Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Jodhaa Akbar, or, Veiled Romance

Aah! Freaking life and its tendency to get in the way of what I actually want to do, i.e. spend my time blogging about a movie. It's not often that it takes me nearly as long to create an entry about a film as it did to watch said film, but in this case it's nearly the truth.
As I've mentioned before, I'm willing to ignore historical accuracy in the interests of a good story, relegating the book or movie in question to the realm of "alternate history." When a movie opens with a disclaimer saying that the female subject of the film is so fuzzy in the annals of history as to have even her name in question, well, I can pretty much figure that I'm not gonna get a history lesson here.

Jodhaa Akbar released in February of this year. It stars Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai, and a whole boatload of other people who I won't mention unless their character comes up in this review, but feel free to read its Wikipedia entry if you're that curious. When I saw the length on the Netflix envelope I groaned (why? whyyyyyyy?) but hey, it's directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, he of the epic bent and spineless film editors, so what did I expect? (Ballu Saluja, my sore... dignity salutes you.) Still, his vision has produced movies like Lagaan and Swades in the past, so I had hopes for Jodhaa Akbar too. (And by the way, if you haven't checked out the Bollywood Fan's recent post on Swades be sure to do so; it gave me a whole new desire to watch the film.)

"Hello. I am Jodhaa and I see everything through rose-tinted... veils."

"I am Jalaluddin, and I can't see a damn thing through my own veil, so consider yourself lucky."

Jodhaa Akbar begins on a grand scale, with a massive battle scene involving lots of arrows, swords, and head-squishing by elephants. Yessss. We see young Mughal Jalaluddin (later Akbar), son of King Humayan, now king himself due to his father's untimely death, overseeing the battle from the sidelines while his general Khan (Raza Murad) wins for him. We see what might seem like squeamishness to his contemporaries as he flatly refuses to kill a defeated king. And we see him after he grows into that most rare of mortals: a man (Hrithik) of great power with great moral scruples as well.

After her father mortally offends her foster brother Rajkumar Sujamal (played by the supah-fine Sonu Sood), and announces his intention to ally with the Muslim Mughals, the Rajput princess Jodhaa (Aishwarya) discovers that she has lost her original fiance and now must be sacrificed on the matrimonial altar... to Emperor Jalaluddin. Terrified that she might be forced to convert to Islam, the devoutly Hindu Jodhaa puts forward three conditions to Jalaluddin: she must not be forced to convert, she must have a small shrine built in her quarters, and she must be allowed to bring a statue of her beloved god Krishna along with her to put into the shrine. (Geez, it's been two weeks since I saw the film last; I hope I got those right... if I didn't someone comment about it. LOL) Jalaluddin, or Jalal as he's called by those close to him, agrees, and she moves to her husband's palace after their nuptials.

One thing she doesn't do, however, is allow her husband to share her bed. It was at this point that I had to forcibly remind myself: "Alternate history! It's a movie!" because this seemed pretty unlikely. Unless, of course, he'd brought some members of his inevitable harem along with him, which would be rather tactless but perhaps period-correct... Except, in Jodhaa Akbar, Akbar (that means "the Great" and it's Jalal's title) doesn't have a harem, either. At least, I never saw any evidence of one in the film. But! Alternate history! Forge ahead!

Jalal agrees not to force Jodhaa to sleep with him, letting the decision rest with her. And here, the scale of the film rapidly dwindles down to focus on these two. Every court intrigue, every argument that affects the kingdom, every culture clash between Rajput Hindu and Mughal Muslim, is told through the lens of their developing relationship and how it's affected by the circumstances surrounding the two. That's not to say that the interest generated by the film dwindles too; in fact, as I got to know these two complex individuals I grew more and more fascinated with their story.

I loved Hrithik in this role; he played the arrogant emporer and lovesick swain equally well. And fortunately Gowariker prevented him from doing the roadrunner-on-speed vocal delivery he tends to fall back on when conveying heartbreak. Maybe the necessity of speaking Urdu instead of Hinglish helped there.

His portrayal of Jalal's growing love for Jodhaa is lovely, and when they finally get around to consummating their relationship, there's a moment in the song when all the music drops away and only his "voice" (um, that'd be Sonu Nigam's voice) sings, "Mere Khwaabon Ke Is Gulistaan Mein/Tumse Hi To Bahaar Chhaai Hai/Phoolon Mein Rang Mere The Lekin/In Mein Khushboo Tumhi Se Aaye Hai" (which [I think, according to others' translation] means, "In the garden of my dreams/Only you have brought about the most beautiful spring/The colour of the flowers might be mine but/the fragrance of those flower blossoms has come from you"). Guh. I died. To borrow Bollyviewer's phrase, it was bone-meltingly romantic. And Hrithik nailed that scene.

Aishwarya... hmmm. I enjoyed her depiction of Jodhaa--spunky, modest, indignant, and devout by turns. Her huge eyes lend themselves well to the little make-up she wears in the role. However, as far as her attraction to Jalal goes, well... I could tell he wanted her--I wasn't so sure about what she felt toward him until she flat-out said it. Maybe that's the way she was supposed to play it, though.

