Mughal-e-Azam narrates the love story of Anarkali, a court dancer and Salim, the heir to the throne of Delhi. He is the son of Emperor Akbar. The tempestuous love story is disturbed when the emperor comes to know about their romance. He imprisons Anarkali and Salim retaliates by declaring war against his own father. The battle scenes in Mughal-e-Azam are amazingly shot by director K Asif. Salim is defeated by Akbar and taken as a prisoner. The emperor metes out capital punishment to Salim because he is a traitor as he has acted against the kingdom. In order to save Salim's life Anarkali decides to sacrifice her own love and life. She agrees to be entombed alive in a brick wall.
The film ends with the scene where it is revealed to the audience that Anarkali is not killed rather she is let free through a secret tunnel by Akbar. This was done in Mughal-e-Azam to show the emperor in a benevolent light. The unforgettable scenes of this historic romance are the spectacular battle scenes, the opulence and grandeur of the Mughal Court and the confrontation scenes between Akbar and Salim. The songs and dances are superbly picturised and the presence of Madhubala on the 50 mm screen makes them all the more brilliant. Songs like 'Pyar Kiya to Darna Kya' and 'Mohe Panghat pe,' sung by Lata Mangeshkar, are some of the classic songs, which are still hummed today. The music composer of the film was Naushad. Shakeel Badayuni provided the lyrics.
The love story of Salim and Anarkali has been portrayed several times on the silver screen but none can match the magnificence of Mughal-e-Azam. Inspite of being a tragedy the film went onto become one of the most successful commercial films in the history of Indian cinema.
It took almost 15 years for Mughal-e-Azam to be completed. Produced in 1960 Rs 1.5 crores were spent in making of the film. It is still one of the costliest ventures in Indian cinema. Every department was taken care of, whether it was the costumes, the armoury, the jewellery or the sets.
As far as the performances of the actors were concerned each of them suited the role to perfection. Prithviraj Kapoor's thunderous voice and his towering personality were just perfect for being the Mughal Emperor, Akbar. Dilip Kumar in the role of Prince Salim and Madhubala as Anrakali were, perhaps, the greatest USP of Mughal-e-Azam. The rebellious prince and lover was portrayed brilliantly onscreen by Dilip Kumar. Madhubala looked breathtaking with her beauty and performance. The scenes where Anarkali is caught in the web of emotions while facing Salim alone for the first time or defying the norms of society for love or she is heartbroken after leaving Salim, Madhubala is awe inspiring. She delivered the best performance of her career in this film. She even went to the extent of wearing real heavy iron chains on the advice of the director to make the pain and suffering look real. Mughal-e-Azam remains her finest film till date. On the other hand Durga Khote, too, is perfect as Jodhabai, the suffering mother.
Mughal-e-Azam was re-released in colour across India in 2004. It completed 100 days in 14 cinema halls. Nothing else can define the popularity of K Asif's Mughal-e-Azam better than this. It truly is a blockbuster.