I am a huge fan of period films. An even bigger fan of films that have vast elements of realism in them, or that reflect fathomable circumstances. I consider Lagaan (2001) to be the best film ever made on the planet. I know that some day I shall practice what the message behind Swades (2004) was. My research specialization (as an undergraduate student of the information sciences, but one who focused on liberal studies as well) was the Mughal Empire.
Given my understanding of the Empire, I knew to treat the film Jodhaa Akbar purely as historic fiction. I suggest every movie-goer do the same, for the film distorts history. But I can overlook that since the film makers and stars have acknowledged this. (Given that this history is relatively recent (400 years is not near an eternity in historic terms), from an Ashutosh Gowariker project, I really expected a lot more in terms of a more accurate reflection of the history of the Mughal dynasty.)
Yet, because I am truly fascinated by the Mughal Empire (have been for as long as I can recall) and its contributions to the South Asian society and culture, I was obviously excited to see the results of Mr. Gowariker's latest project. The Mughal Empire made immense contributions to our culture. They were founders of one of our languages (Urdu -- a fusion of Hindi, Arabic, and Persian). They gave us elegant but modest dress (salwar kameez). They gave us phenomenal foods (butter chicken with naan, anyone?). They gave us music and arts galore, and some fantastic poetry. And did I mention they had a taste for better-than-world-class architecture?!
Add to that that the emperor Mr. Gowariker picked as the subject of his film was Jalaluddin Akbar (Akbar means 'great' in Arabic/Urdu), who is widely regarded as the most successful of the Mughal emperors because of his willingness to tolerate and accept others. Also important is that it was during Akbar's time that the arts in South Asia truly flourished because of this refreshing viewpoint he brought with him, of the fusion of cultures and religions. No surprise then, was that as the arts and commerce in Akbar-ruled Hindustan flourished, so did the average civilian's love of his/her fellow country men and women. Akbar, inherently a founder of liberal arts institutions, might well have been the leader of Phi Beta Kappa equivalents of his time.
Anyway, enough of history. On to the movie. From a movie-lovers standpoint, was my excitement (expressed in this earlier post) warranted or what!
Make no mistake. As a piece of historic fiction, Jodhaa Akbar is a fantastic film. Starring Hrithik Roshan as Akbar, Aishwarya Rai as Jodhaa, Sonu Sood as Rajkumar Sujamal, Kulbushan Karbanda as Raja Bharmal, Ila Arun as Maham Anga, Suhasini Mulay as Rani Padmawati, and Punam Sinha as Mallika Hamida Banu. And with music by the maestro A.R. Rehman (read my music review from an earlier post).
Some notes on the portions I enjoyed the most:
1. The relationship between Jodhaa and her cousin Rajkumar Sujamal. The latter is torn between his love for his 'sister', and his lust for power. On several occasions in the film, he is shown thinking of her during a discussion of prospective attacks on Akbar's men, and would resist, weighing the options. This is very well developed, and the climax to this relationship is fitting.
2. There are several action sequences in the film that are engaging. The taming of the elephant scene, which is where Raja Bharmal is first introduced to Jalaluddin, is quite remarkable. Instead of laughing it off, as I know some people have done, I choose to praise it, for it is extremely well put together and a bold attempt in Bollywood terms.
3. Speaking of sequences, there are a few non-battle scenes pertaining to the one-on-one combat. With Jodhaa and Sujamal, then a friend, and then Akbar; and Akbar with his brother-in-law. And how about that portion when Jodhaa ogling Akbar's physique as he practices his sword-weaving skills. While I think there was one too many with Jodhaa, this is merely a nuance that certainly doesn't take much away at all from the film, so I shan't be too picky about it. Each of these sequences was very well shot. A couple of us were discussing how far Indian film-making has come from the Ramayan and Tipu Sultan days on Doordarshan TV in the 1980s, which we the 80s kids grew up admiring. The combat sequences in Jodhaa Akbar are absolutely fantastic and engaging.
