Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Akbar toda, not joda

Last night I watched Jodhaa Akbar. I must confess that I am no history buff and thus, had no interest in the controversy whether it was Jodhaa or some other Hindu princess who married Akbar. I have enjoyed Ashutosh Gowirker's earlier films and thus, went to see the film although the promos had left me pretty unimpressed and am not a fan of either Ash or Hrithik.

But I was amazed and amused as the tale unfolded in front of me. I think I was more amused than amazed. But before that, to give a movie its due, I must also say what I liked about the film (not much to like to be honest): gorgeous costumes, some beautiful landscapes, very good choreography of the large crowd scenes and the fights and gorgeous sets. I particularly liked the sheer muslin partition separating Jodhaa’s side of the bed from Akbar’s when Akbar comes to take her back.

Now to my views on the rest of the film – a bit late, I must admit. It is a run of the mill Hindi film where one could only shake his head in disbelief. We did not mind Manmohan Desai’s many films since he did not have the pretensions that he was making some great historical movie. Here is a movie, which has been making such claims and see what it dishes out to the unsuspecting public:

1. Mother and a shrew: The saintly mother who wishes her son good, but doesn’t dress or behave like a saint. Another woman (the dai, who breast fed Akbar) and whose words are gospel truth for Akbar and dresses like some holy woman is actually scheming against Akbar’s love, Jodhaa. She plays the role of the mother-in-law to the hilt. Very original?

2. Bad brother(s) turns good: There are two such characters in this movie – after all for a movie of this scale, there have to be more of everything. One is Jodhaa’s raakhi brother and the other is Akbar’s brother-in-law. One brother turns good and breathes his last in his sister’s lap, who makes a dramatic appearance in the war zone only for this purpose. The heavily injured brother lives only long enough to spout a five or ten minute dialogue. Obviously the brother does not have the histrionic capabilities of Amitabh Bachchan in Deewar or Sholay. What was an emotionally charged scene falls flat with either the brother not being Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya being no Nirupa Roy or Jaya Bachchan.

3. Akbar is illiterate and there is a poignant moment when he confesses this to Aishwarya. He never had the time to learn to read and write. But either he was very well trained in singing or like Kishore Kumar had raw natural talent in singing because immediately after the confession he and Aishwarya break into a song and dance routine to proclaim their love. Of course, Aishwarya’s attempts at mujra for Hrithik fall flat compared to Rekha’s in Muqaddar ka Sikandar.

4. In the entire sultanat, Akbar is the only Muslim (and to an extent his biological mother) who has tolerance for other religions (read Hinduism). Every other member of the ruling class (the court of Akbar was a caricature) disliked Hindus. And for some strange reason Akbar was also in all likelihood the only Muslim with a rajput moustache and no Muslim beard. All the others resembled bearded mullahs but Akbar was prince charming.

5. For such a revered emperor, Akbar for most par of the movie seemed very eager to believe whoever was the last person to speak to him. He would never verify or try to verify anything, but immediately take action. Later on he would defend his actions by saying it was due to circumstances. Such a weakling character does not somehow sit well with the image history books paint of Akbar.

6. The song of the sufi saints was worth listening to. But may be there are not too many followers of Sufism around these days. Otherwise along with the Rajputs, they also would have protested and demanded a ban on the film for turning them into qawwals swinging and singing during the marriage of the hero in the true tradition of Hindi films.

7. Most reviewers of the film had praised the music and songs. Couple of them (the songs, I mean) were good. For most of the time, the music was loud and resembled an angry elephant’s snorting. Or may be those were so loud that it kept ringing in my ears and head long after they had ceased. But the worst was when the praja of Agra breaks into song and dance routine praising who else but Akbar. In true spirit of national integration, the song had Hindus and Muslims dancing together. So far so good. Then in a sudden burst of inspiration some tribal caricatures come into the scene wearing thin bamboo sticks on their heads. This in Agra in whatever century. That song had the hallmark of those directors from south who used to revel in the Jeetendra-Sridevi pairing. Remember those songs from Himmatwala etc? Well, you have got it. The only bit missing was a holi sequence in the song.

8. One of the first shots was of Akbar taming a bad tempered elephant. Again good choreography. Also good for voyeurs who go weak in knees at the sight of a well proportioned male torso (in this instance that of Hrithik’s). This was a scene to delight the audience in true traditions of Manmohan Desai’s films. Remember Amitabh Bachchan taming tigers in Khoon Pasina, Mr. Natwarlal and a crocodile in Shaan. While no one thought Vijay was capable of such feats (except Rekha), in this case we are led to believe that Akbar every day performed such feats to drum up an healthy appetite for breakfast ad to make Rajput prince’s tremble with fear.

9. The sword fights were well choreographed, as I have said before. Somehow in fights, which usually end in a “draw” in Hindi films (like the ones between Amitabh and Shatrughan in Kala Patthar), in this case each fight had a victor, but thanks to some interruption by a sewak – every time!

In summary this movie would have done proud to the Barjatiya camp of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun and such other mindless movies based on marriage ceremonies. All in the entire movie is an unmitigated disaster; unless you see the humor and have a good laugh, which a group of five sitting in the row was doing. They enjoyed it immensely and laughed throughout the movie. My eight year old son had a great time watching the sword fight sequences. He also asked me whether Hrithik in real life is an illiterate. My friend was not amused and wanted to leave at half time. I wish we had teamed up and left. What a waste of nearly four hour of drivel in the name of good cinema.


partho said...

well said - i also think it was too long and not with a gripping storyline.

Of course, it was visually very appealing - starting from Aiashwarya's face to the palaces and beautiful sets.

Rahman's music is again superb - the song Khwaja hi Khwaja is one of the best one will ever hear

Santosh said...

Read your review of 'Jodha-Akbar' with interest. I have not seen it. The whole family went to see it in theater except me and the younger one. We enjoyed 'Finding Nemo' on DVD instead! The very fact that the movie is 3.5-4 hours long deterred me from the trip to the movie hall - with Lagaan it was different. It had 1.5 hours cricket bundled with it!

I loved the songs though. (Let me mention that I am a die-hard Rehman fan!) I downloaded the songs from iTunes and they are still playing in my car. As Partho mentioned before me 'Khwaja mere Khwaja' is great. I also liked 'Kehne ko Jashne-baharan hai' by Javed Ali (the same guy who sang Kajra re with Shankar Mahadevan). On the Jodha-Akbar CD the same two songs are also available as instrumentals. Take a glass of chilled beer (or any of your favorite drinks!), dim the lights and listen to these instrumentals!

Mishti said...

Partho/ Santosh: Thanks for visiting and posting your comments

Without doubt, there were some great visuals. Music was good in parts - butlike Santish, I would have enjoyed it more if I didn't see the movie. I too enjoy Khwaja hi Khwaja when I listen to it on the FM radio. Watching some of the songs on screen was quite painful for me.

And yes, the movie was way too long and there was nothing to grip the viewer. What was the reaction of the family to the film?

Anonymous said...

So this movie is off my list, not that I get a chance to watch them but still. The last one I saw was Don which was bad and long. All our movies are long, it is an effort for all of us to make time to watch them. - Mushira

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