” in upper- and middle-class Indian households. The film reached across India; one fan mentions Roorkee, a provincial North Indian town, where he watched the film when it was first released.

Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya continues to produce iterations and cultural reminders. In 1998, Bollywood released a film titled Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, which although a college-age love story shared little in common with Mughal-e-Azam. In 2008, Bollywood released another film called Man Gaye Mughal-e-Azam about a group of actors forced to perform a staged version of the film in the midst of the 1993 Hindu–Muslim riots in Mumbai. The Mughal-e-Azamreference represents Hindu–Muslim unity. In February 2011, India’s famed but exiled painter M. F. Hussain, four months before his death, released a series of paintings celebrating the movie’s iconic scenes.[10] “I love India. I loved the film and really wanted to show the grandeur and the power the film shows,” says Hussain in a documentary released with the paintings.[11] Bajirao Mastani, a 2015 blockbuster, is a homage to Mughal-e-Azam and the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali even mentions that like Mughal-e-Azam it took him more than 10 years to make the film (First Post 2015).

The song’s legacy continues in a digital era and networked activism. A search for “Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya ringtones” yielded 69,100 results on Google in Washington, DC, in March 2016. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya has also become a slogan for the emergent LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights movement in India with activists carrying signs that often display the first line of the song, which celebrates the triumph of love over social boundaries.

In the United States, the Smithsonian Institution’s 2014–2015 exhibition “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation” (Smithsonian 2014) presented the Indian diaspora as people who need a perspective beyond that of India’s iconic cinema. Yet, one of the first displays in the exhibit was a quintessentially representative small black trunk of an immigrant from India. The contents included, despite the exhibition’s titular message, a vinyl LP record of the songs from Mughal-e-Azam that the immigrant had carried over to the United States.


Photo Credit: J.P. Singh. Smithsonian Institution. Beyond Bollywood Exhibition. 10 May 2015
Photo Credit: J.P. Singh.
Smithsonian Institution. Beyond Bollywood Exhibition. 10 May 2015



The recent circulation of the film matches well the great expectation the film created while in production. The film was only released in 1960 after being conceived in 1946, a year before India’s independence from British rule, and was in production for 10 years. Mihir Bose (2006), author of a popular history of Bollywood, notes that his childhood in Bombay in the 1950s was synonymous with hearing anecdotes about the film’s production.[12] The production, glorifying an era of Islamic Mughal rule, became linked to the secular and pluralist aspirations of post-colonial India and its national cinema.

The iconic status of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya in India’s popular imaginary, and later that of Pakistan’s as well, is counterintuitive because of the lack of support from policymaking institutions in India for the film industry: Indian film, in general, was blessed neither by intellectuals nor the state. The long production run for Mughal-e-Azam resulted from finance shortages. While the Indian film industry is a cultural force unto itself, it acquired the status of industry only in 1999, and until then was taxed heavily and relied on precarious means of financing, often from Bombay’s underworld, after its short-lived studio system ended in the early 1950s.

Indian intellectuals, and until recently, the political elite have often been dismissive of Indian cinema finding it to be cheap, vulgar, and imitative. Mahatma Gandhi derided cinema and the Nehruvian state, at the time when Mughal-e-Azam was released, begrudgingly exempted a film here and there, because of the film’s important social themes, from the heavy entertainment tax films paid upon release. Mughal-e-Azam did not have tax-exempt status. Clearly, such cinema was not an official part of India’s post-colonial “nation-building” or progressive ideals among the intellectual and political discourses of power.

Independent India’s political elite viewed mass media like radio, and later television, as instruments of persuasion toward the Indian state’s avowed goals of industrialization with a socialist face. Yet unlike the Soviets or the Chinese, the Indian state excluded cinema from its attempts to foster nation-building and class solidarity, even though Indian film directors in the 1950s were progressive and sympathized with socialist goals. Instead of working with the film industry, the state’s documentary enterprise, Films Division, made propagandistic documentaries extolling the state, which were often shown prior to every feature film or during the intermission in the midst of the three-hour long feature films. India’s intellectuals, especially those in the West, have also been dismissive of Indian cinema, though in the last two decades new theorizing has begun around the Indian film industry, parallel to the widespread proliferation of cultural studies analyzing popular culture and mass entertainment.[13] Film scholars in the United States, United Kingdom, and India have worked to correct the bias against Bollywood in film studies since the 1990s.

Indian cinema and its songs, despite their neglect in official policymaking, became de facto cultural entertainment of the country. In doing so, this cinema—my primary focus is Hindi and Urdu cinema from Mumbai, termed Bollywood in the last two decades—challenges many cultural norms and opens possibilities for a politics of contestation, aspiration, and recognition (Appadurai 2004; Appiah 1994; Taylor 1994). This possibility does not negate but overlaps the escapist, commercializing, and hegemonic ideologies often ascribed to Bollywood (Gehlawat 2010; Rai 2009).

