A director and producer, Karimuddin Asif is best remembered for his dazzling period epic, Mughal-e-Azam. Born in Etawah, Uttar Pradesh, he started off as assistant to his uncle, filmmaker and actor S. Nazir. In 1944, Asif directed his first feature, Phool, written by Kamal Amrohi. Asif turned producer with Hulchal in 1951.
Karimuddin Asif always thought big. For his very first film, Phool (’44), he brought together stars like Prithviraj Kapoor, Durga Khote, Veena and Suraiya. Next, Asif launched his magnum opus, Mughal-e-Azam, based on the legend of the danseuse Anarkali’s doomed love for Prince Salim. It starred Nargis, Sapru and Chandramohan. However, in 1947, the financiers left for Pakistan.
Asif was spurred on to restart Mughal-e-Azam after Filmistan launched its own Anarkali . Over the next eight years, Asif spared no expense to realize even the most grandiose of his celluloid dreams. The famed Sheesh Mahal set alone cost as much as a small film while 4000 horses and 8000 men were deployed for the panoramic battle scene. But Asif had a vision and he communicated it to his stars. Despite her weak heart, the heroine Madhubala, agreed to be shackled in heavy chains that brought her to her knees after every shot. After a premiere marked by unprecedented pomp (Prithviraj Kapoor arrived on an elephant in full battle regalia), Mughal-e-Azam (’60), was finally revealed to be a fictional, but emotionally rich, evocation of Mughal life. The fiery dialogue between Prithviraj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar became part of the national vocabulary. Though the film was completed over a period of nine years, it showed no continuity lapses, and went on to become one of the biggest blockbusters of Indian cinema. It also won the 1960 Filmfare Award for Best Film.
At the time of his death, Asif was involved in the making of two big films — Sasta Khoon Mehnga Paani and Love and God. Intended to be an opulent saga based on the Laila-Majnu legend, Love and God was released in 1986, in an unfinished form, by producer K.C. Bokadia.