If you dialled 1300-FILM EPICS in India, I’m sure you’ll get a direct line to Ashutosh Gowariker. The man seems to have a penchant for making big epics. Note his body of work – Lagaan, Swades, Mangal Pandey. His most famous work outside of his home country is the nearly 4 hour long Foreign Film Oscar Nominated Lagaan. So what is he offering this time with Jodhaa Akbar, a historical epic set in the 16th Mughal empire?
I’m happy to say that using their controversial Muslim-Hindu union as a launch-pad, Gowariker and his writers’ imaginings of Akbar-Jodha’s courtship and the resistance to their marriage, is rich and rather fanciful. They manage to cook up a fantasy courtship with good dose of engrossing Bollywood melodrama. It seems the characters’ marriage of alliance brings out the best in them but the worst from everyone else, with deceptions and betrayals from Akbar’s closest quarters. Cue political intrigue, murders, swordfights, taming of wild elephants, shirtless sword practice from the emperor and shy observation from his new bride (and rampant perving from the female audience). Although, if the writers were game enough to introduce Jodhaa’s character as a feisty sword-fighting princess (even if Rai-Bachchan looked distinctly ungainly with the sword), would it hurt their noggin to have her win Akbar’s affections other than looking sweet and coy in various domesticated palatial pastimes (including my personal favourite – playing with pet rabbits). Yawn.
Outside of the palace romance, however, someone forgot about the movie. I’m under no illusion that this is anything but a romance but any accompanying material should add some zing to it. Unfortunately, the historical politics that is intertwined into Akbar’s and Jodha’s union is neither here nor there. The desert battle scenes are pedestrian with unconvincing CG effects and the superfluous narration by Amitabh Bachchan feels more like a history lesson. Much as I liked my epics to be packed to the brim with lots of action, most of these event portrayals lack depth and creative execution. I call them ‘events’ because at times it does feel like they are going through a checklist of what this emperor is famous for and inserting a scene to push home the point.
On the upside though, they are all lavish visual spectacles. Everything, and I mean everything does look pretty magnificent. The best eye-candy of course are the two leads. If there was a jodi (pairing) to lure a fan out to see a 3.5 hour historical epic, it would be these two impossibly beautiful creatures. Aishwarya Rai–Bachchan would be the best looking lass hands-down in any given film, but here, her greener-eyed co-star Hrithik Roshan is giving her a good run for her money. Make that a damn good run. Their on-screen chemistry breathes some life and offers some heart-thumping moments – from Akbar turning into love-struck warrior to impromptu sexy swordfights, it’s pretty easy to go along with. A word of warning though, there may be some hot and heavy romance but there is certainly no dancing. Now I’m not some heathen who thinks every Indian film needs dancing but it wouldn’t have been a bad idea when when you have two of the best dancers in Bollywood.
Despite some lack-lustre parts, this sweeping romance disguised with some history is entertaining and has plenty to offer but could have been much, much better given such a rich historical framework. The result is more your Cecil B. DeMille spectacle than David Lean. That is not such a bad thing sometimes.