Feb 24, 2008

Jodha Akbar

Akbar as a cinematic character has so much potential that the smartest thing a director could do is take one aspect of his complex life and through that navigate the immense material available to play with. When I first read the premise of Jodha Akbar it seemed like a brilliant choice from that angle. What a splendid idea to take a young Jalaluddin Mohammad, before he became Akbar with the backdrop of a romance as the plot!

A historical, many feel suffers from a known climax. I do not think that is always necessarily true. The audience imagination and interest could still be captured with the way we approach that climax and with the way a known historical event could be reinterpreted. Jodha Akbar, however, suffers from an indecision about what the climax of the movie is. In a romance, you would typically have a wedding or a declaration of love. In a historical such as this it could be along with the usual romance climax, a pivotal war, it could be a coronation. All these are there in the movie but in bits and pieces and all over the place. The movie meanders sometimes towards one ending and sometimes towards the other. He gets awarded the title Akbar with a song thrown in and then there is the declaration of love with another song thrown in and then there is some battle with a not so strong antagonist, thankfully without another song and then he makes a speech about tolerance and then Amitabh reminds us Jodha and Akbar are one of the greatest lovers of all time. This did not seem like a natural progression towards an ending to me. It was more of a few visual treats put together in random order.

Akbar became a king at the age of thirteen. Most of the dramatically interesting events happened early on in his life. His powerful regents, his politically motivated marriages, the decisive violence with which he dealt with some of his enemies and the contradictory benevolence he showed a few other. These are not fully explored in the movie. Why do we suffer from shallow characters when it comes to historicals. Why do we always have Achilleses, Alexanders and Akbars all one dimensional?

The reason why Jodha Akbar could be a rich love story is really the politics, religions and the personalities involved. Does the movie exploit it? Yes, in some simplistic level. We see glimpses of Akbar's piety - the moving 'qwaja mere qwaja' though the twirl was a bit overdone, when he prays before accepting the wedding proposal, her religious concerns - she wants a temple inside the mughal fort, the other scheming rajput kings, Soojamal, the scene when Akbar orders for the death of his cousin etc. But throughout I had this feeling of disappointment.

It is not as if Gowariker doesn't dwell or linger on something that he wants to say. Best example is the very lovely romantic scene when Akbar sees his wife's face first time unveiled. If only similar amount of screen time were given to develop more complex characters. Was that lengthy scene with Akbar practicing with his sword necessary? Er.. scratch that, what am I saying, it was necessary :) All the scenes with Hrithik, for that matter was necessary.

The princess who grew up with Rajput pride and politics against the moguls, very pious and religious, strong in her understanding of the sacrifice she must make for her people - she doesn't swallow the proffered poison nor does she sends a letter to her brother. The young king - still not out of his violent past with its many wars, struggling to establish himself as a true monarch in the hearts of his people by religious tolerance and better governance. There is a key dialog in the movie where Jodha accuses Akbar of knowing only to lay siege and capture but not win hearts. The movie is about how Akbar learns to do just that and in the process winning her heart and the title Akbar. But due to a confused ordering of the scenes and a lack of crisp editing, the point is not necessarily lost but it doesn't stand out.

It is unnecessary really to comment on the richness of the shots or how gorgeous Hrithik and Aishwarya look. It is definitely worth watching for the grand sets and elaborate costumes and the scenes oozing of romace - perhaps as a chick flick or a date movie.

There are some movies like 'Shakespeare in love' which work in many levels - entertaining without compromising on the cerebral appeal - Jodha akbar is not one of them.

February 24, 2008