The land of the sacred Ganga and the towering Himalayas gave the world some such personalities whose ideals were as pure as the water of the Ganga and whose aims were as lofty as the Himalayas. Four hundred and sixty two years ago was born in this land of Hindustan (India) a man named Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar (Prithviraj Kapoor). History has recorded that this Mughal Emperor sprinkled the dust of the motherland with his blood. MUGHAL-E-AZAM is a page from the golden history of the land of Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar.
The Great Akbar has everything an emperor can ask for: immense wealth, vast empire, trusted lieutenants. However, he only wants the one thing a man can ask for: a child, a son, an heir. Therefore, he prays to the gods, embarking on a grand journey to this end. His wish is fulfilled and his wife, Rani Jodhabai, gives birth to a boy.
Akbar knows no joy and lavishes all his affection on him. However, as the boy grows, Akbar sees that his affection is perhaps spoiling him. Thus, he sends him away: to make him a warrior, to make him a 'man'. The boy soon grows into a strapping man, Prince Salim (Dilip Kumar). Jodhabai unable to be away from her progeny wishes her son to return. And Salim does so. Much to everyone's joy.
And this is where the real story begins.
At the unveiling of a statue to welcome his return, Salim is taken by its sheer beauty. And why not? For it proves to be a real person, the lovely courtesan, Anarkali (Madhubala). Follows a charming exchange of romantic letters, cumulating in, yes, the two professing their love for each other. And , as you can guess, this is where the problem begins. A prince and a courtesan? Much like Beauty and the Beast.
Emperor Akbar can't see "the future of the Mughal empire being wasted at the hand of a courtesan". He wishes Anarkali to banish herself from Salim's life. And when Salim can't take this, he literally goes to war with his own father. Does love bow to honor? Does love surrender to kinghood? Or does love conquer all? (taken from the official movie site)
Akbar has Anarkali arrested and thrown into prison. She caves within one night to a disbeliving Salim and is let go. She is asked to perform one last dance before the Emperor before being exiled. She performs a defiant dance and song which professes her love for the Prince. She is again thrown into jail.
Salim tries to escape with her but instead they are caught. Salim is sent on a campaign for the emperor. While there, Salim sends a message to his father demanding Anarkali's release or else he will rebel against him. This leads to war. A loyal follower of Salim in the meantime frees Anarkali and they escape and a reunion between Anarkali and Salim follows.
However, Akbar is victorious in the war and Salim is taken prisoner. Akbar demands Anarkali be returned. Salim refuses. So Akbar decides that the death sentence that was put upon Anarkali will now be on Salim. Just as Salim is about to be put to death, Anarkali returns to save his life. She is sentenced to be walled up alive.
Anarkali is allowed a last wish as someone who is about to die. She asks Akbar to be Queen for just one night. He places a royal crown on her head and she reunites with Salim for one last night. Akbar also gave her a feather drenched in a sleeping drought and tells her to make Salim breathe it in the morning so he will not fight when they come to take her away. Anarkali does this and Salim passes out while trying to fight off the soldiers trying to take her away.
Anarkali's mother appeals to Akbar. She was the one who brought news to a jubilant Akbar that the Queen had given birth to a son. Akbar gave her one of his rings saying that whatever wish she would have in the future he would honor. She brings him the ring and asks for her daughter. Akbar refuses and Anarkali is walled up alive. However, Akbar brings Anarkali's mother down underground and Anarkali emerges. There was a false bottom where she was walled up and Akbar lets them leave the kingdom alive. However, Anarkali is not to ever come back and Salim will forever think that she is dead. A numb Anarkali and her mother then leave in safety.
Back to Bollywood Spoilers