When the name is “Jodhaa Akbar” what you shouldn’t expect is a 90 min short story. What you should expect is a condensed 52 episodes of the tale of one of the greatest Mughal Emperors, Jalaluddin Mohammed Akbar and his reign over India from the mid 16th century and the historic alliance with Rajput Princess Jodhaa Bai. And of course, this would mean the movie to be expanded beyond proportions (the length is a good 3 hrs 40 mins). But I do not have any problems with it as far as the length is concerned. More than often, epic storytelling has demanded the pace to be at ease and so is the case here. Ashutosh Gowariker’s “Jodhaa Akbar “is another edition to that list of epic movies, but does it pass the test of epic storytelling? I still have my doubts. Of course, it is easy to look at everything with an eye of criticism and just start evaluating the faults and the shortcomings, but for once, I’d stand and applaud at the sheer magnitude of the canvas that Ashutosh Gowariker has tried to paint and presented it with so many radiant hues.
Of course, we are reminded that such historical epic stories are always associated with controversies. Let’s clear this doubt: This is not a documentary. History tells us Akbar had many wives, not to mention concubines, invented his own religion Din-i-Ilahi, and was as megalomaniac as all other Mughal Emperors. But the golden rule of bringing period pieces to life remains: It is the legend which stays alive. Gowariker follows this rule strictly with embellished palaces, heavy shimmering jewels, galloping horses and dusty war fields and some never before seen in Bollywood action scenes. The war scenes frankly do not move a nerve in me, because we are the ones who have been fed on the likes of Braveheart, Troy, Gladiator and LOTR. Nevertheless, the single combat scenes like the one between Akbar and Sharifuddin, and the one with the elephant are brilliantly chodeographed and picturised with equal technical excellence. But when it came to war scenes, it only was at best an inferior copy of the LOTR war scenes right from the swinging of swords in linear direction when the Orcs and Elves battle in middle earth. Not to forget the elephants which keep on reminding me of the Mumakils. Talking in terms of more technical expertise shown here, Neeta Lulla’s costumes spell complete magic yet again. Kiran Deohans’ cinematography is also fabulous and it captures the sheer volume of a Mughal Palace in its entirety. Special mentions to the SFX team for the scene where Akbar takes Jodhaa to his room and waits for the sun to set, and when the sun appears at a certain angle, its rays get reflected from the mirror and the reflections in turn lit up the entire room after being reflected from the embellishments engraved in the ceilings. AWESTRUCK!!!
As far as performances are concerned, most of the supporting cast does not get to show much of their performances except for a few as the narrative is totally under control of the main protagonists. The ones who do leave a mark are Sonu Sood as Sujamal and a Nikitin Dheer as Mirza Sharifuddin Hussain . The supporting casts crown is however on the head of Ila Arun as Maham Anga, the foster mother of Jalaluddin. She plays it with such intensity and full fledged sincerity, that at times, it seems as if Aishwarya must be screaming out for some footage. The envy of Maham Anga comes alive in the dark eyes of Ila Arun and she deserves a standing ovation for this. Mrs. Punam S Sinha who plays the role of Akbar’s mother also carries off her role with much poise but as I said earlier but more than often, the supporting cast is given some really silly lines of dialogues and is heavily layered with incomprehensible Urdu. The songs do not do much help in elevating the narrative. A.R.Rahman fails to spell magic this time around as I have said before. The best track of the soundtrack –Khwaja Mere Khwaja is the only one which succeeds in leaving a sort of an impression. Azeemoshaan Shahenshah is predictably GRAND and way too loud. The bad thing about it is that we have all grown on an overdose of Sanjay Khan’s Sword of Tipu Sultan and Akbar Khan’s Akbar the Great (Both Doordarshan mega serials) and hence, we are very much used to all the palatial arrangements and the movie doesn’t offer much new. The twists in the tales in the form of betrayals and conspiring cousins have all been already explored onscreen, but is that negative for the movie? May be it is.
Talking about the performances, Aishwarya Rai as Jodhaa Bai has been characterised pretty straight-forward and the director keeps it simple. Jodhaa is a strong Rajput princess, perfectly trained in the art of sword-combat, is a Krishna devotee and has a very strong stand at times, especially when it comes to self-respect issues. Aishwarya capably handles all these elements. Hrithik Roshan on the other hand, as Jalaluddin Mohd.Akbar, has lots of tasks to do and even more emotions to handle. Ranging from the bitchy foster mother, to the conspiring cousins, the court of ministers, the discontent public, the ever demanding reluctant wife, and yes even war. He has to tame elephants and fight his cousin in Achilles isshtyle (ala Troy) and even survive a direct arrow hit. And even after this, he remains calm enough to show himself as a symbol of tolerance. Hrithik nails his part, at least from what he could do, but for me it just doesn’t work. Here’s why. Hrithik has a sculpted physique which can even put Hercules to shame. The image of a Mughal Emperor is totaly different from chiseled biceps and six packs, not to forget the very annoyingly placed ( or rather misplaced) moustache. More to add, the chemistry just doesn’t seem to work at all. Both Hrithik and Aishwarya are epitomes of physical beauty pushed to perfection as separate entities totaly. And somehow, there was some need of imperfection here to have actually shown the combination of the Yin and the Yang. That doesn’t happen. When the narrative focusses on the interaction of the two, it just lags in the sheer energy of unspoken emotion that we find in any romantic movie, which should be the intention at the first place.But nevertheless, apart from Ila Arun’s brave protrayal of Maham Anga, this film belongs to Ashutosh Gowariker’s beautiful and gigapixel vision of a war-epic,costume drama and a love story combined into one. Butcompared to his previous work, the ever charming Lagaan or the simplistic yet hard-hitting Swades, this just remains as an over-ambitious project which adds to Gowariker’s resume as just a management project of a huge budget. The script goes completely haywire at many a points and hence the movie becomes a victim of shallow characterization. I wish this was a masterpiece. I am afraid it is not. Here’s two cheers to Gowariker for a brave attempt. If you really want to get cheered up after the whole 200 mins you just slept, this is what you read.