And does the film stand up to these expectations? Yes, when it comes to grandeur, beauty, opulence, aesthetics and soul. But you’d be mistaken to compare it with Gowariker’s recent works including Lagaan and Swades. Jodhaa Akbar has a much more simplistic treatment; at best a mish-mash of a love story and a historical drama.
After the first few minutes of the film that sound more like a history lesson, we are introduced to the story of Rajput princess Jodhaa, who is forced to marry Emperor of Hindustan Akbar for purely political reasons. Their love blossoms ever so hesitantly and tenderly amidst the tall towers of the Mughal palace. The moments stolen by this pair are heartwarming, as is their love founded on a strong base of friendship and mutual respect. While Akbar dotes on Jodhaa who insists on retaining her religion after marriage and even demands that a temple be made in her chambers; she, in turn, is the wife who stands by her husband through everything. Lovers’ tiffs, misunderstandings and making up continues while you let out a slight yawn. There’s even a sword-fighting scene between the two; call it a yesteryear equivalent of the basketball challenge between these very two actors in Dhoom 2.
Meanwhile we are made to follow the parallel stories of political betrayals, acquisitions and bloody wars. That Akbar is the ideal king is hammered into you till you want to scream that you get it; heck, there’s even a full song called Azeem-o-Shaan Shahenshah that his people sing for him! That he’s brave and all is portrayed in a total filmi scene where he fights a raging elephant bare-handed. It’s his hobby, we’re told. That he’s molten-hot is told to us in a rather sweet portion where he practices sword-fighting bare-chested, even as the new queen Jodhaa shyly snatches a lusty glance or two. If one were to rate the film only as a love story it would score full marks; it’s just the added burden of the other tracks that make the film cumbersome.
There’s an attempt at striking a balance between pure storytelling and showing off the big bucks spent on the film through lingering shots of the sets and the jewellery. There’s also a clear intention of making this historical film in a modern style using abrupt transitions between shots rather than the usual fade-ins and fade-outs; something one wishes Gowariker had used instead of the incongruous swipes. One expected a little more layering of the story from Gowariker who has chosen to tread the simplistic path. The simple, straightforward narrative, while more commercially attuned, is underutilising Gowariker’s prowess as filmmaker.
What’s truly interesting about Jodhaa Akbar is the peaceful message of communal harmony and tolerance that the film gives without making an overt statement. Also laudable is the message that an ideal marriage can exist only through mutual respect and equality, that being the basis of a strong foundation of lasting love.
Of the cast, Hrithik is just mind-blowing as Emperor Akbar; there could not have been a more appropriate casting. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, with her subtle make-up and bejeweled look, is great as well, often reminding one of her recent portrayal as Sujata in Guru. The supporting cast does very well. Ila Arun as the scheming and possessive caretaker is superb as is Sonu Sood as Jodhaa’s brother. Poonam Sinha looks graceful and does well. Kulbhushan Kharbanda is alright, even though a bit hammy. The list of great actors who’ve done a great job and supported the film jointly on their shoulders is a long one.
Technically the film is brilliant, but that’s stating the obvious, knowing Gowariker’s past work. The camerawork (Kiran Deohans) is great, though unnecessarily mobile, especially in the battlefield sequences. Editing had to be tighter; no doubt about that. Music by AR Rahman is beautiful, but some songs like Jashn-e-Bahar and Khwaja Mere Khwaja are special.
As for the writing (Haider Ali and Gowariker), the film is written well; especially the little moments between the two feisty lovers. Talking about writing, there are some scenes beautifully thought out and excellently executed that just steal your heart away. Like the one where a posse of Sufis singing Khwaja Mere Khwaja seduce Akbar such that he gets up from his throne in a trance and throws himself in the dance with them. For this scene alone, the film is worth the ticket money and three hours plus spent.
The sets (Nitin Desai) are breathtaking and precisely authentic, without being over-the-top, thank god. Costumes by Neeta Lulla are fabulous and most of the jewellery adorned look like pieces of precious art.
If you can forgive the length of the film and sit through the political machinations that hold your interest only occasionally, there’s a soulful love story enacted by two very enigmatic actors. You don’t get to see that very often these days. Go for it, I say!
Verdict: Three stars