A close reading of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya in Mughal-e-Azam also offers an interplay between cultures of creativity and identity: cultures of creativity offer many possibilities, while cultures of identity arrest creativity in imagined group boundaries, in this case within the extant politics associated with the film’s circulation (Singh 2011). Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya challenged dominant cultural discourses of Islam and gender, but also reinforced those of modernity, sexism, male gaze, and mise-en-scène as spectacle. Nevertheless, this multiplicity of meanings wards against reading a single dominant cultural explanation in all of Mughal-e-Azam. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya is a defiant performance and its circulation reveals much about the changing inter-linked and contested notions of performativities linked to gender, Islam, and nation-state formation in India. The film portrays the Great Mughal Akbar in a humanist light and makes several references to the multiplicity of religion in his personal life and court. Anarkali’s performance tests the limits of this humanism, shrouded in authority. Thus, there was always an element of subalternity to watching films in India: highly taxed, not supported by the state, and deemed immoral. If the 1950s, the time at which Mughal-e-Azam was made, are regarded as the Golden Age of Indian Cinema, it was because of the film industry and its audiences.

While the Indian state has now acknowledged cinema’s role, as an important creative industry, for its political economy and geo-strategic cultural diplomacy, the elite and the intellectuals were several steps behind. Mihir Bose (2006) records this history. An exhibitor described the audience to the Indian Cinematograph Committee of 1927 as follows: “The type of people who like Indian pictures, their way of living is quite different and generally they chew betel leaves” (p. 58). The reference to paan or chewing betel leaves in public assigns them a low-class status. A committee was set up in 1949 when the film industry protested its lack of economic incentives. The Patil Committee specifically noted that Indian intellectuals found the films unsophisticated (p. 165). In the 1970s, Shobha Dé, an upper-class editor of a glossy monthly magazine Filmfare, noted that she herself hated Indian films (p. 300). Bose notes that “the Indian chattering classes” began to change their mind in the late-1990s (p. 325).

It is also important to acknowledge the film’s international circulation and contact with the diaspora. Western discourses understand Mughal-e-Azam with their own popular cultural references terminology. The New York Times (2006) story on the release of the film in Pakistan, quoted unnamed critics who referred to the film as India’s Gone With the Wind. I suspect that a majority of Indians who sing and dance to Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya have never heard of Scarlett O’Hara or Gone With the Wind, and even if they have, they may not assign any significance to this comparison. As Indian cinema scholars have pointed out, Indian film cannot be understood through Western aesthetic practices and theory (Dwyer and Patel 2002; Ganti 2004; Gopalan’s 2002).

Historically, Indian cinema represents the subaltern: the subaltern voices include those of the filmmakers and their audiences, thus popular culture itself, which exists on the margins of the elite, even if humanistic, post-colonial Indian state. In order to understand subaltern voices, and their performance of defiance, this essay will later note both the performative transgressions and the artistic assimilation that Mughal-e-Azam attempted in appealing to its audiences. Anarkali’s performance in Akbar’s court can be likened to Bollywood’s performance for Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s state in post-colonial India. The recognition of the subaltern will need a consciousness reflected in praxis where the theoretician must understand the context of the political economy of circulation. The following sections describe the circulation in detail, before turning to the performative transgression and glorification in Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya.


Circulating Mughal-e-Azam

The political aesthetics of subaltern art forms can be understood through the spaces in which they circulate. Often times, this art has been banned or there are social strictures against its exhibition, but the circulatory circuits in fact can be its aesthetics. Tunisian writer Abdelwaheb Medded captures this sentiment eloquently in the catalog for the exhibition on African Art in 2004 called Africa Remix.

We need to create a space for things to circulate, in which all who have the desire and capacity to tell their story are welcome. This is the modern nomadism, dissemination and displacement, and the end of one-dimensional, self-referential world….Aesthetics is created by what I call the aesthetics of passing through and betweenness (Medded 2005:46).

Popular culture has its own aesthetics of circulation. The release of Mughal-e-Azam in August 1960 was a major event at the newly constructed, and now iconic, film theater Maratha Mandir in Mumbai. This documentary on YouTube recalls the premiere of the film:

People slept on sidewalks for three nights and days to obtain a ticket, and the documentary recalls that there were at one time 100,000 people waiting around theaters across Mumbai for a ticket.

I first watched Mughal-e-Azam on November 14, 1973 as a 12-year old when my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary by taking me with them to the Ritz Cinema in Simla, the former British town that served as the capital of the British Raj during the summer months after 1864.[14] The Ritz was one of the four cinemas in town, but generally deemed the most “respectable.” I had grown up in an era when films were derided among my middle-class parents and their peers as vulgar and as bad influences: Gandhi, who had never watched a film himself, likened films to vices such as gambling and drinking (Ganti 2004:46). My parents allowed us to watch a film occasionally but did not particularly approve of Hindi language cinema. By the 1970s films were beginning to gain some respectability, and at least in my group of friends we could tell our parents we were going to the cinema, while many others lied regularly. Most of the films we watched were old British and Hollywood English language films circulated in India many years after their release in the West. Indian middle classes in Simla and elsewhere aspired to learn English.

Watching Mughal-e-Azam, the unashamed story of love across class boundaries, between an emperor’s son and a courtesan, with my parents made me feel as if I was watching something quite transgressive (it was!); that my parents had chosen this film for their anniversary appeared to me as a sign of their love and affection toward each other, which was rarely exhibited explicitly in our household. Anarkali’s dance was stunning and I wanted to be her, and embody her defiance in a spectacular performance without fear of consequences.[15] This desire was fulfilled years later indirectly in New York at the age of 34 as I watched one of my gay friends, who is also a drag performer, dance to Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, a song that resonates with significance and conviction now to many LGBT South Asians asserting their identity to their diaspora families.

