Bollywood’s wedding song for Aishwarya Rai is given epic treatment in this Ashutosh Gowrikar(Lagaan, Swades) effort that is an old-fashioned description of the fictitious love that develops between an imperial ruler and the girl sent to him as treaty wife. Gowrikar seems to have learnt to talk the language of the west but this still doesn’t quite sell arranged marriages of convenience as some kind of epic love.
A convincing representation of debutante innocence from Aishwarya Rai(most beautiful woman in the world) or of savage ferocity touched and softened by the ingénue, by Hritik Roshan might have taken the story into a passionate and altogether likable direction. History however seems to have gone against Ashu because of course being newly wed, Ms Rai Bacchan’s mind didn’t seem to be quite in the romance with another man.
What we see is an all too familiar portrait of the hyped romance being more hype than romance and of us wishing for Aahnold ‘s brand of woodenness because at least he whields a mean sword. (Hritik does an unconvincing Conan in the initial parts of the film.)
The movie is not without its redeeming features. The costumes and the measured drama in it actually work to make it a viable historic epic(even ifthe film is indistinguishable from the million others that computer generation has made possible).
The cinematographic images are archetypal and feed into a national mythology that counts “India” as a continuity from Alexander’s to Ashoka’s , Akbar’s and then the British empires , conveniently ignoring the dispairity in boundaries (The Akbar empire never quite crossed the Deccan plateau, Bakisthan objects). Or the Gupta, Kushana or the Turkish empires in between.
The songs are nice if slightly infantile (tu hai raja tu hai raja tu hai raja tirikitathom? Really!) and the picturization is good. I love the folksy colors and authenticity of the costumes.
What doesn’t work, though is the central thesis of the film. Both Akbar and Jodha never quite leave their comfortable cocoon of material comfort, except when politically expedient (for each) . Motivations are not quite fleshed out. Jodha just plays games of female intrigue, as she would, as someone disempowered in a testosterone driven society.
Akbar’s motivation is never explained. Does he see Jodha as a representation of the nation that has accidentally fallen into his lap? Does he see her as a wild animal that needs taming? We don’t quite know. He just walks like a zombie into the relationship with a stranger with alien habits. This is weakness we never think of as possible for one of India’s greatest emperors.The idea fails to start up as the engine that drove the motivations of the mughal empire to Jehangir’s Pax Indica.
One does not have a problem with the Muslim ruler taking a hindu wife from one of the Rajput families. It is immature political analysis that raises irritates. There is no mentionof the shia sunni issue, the turk mughal issue, the rajput/ vikramaditya issue, or even mentions of the Koh I noor or the peacock throne of delhi. The problem seems to stem from making the hindu wife the all encompasing motivation for all of Akbar’s reforms. It was just one of the consequences of Akbar’s realpolitik..
Akbar’s great grandfather (tamarlane)’s empire in central Asia had broken up by the time Babur and Humayun had suffered disasters in their adventures to capture Delhi. Unlike the Sunni Turks, the Mughals(who were mixed race Shias between Mongols (from Czengiz Khan ) and Turkish and Iranian dynasties of noble soldiers) showed a marked reluctance to loot and pillage. The exchequer was empty. Akbar, thus was forced to make Agra(instead of Kabul or anywhere else in central Asia) the center of his possessions.. This real history makes for bad romance, but would have been a compelling movie.
In the end the film threatens to sink into obscurity , except for all the controversy created by hindu groups who seem to fear everything from that Muslim boys in their mohalla will do like Akbar to Northern (Indian) imperialism on the rest of the country.
Jodha Akbar: Boring , poor stunts and Aishwarya Rai- Bacchan doesn’t seem to be all there..