4. The portrayal of religions is very well done too. No matter whether you are Muslim or Hindu, you will feel proud of the way your religion is projected. That there existed a religious strife in those days comes as no surprise (little has changed in that regard, unfortunately). I have had people in political science and international relations classrooms be astonished that the Mughals were able to sustain any form of rule over Hindustan for over 400 years, given that they represented a minority demographic. Back to the point, though. The initially tumultuous relationship between Akbar and Jodhaa is very well portrayed -- the bit where Jodhaa's wish for a temple inside the Mughal fort is shown as a pre-requisite to the wedding is perfectly done. The bit where Akbar tells Jodhaa that Islam gives an equal right to women, as it does to men, to nullify a wedding. These are tangible issues that are seldom discussed in contemporary society, and it is refreshing to see them be brought to light. Both the Muslim and Hindu perspectives, as the plot demands.
5. The internal struggle Akbar faces, for having married a Hindu woman, is well showcased too. From his conservative to liberal advisers on religion, to his growing love for Jodhaa and his unwillingness to tolerate any defamatory statements against Jodhaa. Nicely done.
6. Another bit that was nicely done was Akbar's going into the market to hear first-hand what the aam janta, i.e. the common man, thought of the Empire. While the businesspeople in the market put in a performance that Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton would proudly use in their speeches that I have grown bored of (what with all the criticisms of the poor always paying the biggest price, the highest taxes), the most touching part was when Akbar asks his adviser if he knew of the tax imposed on the pilgrims. To the adviser's affirmative response, Akbar's saying 'Why doesn't anyone tell me this?!' is fitting of a great 'Emperor'. In the more conventional movies, we would have seen Akbar meeting Jodhaa in the bazaar, and not question what a queen was doing there!
7. I liked how several Lagaan alumni (yes, Lagaan is an institution in my eyes!) showed up. As I watched the film, I would call out their character names! So of course, Raja Puran Singh (Jodhaa's father), then Ghuran (a member of the army), Ismail and Baagha (in the song Khwaaja mere Khwaaja) made an appearance. Exciting!
8. The scene with Maham Anga storming into the shaahi bawarchi khaana, i.e. the royal kitchen, to warn Jodhaa to not take over the components of the fort, was very well done. I loved the bit where Jodhaa says, in essence, that ruling the kitchen is the right of every wife. Beautiful!
9. The scene that followed, with the foods and the thaalis, reminded me of the Tanjore restaurant at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay. I felt I was in the Mughal dining hall, inhaling the aroma of the wonderful foods, and enjoying the way they were laid out in the thaalis. Speaking of the Tanjore though, if you ever visit Bombay, you must visit (if it is still called that). A treat for the senses unlike any other, with excellent food and live classical music and dance.
10. A big reason for why Jodhaa Akbar works is the quality of the acting. Both Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai are fantastic. Certainly setting a benchmark for 2008. I would not at all be surprised if their names came up next year for the acting awards, for they would have thoroughly deserved it. Hrithik Roshan is perfect for the role. And Aishwarya Rai's chaal (her mannerisms) suit her character like hand in glove. Their on-screen chemistry is great. Abhishek Bachchan, eat your heart out!
11. Another significant complement to the film is its music. I had said in my review that I was waiting to see how A.R. Rehman's work fit in the film. I am convinced that it is Rehman's trademark that his soundtracks sound better after watching the films he composes for than before watching them. The soundtrack fits in very well indeed. Khwaaja mere Khwaaja is a beautiful devotional song, and the bit where Akbar starts to jhoom (trance) along to the qawwali toward the end is fantastic. Mann Mohana, another beautiful devotional song, is perfectly placed. Azeem-ush-Shaan Shahenshah is extremely well choreographed, and the carnival atmosphere portrayed is a heck of a treat. The lyrics to the song are in synch with history, what with sentences like Tehzeebon ka tu sangam hai (you are the confluence of cultures), which was obviously true.
Overall, I think Jodhaa Akbar is an excellent film. Four stars and then some for a bold attempt at a bold plot, excellent performances, a fantastic background score, and visual and linguistic grandeur that befits the Mughal Empire. By far the finest film to release in 2008. The costumes and adornments are brilliant, and the artwork and sets provide a visual treat that connoisseurs of cinema (not merely Hindi cinema) should be proud of.
Movie rating: 4.25/5 (Excellent!)
My classification: PG-13 (for violence, but if the battle scenes are forwarded, it is mostly clean and definitely worth a watch by the entire family)
Music rating: 3.5/5 (Very good)
Official website: http://www.jodhaakbar.com (picture source)