Photo credit: J.P. Singh. 11 December 2013.  LGBT Protest Outside Embassy of India, Washington, DC, after Indian Supreme Court's Judgment to Uphold Indian Penal Code 377 that Criminalizes Homosexuality. Second Sign from Right is a Line from Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya.
Photo credit: J.P. Singh. 11 December 2013. LGBT Protest Outside Embassy of India, Washington, DC, after Indian Supreme Court’s Judgment to Uphold Indian Penal Code 377 that Criminalizes Homosexuality. Second Sign from Right is a Line from Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya.


I also played the video to the song for many years in my development seminars at Georgetown University (2000–2012) to discuss Jameson’s (1986) thesis that post-colonial literature is nothing but “national desire,” the type Europe experienced in the nineteenth century, and Marxist Aijaz Ahmad’s (1987) response that Jameson misses the complex political economy of production and exchange, specifically Marxian for Ahmed, that highlights questions of gender and social stratifications. Ahmed writes about Umrao Jaan Ada, a 1905 Urdu novel from Mirza Hadi Ruswa based on a true story from mid-nineteenth century, in which the courtesan, lying outside the boundaries of what society construes as “normal,” has ownership over her labor value and, therefore, agency to challenge patriarchal practices. I was growing up in India where feminist texts such as Umrao Jaan (made into a successful film in 1981 by Muzaffar Ali) and Imtiaz Ali Taj’s 1922 play Anarkali circulated along with reactionary discourses about cinematic representations.[16] In this sense, Bollywood gave a cinematic voice to the subaltern courtesan and the Islamicate influences in her life (Bhaskar and Allen 2009).

The Indian state’s distance and the elitism of Indian intellectuals, many of whom, in fact, worked for the film industry, assured that films were classified as low art until the 1970s when new wave directors in Indian cinema began to challenge their status. The Indian state also viewed cinema as a cash cow, assured through entertainment taxes that could be as high as 25–70 percent (Ganti 2004:44).[17] Taxes were then justified for participating in frivolous entertainment the same way that they were for purchasing alcohol or cigarettes. Exhibitors paid taxes to national, state, and local governments, while the producers and distributors paid taxes to the national treasury. India did not have any homegrown film theory, but rather imported dominant Western film theories at that time (auteur, feminist, montage, neo-realist, or psychoanalytical). In this sense, Indian cinema may have appeared to be crudely derivative of Hollywood. Satyajit Ray, one of the most famous Indian directors, when asked if Indian cinema with its punctuated song sequences and frequent diversions resembled Brechtian theater famously responded that if that was the case, the people making the films were not aware of it.

The low rank assigned to the film industry from the elite, nevertheless, coexisted with the huge size and scope of its production and circulation. This may be the reason that the culture within the film industry in Bombay, emboldened with its audience numbers, could choose to ignore the elite cultural critiques from outside. Bombay was always an industry town; Delhi, Calcutta, and Lucknow (described later) boasted of literary and artistic cultures. By the turn of the nineteenth century, short films were getting produced in India and the 1927 Indian Cinematograph Committee set by the empire’s administrators to counter Hollywood domination was surprised to find that Indian filmgoers preferred Indian films to English language ones, except for India’s elite, of course, which spoke English and preferred English language cinema. In 1927, 265 feature films were made in India (Bose 2006:86-87). After independence in 1947, the film industry was marginalized in policy terms and taxed heavily, and even though India lacked film screens, Ganti’s estimates 13 screens for every one million Indians as opposed to 117 screens per million in the United States (Ganti 2004:25).[18]

Mughal-e-Azam, now regarded as a classic, did not win any awards and Film India, the major industry monthly panned the film while noting: “MUGAL-e-AZAM must be seen to realize how much a man can do in 20 years and with Rs. 1.25 crores [Rs. 125 million] belonging to a Parsi-multi millionaire [Shapoorji Pallonji]” (quoted in Jamil 2009). The film cost US$3 million at a time when the average cost of an Indian film was $200,000. In 2004, Shapoorji Palloonji’s firm, Sterling Investment Corporation, re-released a colorized version of the film. In the bonus DVD accompanying Mughal-e-Azam’s color version release, Anna Kumar, a Bollywood film director says: “That Mughal-e-Azam did not win any awards is now a slap in the face of those who give awards.”

The re-release of the colorized version of Mughal-e-Azam in 2004 was an equally spectacular event at Mumbai’s Eros Theater. By 2004, the heritage status of the film was clear. Actors interviewed on the bonus DVD speak of Mughal-e-Azam with great respect and reverence, with multiple references to the film’s secular vision and grandeur. Similarly, the technical team likens Mughal-e-Azam’s color restoration to the restoration of the monumental Taj Mahal. In the original version, Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya was shot in Technicolor while the rest of the film was in black and white. K. Asif had wanted to re-shoot the entire film in color but with production and budget overruns this was not possible. Therefore, the colorization of Mughal-e-Azam was represented in Indian media as a dream fulfilled. The film ran for 25 weeks in Eros after the premiere of the colorized version in November 2004.[19]

