An hour-long documentary on the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, meticulously researched and filmed over three years, was screened to a packed house in the national capital. Titled, 'The Last Mughal: Bahadur Shah Zafar', and made by the Films Division, the documentary had its first official screening Friday evening at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in Delhi.
The audience included university students, scholars, researchers, professors, government officials, history buffs and poetry admirers.
While the main conference room at the IGNCA, where the film was screened, got jam-packed, people continued to queue in to listen to the tale of the famed last Mughal, so the documentary was also parallelly screened on a small screen in the lounge area where some even sat on the floor or stood near the door to catch his story.
Suresh Sharma, who directed the project, and was present during the screening, said, he was overwhelmed by the response from the city.
"The project was commissioned by the Films Division in 2015 and then an extensive research was carried out. The film was shot in Delhi, Kanpur, Allahabad, Calcutta, and Rangoon (now Yangon)," he told PTI.
Sharma said the appeal of Zafar's persona is still so strong, especially his poetic side, which fascinates many, given he was a king and died an inglorious death.
The film in Hindi also uses rare archival images and footage to piece together the story of the last Mughal, complemented with interviews of historians Irfan Habib, Harbans Mukhia, poet Javed Akhtar and author of 'The Last Mughal' William Dalrymple.
One of the rarest images is that of a wooden building in which Zafar was said to have been imprisoned in Rangoon in Burma after being exiled from India by the British as shown in the film.
"For research, I went to the National Archives, researchers, historians and read and referenced so many books. It was a labour of love and as seen in the film many people have expressed their sentiments that the remains of the Zafar be brought back to Delhi, if not wholly, at least, symbolically, a portion of its soil," Sharma said.
Born in Delhi, the last Mughal emperor had assumed the throne in 1837 and besides his regal duties also wrote poetries, many of which are still quoted by scholars and poets alike.
In fact, even till his last days in Rangoo amid all the hardships he faced, he continued to write poetries.
Zafar was exiled to Burma in 1858, just after his trial in Delhi, charged with being involved in the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. In 1862, he died aged 87 in Rangoon and was buried there.
The film, which also features the famous photograph of the emperor taken by Felice Beato in 1858, had the audience riveted until the end.
Makrande Deshpande, a senior manager in a PSU here, came straight from his office to the venue to catch the screening.
"I am not a history buff but Bahadur Shah's name was enough to pull me. The film also educated me about the landmarks we pass by regularly, like Kashmere Gate, and their historical significance," he said.
History student at Delhi University, Aman Pratap Singh (19) said it was his poetic life that fascinated me the most.
"We are currently studying Delhi Sultanate in our college curriculum and Mughal History will follow soon but I feel quite educated about the last Mughal, as Zafar is famously known as, after watching the film," he said.
The film also talks about the dispute about his grave too, which was presumed to be "lost" a few decades after his death.
"In the 1990s, the labourers during digging had found some remains and then the grave was shifted there and a mausoleum was built," Sharma said.
In September 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Zafar's grave and paid respects to him.
Prior to him, his predecessor Manmohan Singh had offered tributes to the last Mughal king in 2012.
Sharma said the film was completed in 2017, but this was the "first official screening of the film," adding, "it is planned to be screened in Mumbai and Pune now".
"Interestingly, Om Puri, the narrator in the film, incidentally, it was his last appearance on screen before his death," he said.