Note : The edited version of this review appears at Planet Bollywood, here.
Rating : Above average (3.85/5)
Genre : Drama
Year : 2008
Running time : 3 hours 35 minutes
Director : Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast : Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Sonu Singh, Poonam Sinha, Ila Arun, Suhasini Mulay
Jodha Akbar made history of sorts, here in my city, in the US, by being the first ever Hindi film to be screened in a mainstream American theatre. Generally Hindi movies are shown in “desi” theatres, which are dollar theatres pretty much, with run-down sound systems. I guess the economics of desi cinema makes it unprofitable to be shown in mainstream theatres, but blockbusters like this one could now be setting a precedent. The morning show I went to wasn’t exactly a full house, but people packed more than half the seats by the intermission (which came 2 hours later).
Gowariker is known for his epic films, generally long-lengthed and sprawling (Swades , Lagaan), and this one is no different. “Jodhaa Akbar” comes in at under 4 hours, which is an awfully long time, even if beautifully picturised. At first glance, this can seem an overwhelming subject, but it is developed as a love-story, so Gowariker picks and chooses his scenes to fortify that aspect of the story. Essentially then, this film is a romance, with nods to historical perspective, and political climate.
Rajput princess Jodhaa, the daughter of Raja Bharmal, is married off to Mughal Emperor Akbar in a political alliance. A devout Hindu, Jodhaa, negotiates with Akbar to keep her religion and her beliefs, in her new Islamic home, but cannot be anything but aghast and outraged, at becoming the wife of the enemy (so to speak). Thus, she apprises her new husband of her state of mind, and he in turn refuses to consummate the marriage until he has won her heart.
Besides focusing on the romance, the film also develops Akbar’s character and details his formative years, from his tutelage under Bairam Khan to his coming of age, as a just and kind king. Make no mistake, this film is an epic. Its grandeur and scale make it a movie to be seen on the big screen.
The lead pair are not the most accomplished actors, but it is to a great extent because of them, that the film is what it is. In real life he could probably bore you senseless, but in JA, Hrithik is regal and aristocratic as Akbar, and handles intense and light-hearted scenes equally well. Aishwarya can only be described as luminous in this film. Swathed in yards of material and decorative jewelry by the ton, she uses her eyes to great effect. She doesn’t have many dialogues in the film, but manages to convey her feelings quite well. And is it just me, or did her face seem rounder (and fuller) in this film ?
This film could very well have been a boring historical, documentar-ish in style, had the director not chosen his scenes and imbued them with anecdotal references. Take for example the scene where Jodha’s mother mischievously informs her new son-in-law that he must find his wife among the many veiled women in the room – then only does he have conjugal rights ! We are also privy to household tensions within the Emperor’s harem and while these add interest and develop Akbar’s character, the director maintains a fine balance in not overdoing this, and turning it into a saas-bahu drama.
Gowariker is also fully aware of the striking couple the lead pair make – he virile and handsome and she, a glittering, delicate beauty ! He uses this to his advantage in certain scenes portraying Akbar’s valor, and his rippling muscles as Hrithik does a bare-chested sword routine (with the camera lovingly lingering on his muscular torso), while Aishwarya (and I) watch mesmerized. When I, fresh from the trauma of “Dhoom 2”, first heard of the film’s cast, I’d been pretty skeptical of Hrithik and Aishwarya as Akbar and Jodhaa respectively. However, the grace with which both of the actors have portrayed their characters, have dispelled any doubts on this.
JA also features a decent cast. Sonu Singh appeared impressive as Sujamal, and Kulbhushan Kharbanda quite dignified and ponderous as Raja Bharmal. Ila Arun portrayed the scheming Maham Anga effectively, while Poonam Sinha as Akbar’s mother appeared a little stilted. Jodhaa’s mother’s role is well done by accomplished actress Suhasini Mulay. Bairam Khan’s character was a parody (a penchant for lopping of heads), all popping eyes and bulging veins – and the only one that I felt was jarringly bad (where thou, O understated killer ?).
This film is further strengthened by Rahman’s music, the finest example of which is the qawwali based “Khwaja, mere khwaja”. Although all the songs are appropriate, melodious and beautifully picturised, I especially liked “In lamhon ke daaman mein” , a romantic number which seemed a fitting ode to sublime love.
Like most filmmakers it appears that Gowariker too is in love with his footage. Luckily for us, the footage is engrossing, for the most part. Still, it must be said that there is flab, and JA could have been edited to shorten the length by atleast half an hour. Another flaw in this film, and in many Hindi films, is that it fails to rouse passion in the fight/war scenes. Why must armies facing each other appear obligatory ? Why must hand-to-hand combats appear to be re-incarnations of the average dhishum-dhishum of yester-year ? Technology has advanced and it wouldn’t hurt to have a cutting-edge fight scene in a 40-crore epic (a la “Crouching Tiger”).
The subject of this film is a large and exhaustive one. However Gowariker keeps the film focused and stops it from meandering. Amitabh Bachhan’s voice provides intermittent narration, but the film is mostly held together by an adept screenplay and deft direction. Most of the dialogues are “simple” Urdu and Hindi, and are apt, although I did wince a couple of times at Jodhaa’s “Shahenshah-ji”.
Attention to detail and quality pays off in this stupendous period drama. This film was such a pleasing watch, that I wish such quality historicals had existed when I’d been gnashing my teeth in history class at school. Romances (concocted or not) featuring well-muscled, handsome Emperors might have been just the motivation to become a history “star” instead of just squeaking by !