The Indian cinema of circulations makes audiences central to its aesthetics. Gopalan (2002) writes that Indian cinema has a special relationship with its audiences, who understand its structure and the cues. In doing so, she pioneers a perspective, a cinema of interruptions, rooted in what she calls a romantic desire, but it could also be interpreted in sexual terms, in which the cinema proposes and attracts its admirers that through “a cinema of interruptions” rooted in its song and dance sequences, ordered or implicit cuts in responding to censors, and the intermissions. She notes that this cinema calls for multiple theoretical positions. Vasudevan (2012:231) notes that the audience interpretation of the film takes place within “existing paradigms of narrative knowledge” and that “the narrative process assumes audience knowledge of the narrative totality.” Rai (2009) places Gopalan’s cinema of interruptions in a wider assemblage of mediated circulations.[20] One of his statements could be extended well to Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, while explaining his own position: “The production of bodily affect is a continuous multiplicity, a multiplicity that is continuously varying with itself because of its intensive self-organizing activity and its open interfaces with outside forces, dynamics, and materialities” (p. 5). Similarly, Gehlawat (2010) has argued that Indian cinema must be examined through multiple theoretical lenses for its genre blending and syncretism (often termed the “masala” or spice film) and for inviting the audience to participate.

My use of the term “cinema of circulations” both acknowledges and builds upon Lalitha Gopalan’s (2002) concept of “cinema of interruptions.” The politics of cinematic circulation is refracted in this essay through a subaltern lens. Cinema performs for us. The performance in Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya can be disentangled in terms of its multiple meanings. First, as suggested above, queer theory’s contextualization of the practices of the drag queen offers guidance.[21]The gender performativity in a male drag queen unravels the cues through which the feminine gender has been constructed in discourses (Butler 1993). But drag performativity connotes more than one meaning, and it unravels many latent discourses. For example, Mann (2011) presents Suzanne, an African American drag queen, who uses linguistic style mixing and expletives to create a multi-valenced identity to “blur the lines between male and female, masculine and feminine, and Black and White” (p. 808). Similarly, drag in Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya intersects with other forms of subalternity. The second subaltern lens employed here is the post-colonial body itself and its expression through film in Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya. A great deal has been written about the governmentality of the colonial body that was regulated. Judith Boddy (2011:119) provides a summary:

The colonized were frequently admonished to relinquish their customary practices—habits of dress, work, bodily comportment, speech, adornment, cleanliness and domestic order, foods they deemed edible and how they consumed them, how they gave birth, fell sick and were healed, expressed their sexuality—in order to adopt those that colonial authorities endorsed or held to be commonsense.

Anarkali’s consciously spectacular dance, I will argue below, was an attempt to present a post-colonial body in a glorified historical drama without the binds of British colonial or Hindu governmentality. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kyabegins with a translucent curtain which parts to show actor Madhubala as Anarkali; a full-length shot against the grandeur of the Sheesh Mahal (glass palace) that surrounds her. Madhubala’s entire body stands before the audience: she bows twice to the Emperor, who is not shown in the same shot, and thus the bow can be interpreted as one to the audience. Then begins her dance and her proclamation that there is nothing to be feared in love. It is, to use Lalitha Gopalan’s word, a “proposition” to the audience, which has loved this song for over 55 years (Gopalan 2002). The Indian elite’s dismissal of such performativity may have, in fact, resulted from an internalized shame over witnessing a female body in ways that their erstwhile colonial administrators would have disapproved.


Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya

The post-colonial female body in Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya and its drag-like performitivity can be understood through both its social transgressions and the context of glorification of Islamicate art. While the transgression decoded Indian social stratification, the mythologies that built up around the creation of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya both normalized and elevated the intent of this glorified spectacle within Bombay film industry’s creative practices.[22]


The Transgressive Drag Performance

There are several layers to the gender performativity of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya that I have likened to a drag performance because of the way that it unravels the codes of femininity. First, the performance presents the body itself and its direct declaration of love to the audience: underneath the declaration lie words that question discourses of power that speak to gender, Islam, sexuality, and class. Second, this gender performativity unfolds through several masks. Madhubala not only lip-syncs a song but according to various accounts, a body double was used wearing a Madhubala mask because she never learned to dance Kathak, at least not the highly stylized form used in a few places in Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya. Laxmi Narayan, known as Lacchu Maharaj, was India’s foremost Kathak dancer at that time and was the film’s choreographer, and apparently he wore the Madhubala mask to dance out the more complicated steps in Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya. However, the most revealing mask that Madhubala wore was her name itself, which buried the actor’s Muslim name Mumtaz Jahan Begum Dehlavi under the adoption of a Hindu identity. Actors from that era took Hindu names because the film industry believed that Muslim performers would not be welcomed on screen in post-partition India. Similarly, the Muslim actor Muhammad Yusuf Khan portrays Prince Salim in the film under the Hindu name Dilip Kumar. Thus, two actors who were Muslim took on Hindu names but played Muslim roles in Mughal-e-Azam. There are also racist elements at play. Light skinned actors from Northwest Pakistan and Afghanistan were preferred for films due to the reputation for lighter skinned and taller inhabitants. Both Dilip Kumar and Madhubala, both ethnic Pathans, and Prithvirarj Kapoor, who played Emperor Akbar, all originated from Northwest Pakistan.

