People in India do not need a real reason to stir up a controversy. And as the news hungry media laps it up, we are fed another non-issue. The dust kicked up on the release of Ashutosh Gowariker's, Jodha Akbar, is a case in point. History has many faces. No one knows the truth as different people down the centuries have interpreted it differently. Gowariker says as much in a disclaimer, but who cares. There have been protests in Rajasthan and different places nit picking on his interpretation. More than anything else, it is a sure sign of how we have to mature into realizing that art and history are not the same. And it will be long before we can actually have space in our minds to tolerate different perspectives.
Once you watch the film, you will realize that it really does not matter if Jodha was Akbar's wife or daughter-in-law. What matters is what the film underlines in terms of tolerance and understanding of different faiths and religions and that too in a turbulent period of the 16the century that saw a lot of blood flow as the Mughals consolidated their position in India.
Clearly, Gowariker is a man to watch. He has style and panache. His Lagaan had it. So did his Swades. Jodhaa Akbar, his latest offering, is worth watching for its setting, its captivating photography, its direction, its grandeur. For some moments, you forget you are watching a film as the visuals take you back in history and make transports you to another era as the epic unfolds. One has to concentrate on the dialogues that have a generous smattering of Urdu. But even if you do not understand a line or two, it does not matter as the film is consistently rich with its spread of Mughal and Rajput culture that shows us what the best times were.
There is Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar (Hrithik Roshan), a Moghul emperor and Jodha Bai (Aishwariya Rai) a spirited princess who has guts in the 16th century that most women in urban India do not have today. And when these two meet in an accidental alliance, there is a fragile love story that turns to become not so fragile. Love is something Akbar does not know about and Jodha is more than willing to teach him.
Akbar did marry a Hindu princess and what one needs to see is just how it blossomed from a convenient alliance designed to create peace into a memorable love story. Straddling between the behind the scene politics in both in the kingdoms and families, the film at times drags on as it clocks over 200 minutes. But, in India, audiences are sitting through it till the credits come on. But it would have been much more sharper as a shorter film as it drags a bit. But perhaps, Gowariker, did not have the heart to edit it out.
Jodhaa Akbar has reportedly cost $ 10 million and trade circles say that the film will post huge profits as it is doing very well, despite the protests. It might end up being one of the biggest grosser of 2008. That should sound like music to Gowariker as many big budget Bollywood films are collapsing at the box office.
Gowariker has had a colorful life. He started as an actor doing little roles in Naam, Goonj, Indrajeet and Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Naa. Then, he started writing scripts, screenplays, playback singing, producing films and directing. With Lagaan, Swadesand Jodhaa Akbar, it is now clear that he has arrived as a director.
The minute detailing in the film shows. The war sequences, costumes, the sets, the chemistry between Akbar and Jodha and the sword fight between both of them have been well executed. No one ever thought of a husband and wife as opponents showing their prowess with the sword. But Gowariker has created some moments in the film that help it to linger on after you have left the theatre. Also, feast on 400 kg of jewellery made by Tanishq. Sometimes, you wonder how Aishwarya carried so much jewellery without showing the strain. The grandeur is all over. The film has used around 80 elephants, 100 horses, 55 camels and thousands of soldiers to bring the effect of war alive. Besides, hundreds of dancers add to the poetry of the film.
Impressive performances come from Hrithik though this will not be the best he has ever done. Aishwariya graduates to performing better than many of her other films and Ila Arun as one who plots to separate them, gives a surprisingly good performance as Mahan Anga. It was she who looked after Akbar when he was a little one, but later finds it difficult to see another woman become the fulcrum of his life.
Khwaja mere Khwaja set to music by A.R. Rahman continues to catch the imagination of music lovers and is the current favorite on various FM Radio channels. Some of the dances have been choreographed and also shot imaginatively. Fashion designer Neeta Lulla sets her imprint with eye-catching costumes. She is no stranger to period films as we saw her work earlier in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's, Devdas. If the film is visually stunning, credit should go to Kiran Deohans, Director of Photography. All in all, a film worth watching. Take your popcorn along.
Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, Sonu Sood, Punam S. Sinha, Raza Murad, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Suhasini Mulay, Ila Arun, Rajesh Vivek, Pramod Moutho, Surendra Pal, Visswa Badola, Pramatesh Mehta, Shaji Choudhary, Manava Naik, Disha Vakani, Abeer Abrar, Indrajit Sarkar, Aman Dhaliwal and Nikitin Dheer
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Music: A. R. Rahman
Camera: Kiran Deohans