This masking viewed within the context of a patriarchal Indian state is troubling. It assumes that the chief audience is Hindu because one might say safely that a Muslim audience would not mind seeing a Muslim-named actor playing a Muslim role. Thus, there were elements of Hindu chauvinism in Indian cinema from its inception. Khan (2011) notes that Jodhaa Akbar, a recent film based on Emperor Akbar’s Hindu wife Jodhaa (she was Salim’ mother and has a prominent role in Mughal-e-Azam as well), appeals mostly to a Hindu India for various reasons including giving the part to the Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai to make the marriage of a Hindu princess to a Muslim palatable, and for hiding the fact that Jodhaa converted to Islam. Khan notes that Mughal-e-Azam was made in a more pluralist era and thus did not need to hide much. There are many scenes of religious pluralism in Mughal-e-Azam, but the masking of Muslim actors mentioned above speaks otherwise.

Anarkali does hide behind masks but in a subversive way. Anarkali’s performance becomes even more subversive when seen within the chain of parallel signifiers: an actor who is a Muslim playing a Hindu, playing a Muslim courtesan who questions discourses of power. One cannot know how K. Asif the director felt with these masks but like in Anarkali’s drag, he both celebrates Islamicate expressions and questions them. The direct confrontation of the body with the audience can be likened to a drag queen who lets the audience know he is, in fact, a man: in Mughal-e-Azam Anarkali unmasks a performativity before the Emperor or the state to let him know that as a Muslim woman she remains defiant in her love and will not wear a purdah to hide.

Even an epic film such as Mughal-e-Azam cannot be held responsible for not being revolutionary enough to topple the hierarchies that it questions. Here I take inspiration from Loizidou (2004) who notes that Zizek’s and Nussbaum’s claim that “gender performativity” is not progressive enough to transform the structural oppressions—in Zizek’s words, the “primacy of economy” (Zizek quoted in Loizidou, p. 455). Loizidou defends Butler’s concept: “It does not transform the normative logic of the system because it is caught within the discourses that produce it…. While this might not radically transform the whole field of sustained systems or necessarily open up the possibility of a ‘pure’ re-appropriation of power, it does create the potential for an alternative mode of power, namely one that exposes and resists the phantasmatic character of gender formation and identification” (p. 458).

Given recent Indian history, one might question how far one has come from the days when Mughal-e-Azam appeared. Multiple answers can be given. First, the presence of Hindu chauvinism and continued exploitation of Indian women evidence that India has not come that far.[23] Some of the worst Hindu–Muslim violence since the Indian partition has also been in the last 20 years. In this sense, Khan’s (2011) notations that Akbar’s legend is now reinterpreted in predominantly Hindu contexts seem valid. Second, the circulations of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya in ringtones and in everyday singing present the hyper real signifiers unhinged from their original contexts, merely floating in a sea of referents. Everyone knows the song but apart from drag queens in New York the song is hardly a clarion call for revolution.

I would also seek more positive answers on two broad counts. First, gender performativity is no longer masked. Daily statistics recount the discourses that represent the abject conditions for Indian women. In the 1950s, these statistics were masked. Anarkali could merely sing about not wearing a purdah before men. I disagree with Khan who notes that Mughal-e-Azam was made in India that was pluralist and secular. Mughal-e-Azam was made in a romanticized halo of post-partition India when discourses that questioned power had to wear masks. The India of 2016 is a gritty-violent India that reveals its conditions everyday: certainly the current Hindu right BJP government has not hidden its anti-Muslim agenda, but neither has the Muslim community had to mask itself or its aspirations.

Appadurai (2015) notes, in a direct reference to queer theory and Judith Butler that failed performatives are important. While Mughal-e-Azam is not a failed performative, it is an imperfect one with its masks and subaltern texts. Its appeal is as much to a project of nation building in a post-colonial India as one about gender, class, sexuality, and religion in multiple ways. The failings of gender performatives in post-independent India definitely live up to Appadurai’s assessment. Appadurai also notes that a series of failed performatives opens the possibility for a successful one to emerge. The failed performatives have unmasked India: it cannot hide its gendered or patriarchal discourses. Mughal-e-Azamand Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya belong to this history of performatives.


Glorification of Islamicate Art

Mughal-e-Azam transgresses but it also glorifies and assimilates artistic practices, thus circulating its transgressive claims in a vocabulary of high-brow art. It is this circulation that “normalizes” the drag performance in appealing to dominant hierarches of high culture. The film script is presented in refined Urdu, which was the language of the courtiers, and associated with sophistication of taste.  Interestingly, Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya’s lyrics are in everyday spoken Urdu, and was meant to appeal to a wide audience.[24] Nevertheless, the song was also an attempt to elevate the language of the film in many artistic ways.  The use of Urdu language, glorification of Mughal history, and the assimilation of other Islamicate expressions can also be viewed as subversive in speaking to the difficulties of a Muslim filmmaker in a predominantly Hindu India.

Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya would be the highlight of a film, which was already conceived in epic proportions. Director K. Asif engaged music director Naushad for the task. Naushad came from Lucknow, which was the center of Islamicate arts until the nineteenth century, but continued to exercise cultural influences in the twentieth century.[25] Naushad himself embodied the artistic traditions of Lucknow and spoke in the refined Lucknavi Urdu. He was also a hard taskmaster: apparently, the famous lyricist Shakil Badayuni presented Naushad with over 105 revisions for the song before he accepted it. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya would present the refinement of a reclaimed past: the splendor of the court, its costumes, and music. The scene begins with an elaborate Kathak and the song itself is set to a regal classical Raga Kafi.[26] Of course, the historical claim in the song and the film’s story were a myth: there is no proof that Anarkali ever existed but was brought to life in the 1922 Imtiaz Ali Taj play that K. Asif used as the text for his inspiration. Bhaskar and Allen (2009) write that a courtesanal dance if it took place would have been in Lahore, Pakistan, but post-independent India did not feature Lahore in its Islamicate films, preferring to show Delhi (where this song is danced in the film) or Lucknow. Historical authenticity has always been unimportant in Indian film: the historical drama instead is imagined to provide a sense of history and the nation (Chakravarty 1993) and Lahore was not part of this new nation.[27]

Asif endowed Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya with special meanings, and mythologies about the song circulated as it was being filmed. The song was shot in Technicolor, while the rest of the film was in black and white.[28] The switch from black and white to color in the middle of the film for this dance was breathtaking for the audience.[29] Its central position in the film was assured through both the color and the care taken to film the song. The set for the song was known as Sheesh Mahal or crystal palace. To this day, the original cost of the set, at Rs 15 lakhs or Rs 1.5 million, is often repeated and comprised nearly 15–20 percent of the film’s budget. K. Asif faced several demands to save the set as a historical monument but did not do so.[30] After the construction, filming with multiple reflections in thousands of glass pieces was declared impossible and as mythologies go, several Hollywood directors including David Lean advised against it. However, cinematographer K. Mathur found a solution. Covering each glass with a thin layer of wax made it impervious to light and thus Sheesh Mahal’s grandeur won the fight! In another memorable line in the song, Anarkali sings, “chup naa sakeyga ishq hamara, charo tarf hai sara nazara” (our love cannot be concealed, it is there for everyone to see). The camera pans over thousands of pieces of mirrors as Anarkali dances and sings, and the chorus repeats the lines.[31] Next Anarkali falls to her knees in a praying position lifting her hands to God to deliver the other famous line quoted earlier: “purdah nahi jab koyi khudha sé, bundo sé purdah karna kya” (“when I don’t wear a purdah before God/ why should I veil myself before men”). The song comes to an end with the sounds of shattering glass as the emperor rises from his throne and a servant drops a glass-studded hand-held peacock feathered punkhaa/fan.

Often times the success of the film was linked to that of the song: directors recorded songs to raise finances for the film, even shooting the dance sequences in advance.[32] Although this was not the case with Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, director Asif well-understood that making Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya central to his film’s project was an important decision. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya moves the narrative forward whereas in many films songs only enhance the mood or emotion of the characters. In doing so, K. Asif endowed Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya with all the extant idioms of Islamicate cinema in India: the song blends the three dominant genres that Bhaskar and Allen (2009) distinguish for Islamicate films in India—the Muslim historical, the Muslim courtesan, and the Muslim social. The courtesan genre within a historical film may seem to be the primary identifications of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, but the song’s narrative force is with its social message. Naushad’s music and Shakil Badayuni’s lyrics were carefully chosen to convey the message, including the easily understood poetic Urdu.

Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya spoke a classical art vocabulary to seek legitimacy. Director K. Asif and composer Naushad’s use of classical arts—the derivation from raga Kafi and classical Kathak dance—may be interpreted as appeals to the patriarchal state and its intellectuals to recognize the film form. Another myth recalled about the film is that the classical Indian maestro singer Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan charged Rs 25,000 for his semi-classical rendition of the thumri “pyar jogan ban gayi,” which accompanies the nights of passion scenes that Anarkali spends with Prince Salim shortly after they meet. K. Asif was adamant that Bade Ghulam Ali Khan’s singing be a part of film, while apparently the maestro mentioned the exorbitant amount to get rid of a director he thought was crazy (Bose 2006).[33] In comparison, Lata Mangeshkar generally charged around Rs. 300 for each song at that time. But the thumri is significant in other ways: generally sung in the heydays of Lucknow royalty’s artistic patronage, courtesans often danced the Kathak to a thumri form. The maestro’s song in all its classical exuberance thus foreshadows Anarakali’s embodiment of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya later in the film.

The post-colonial Indian state encouraged classical Indian music as an “authentic” expression and secularized its various forms beyond religious context to present on the proscenium (Singh 2011). Indian film music, often based on hybridized Indian and Western genres and instruments, was frowned upon and in 1952 after the government-run All India Radio (AIR) reduced the amount of time it would broadcast popular film music. The music producers revoked AIR’s copyright to broadcast film music until it was renewed in 1957. In the meantime Radio Ceylon started broadcasting Hindi film songs for a show called “Binaca Geet Mala,” or “Binaca’s Song Cycle,” named after its toothpaste sponsors. Apart from becoming the most popular music show on radio, it became identified with its monthly countdown of top hits garnered from music sales, interviews with music sellers, and film music societies in India. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kyareached the status of weekly top hits on “Binaca Geet Mala” within a short time of its release and stayed there for several months. Amin Sayani, whose voice on Binaca Geetmala, became closely linked to the oft-repeated descriptions of song, recalls the tremendous impact of this song on the Mughal-e-Azam bonus DVD calling the song “pyar aur bagawat” (love and revolt) at the same time. A fan, Dr. Narasinha Kamath (2010), recalls on his blog entry on Sulekha (a citizen-reported online newspaper in India) on August 5, 2010, the 50th anniversary of the film’s release:[34]

I still vivdly (sic) remember that when the song “Pyar Kiya To” entered in Binaca Geetmala it was on Number 3 position (meteoric rise in the ladder or “PADAAN” of Binaca Geetmala) and following week it was on Number 1 position in the popularity chart and remained in Number 1 position for many weeks. No other song has achieved such a distinction in Binaca Geetmala. Hats off to Maestro MD Naushad for the brilliant composition of “Pyar Kiya To.”



Mughal-e-Azam is understood in popular Indian culture as a film with epic proportions. Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya reveals the film at its grandest colorful moment; certainly in its production elements Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya is every bit the grandeur it was intended—composer Naushad’s music harkens royal courts of Lucknow, Shakeel Badayuni lyrics are defiant as is Madhubala’s dance, and the costumes and the sets are dazzling. The song has rightly acquired a mythological status in Indian film heritage.

I have argued in this essay that the Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya needs to be understood through the aesthetics of its circulation both for its production and reception among audiences. These circulations reveal the imperfect stratifications within which the song is embedded including those of nation-building, gender, sexuality, class, and religion. In examining these circulations, Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya begins to signify an imperfect project that from the beginning had to mask itself to the emergent nation and its state to which it sought to speak. This imperfection, one that does not pronounce a conclusion, continues to hold relevance in India.

Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya’s imperfections and its marginalization from the elite institutions of art and power in India make it a subaltern song.[35] The suggestion in this essay to treat Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya as a drag performance further explains this subaltern claim. This is not a difficult exercise: Anarkali is quite literally presented through several masks in the film. While the song is defiant of social norms, the aesthetic slickness and grandeur of the song make it palatable to audiences reaching across all social stratifications. In this sense, the performativity is that of an oppressed being seeking to name its world, albeit with a spectacular performance.[36] This perfect spectacle but an imperfect attempt at naming a world that has not yet come into being is Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya’s enduring contribution to questions of nation, gender, class, sexuality, and religion in India.




[1] I extend my sincere thanks to the following reviewers for their detailed and constructive comments: Harjant Gill, Chuck Johnson, Zach Marschall, and Jessica Scarlata. I am also grateful to Vasant Sanzgiri at Shapoorji Pallonji Ltd., and Deepesh Salgia at Sterling Investment Corporation, in Mumbai for assistance with my research. The paper benefitted from audience discussions and presentations at the International Conference for Cultural Studies Research, Barcelona, July 10, 2012, where Annamari Laaksonen was discussant, at the India Working Group, Center for Global Studies, George Mason University, November 8, 2012, with Tara Sheoran as discussant, and at a special film screening of the International Studies Association Annual Convention, March 19, 2016. The paper had been “dormant” in a file folder for three years until I revised it for AIA after reviewer feedback.


[2] The Urdu word kaneez is variously translated as slave, maid, or courtesan.

[3] Islamicate here refers to art forms of the Islamic world. Bhaskar and Allen (2009) use the term for Bollywood cinema’s representations of Muslims.

[4] A low-resolution version with subtitles can be seen at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L2DewbwQ8-M&gt;.

[5] Film theorist Laura Mulvey (1989) writes that the male gaze objectified the female body because men controlled the camera and the mise-en-scène in which the body appears.

[6] Akbar is portrayed sympathetically though, caught between his patrilineal and patrimonial duties.

[7] There is also a female gaze in the film not analyzed in this article, that of the Queen Jodhaa and the other courtesans, which reinforces patriarchal practice.  Thanks to my colleague Jessica Scarlata for this comment.

[8] Diffused power here refers to social norms that have been internalized but maintain hierarchical practices (Bourdieu 1993). Imaginaries refer to how group identity is created and presented, in this case in the film, especially in a national context (Anderson 1991).

[9] The film saves Anarkali but only in a maddened state, a trope common to Western and Eastern artistic and literary representations of women.

[10] M. F. Hussain left India in 2006 and took up Qatari citizenship in 2010. His paintings of Hindu goddesses had been under severe attacks from Hindu chauvinists.

[11] Mughal-e-Azam, a documentary by Shah Rukh Khan. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R8c4wb8cC0o&gt;.

[12] The current name for Bombay is Mumbai. The historical name is used in the essay to refer to the pre-1995 period before the name change.

[13] I notice the change. Indian intellectuals, especially in the social sciences, used to be derisive about Hindi–Urdu cinema but both India’s rise in global affairs and Bollywood’s own fortunes in mainstream Western media are, I believe, tempering my colleagues’ opinion. Most of them still speak of Bollywood as “trash,” “vulgar,” and “idiotic.” I do not think it is a coincidence that many of these intellectuals studied in elite Indian schools, like I did briefly, where we were prohibited from speaking Hindi and to speak of liking Hindi cinema was considered vulgar. English language cinema was fine. At Lawrence School, Sanawar, we watched films every Friday evening. No Indian films were ever shown, except for Muzaffar Ali’s avant garde film “Gaman”; Ali’s son was in school and he came personally to exhibit the “art” film.

[14] Simla of early 1970s still had a distinct colonial air about it—a Scottish bagpipe band played near the Mall, a shopping promenade, every evening. People generally spoke English on the Mall, and the Gothic Christ Church built in 1857 dominated the skyline.

[15] This was my first coming out. Plummer (1995) writes of the multiple times gay men come out to themselves through various performances.

[16] One of my first rebellions at home was to persuade my parents that films were art. They were persuaded more easily than I thought, and this helped me establish a commitment to write about the circulation of film and artistic practices in the Global South. I followed this up with film studies at the Xavier Institute of Communication Arts in Bombay and the Film and Television Institute for India in Poona (now Pune). I also considered being a film critic but political economy held more sway on my disciplinary interests.

[17] Before independence, the entertainment tax was lower (12.5 percent) and the industry calculated that in 1949 the state claimed 60 percent of the box office revenues (figures quoted in Ganti (2004:25-26)).

[18] India now produces around 1,000 feature films a year in various languages, including 150–200 in Hindi-speaking Bollywood, making it the biggest film industry in the world.

[19] Many fans interviewed on the bonus DVD note that the re-release of the film in November 2004 was like a Diwali present for their families, a reference to a primarily Hindu festival, speaking laudably to a film about Mughal India made by a Muslim. The film’s iconic status in Indian heritage remains secure.

[20] The term assemblage in anthropology refers to human networks, technical instruments, and epistemes that sustain an issue.

[21] Scholars have now begun to posit queer theory in a general light while emphasizing the circulation of social meanings. For example, Weber (2015) argues that queer theory is both a method and a theory: “It investigates how these figurations [homosexuality and the homosexual] powerfully attach to—and detach from—material bodies and hence become mobilized in international relations.”

[22] Barthes’ (2013) Mythologies explains the normalizing effect of mythology to embed them in existing social practices. Dominant ideologies are embedded in society through everyday representational practices. Mughal-e-Azam is slightly complicated because it both mythologizes and transgresses.

[23] India’s fares as the worst G2O country to be a woman in one survey of experts whose results were released one week prior to the 2012 G20 summit in Monterrey Mexico. The report notes: “Child marriage, foeticide and infanticide, sexual trafficking, domestic slave labour, domestic violence and high maternal mortality all make India worst of the G20.” Thomson Reuters, “G20 Countries: The Worst and Best for Women.” <http://news.trust.org//spotlight/g20-countries-the-worst-and-best-for-women/&gt; (Accessed 22 February 2016).

[24] Thanks to Deepesh Salgia at Sterling Investment for pointing this out to me.

[25] The catalog for the 2010–2011 exhibition “India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow,” which began in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, describes the exhibition as “organized to convey some sense of Lucknow’s extraordinary history and aesthetic achievements as well as its unique place within the imaginative visual discourses of colonialism, national history, and cultural memory” (Gude 2010:50).

[26] Ragas specify the notational and stylistic structures of Indian classical music and each raga, with its prescribed and proscribed notes, speaks to a particular ambience of time of the day, emotion, and expression.

[27] Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali 2015 film BajiRao Mastani, refereed to earlier as a homage to Mughal-e-Azam, is also an epic about the love between a Hindu prince and part-Muslim courtesan. Bhansali shrug off questions of historical authenticity claiming that the film was made for entertainment not for historians (Interview heard on 95.5 BIG-FM in Himachal Pradesh, India, December 15, 2015). Bajirao Mastani‘s homage to Mughal-e-Azam includes a courtesan dance “Deewani Mastani,” also set inside a glass palace, meant to recall the mise-en-scène for Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xnTwTrBG1bY). However, as opposed to the Technicolor of Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya, Bhansali employs green and red sepia, meant to signify the red of Hinduism and green of Islam.

[28] Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan recalls in the bonus DVD interview that the audiences burst into spontaneous applause when Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya would switch to color in theaters when the film was shown in black and white.

[29] Watching the song-dance performance in color in 1973 to me seemed quite grand and magical and that’s how I remember my introduction to this song.

[30] Akbar did not have a Sheesh Mahal but his grandson, Shah Jahan, constructed one in Lahore, which is now a UNESCO heritage site.

[31] Film historians recall that the line would elicit applause from audiences. The song was sung by playback singer Lata Mangeshkar and is lip-synched by Madhubala in the film. The line has a famous reverberation, which was not possible in a music studio at that time, therefore it was recorded with Lata Mangeshkar in a bathroom for the sound effect.

[32] Songs have a distinct role in Indian cinema. Indian film songs are tremendously popular and dominate the music scenes, and even now account for 80 percent of the total music sales (Ganti 2004:78). They circulate in all kinds of contexts and often people sing songs without knowing the film from which it came. Despite the impulse in the West to liken Indian films to Hollywood musicals, their history is altogether different and linked to the important role given to song and dance in Indian theater and religious ceremonies. In the 1930s and the early1940s most actors sang their own songs, the system of playback singing that was entrenched by the late 1940s allowed actors to lip-sync their songs.

[33] K. Asif’s maniacal devotion to the Mughal-e-Azam project is recalled in several film histories of India.

[34] Dr. Narasinha Kamath, August 5, 2010. “Mughal-e-Azam Completes 50 Years.” Sulekha.com <http://dr-narasinha-kamath.sulekha.com/blog/post/2010/08/mughal-e-azam-completes-50-years-some-facts.htm&gt; (Accessed 18 June 2012).

[35] Spivak’s (1988) famous essay on the subaltern makes it clear that the subaltern voice cannot be that of the elite. While Mumbai’s film elite may not meet this criterion, the song’s circulation in Indian popular culture does.

[36] The reference to naming the world recalls Freire (1971) and the ability of the oppressed to find a cultural voice.




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