The sets are amazing: opulent and colorful, as are the clothes. The clothes! And the jewelry! It's total eye candy from start to finish. I'm not sure how Aishwarya even moved under the weight of all that jewelry when Jodhaa was dressed formally. Maybe that's one of the reasons she didn't dance in the film! Still, the famous swordfight between Jodhaa and Jalal is better than dancing. I really liked that they didn't make it look like she was weilding a super-long toothpick with ease; those swords are fantabulously heavy and it would be difficult for most court-raised women to weild one without looking slightly awkward, as Jodhaa does.

The songs are lovely, but most of them are overlaying the action rather than being lip-synched by the characters, so that's a bit different. I'm not complaining. The first two numbers are religious songs, which I always find a bit dull considering I'm not a member of the religions being celebrated musically. However, the music itself is beautiful, and the other songs are straight-up love songs for Jodhaa and Jalal... with the exception of the stirring "Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah," which I totally got into and features a beat that'll make you hop up out of your seat (and about time too, because by that point in the film at least half of your butt will probably have fallen asleep).

My only complaint about this film is very small: two Superfantastic Bollywood Moments. One, every time Jalal gets pissed there's this flourish of royal trumpets that plays. Um, yeah, I could've figured out he was mad without that, thanks anyway. And two, the end wraps up with a slideshow of stills from the film and some voiceover magic. I would've preferred a live-action fade-out. Other than that, I loved everything about the film and couldn't recommend it more; it's definitely worth every penny.

I guess I should say something about religious tolerance and Hindu/Muslim relations here, but I'm still so ignorant about Indian social tensions that I feel vastly underqualified to do so. In the end, I think Gowariker's main message is that only by seeing each other as individuals can we reduce group conflicts. But I could be wrong.


  1. i crown jodhaa akbar the type of movie i can take my dad to, he is fond of history-ish movieslike gladiator dharam-veer, and lagaan. he was impressed so naturally i got humungo(another rum word) impressed i loved hritik here, though he does suffer from "akbar-was the most benevolent ruler ever made" syndrome which the write made him into. though i loved his dancing twirl in khwaja and he has really sexy chemistry with ash!

  2. "My only complaint about this film is very small..."

    I guess I was the only one who found this movie terribly disappointing. I didnt care for the music (the songs were OK in the film but I would never listen to them otherwise), found the jewellery and sets oppressively opulent and the action rather slow-paced. And Hrithik's Urdu left so much to be desired. O well, I guess I waited too long for the movie to come out and anticipated it with too many expectations. The end result was a typical Bollywood costume drama in the Mughal-e-Azam style and from Ashutosh Gowarikar I had much higher expectations!

    Your review is inspiring me to re-watch, though. The epic length of the movie had me so *yawn* tired that I dont think I even noticed the famous romantic moments! I will probably fast-forward to the Hrithik + Aishwarya + bone-melting romance moments. lol

  3. Hi Ajnabi: I really enjoyed Jodhaa Akbar, although I felt it could have used some more editing. Unlike Lagaan, I don't think much would have been lost had they cut out some portions. There was one fight sequence too many. Akbar without Birbal is just not fair to those of us (and I'd think there are tens of millions, if not more) who've grown up listening to their stories! And as Bollyviewer said, the pace could have been picked up by quite a bit. But, the rest was really good. I thought the pros far outweighed the cons.

    Of course, much of it might have to do with Akbar being my favorite Mughal emperor of all time. :) He conducted more outreach than other Mughal emperors, probably the most. His benevolence is well documented too, and it was under his rule that the juxtaposition of the cultures -- especially in the arts, languages, music, etc. -- flourished, precisely because of his willingness to accept than merely tolerate those of other faiths. In that sense, he was exemplary.

    Given his approach to unifying communities through his leadership style, and that the Mughals ruled for what, over three centuries, I think the "akbar-was the most benevolent ruler ever made" syndrome is somewhat valid (since we're talking of recent history, 'of his time' or 'in the recent past' instead of 'ever' would probably be better), since he was arguably one of the most unanimously respected rulers in the country from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries.

    Thanks for the link to the Swades review! I hope if/when you see it, that you find it worth your time. :)


  4. I really liked Jodhaa Akbar. It exceeded my expectations. It was a bit lengthy, I agree with it. I have to go back and read my review about it cause it's been a while, lol

  5. I think Hrithik did most of the acting in this movie. Or emoting? Either way, I felt like the chemistry was dead on because of him, not necessarily because of Aishwarya so much, though this is one of the few roles I really enjoy her in.

    The reason they don't dance (and what a shame they didn't!) was because I think way back in the day, dancing was not considered at all appropriate for people of stature. People dance to entertain them but they don't dance themselves.. Aish and Hrithik should do a third film together, something that is all dance. And yes, the swordfight was an amazing scene.

    I thought the movie was epic in every way; exhaustingly epic in some ways, a little too long, kind of like Swades. I saw this in theaters where the dramatic sound effects hit me really hard and made some parts seem amusingly overdramatic.

  6. Rum: I agree that this is great BW-style epicness (there's an ajnabi word for you!). It'd probably be a good intro to BW for those who like Gladiator etc, especially for the lack of singing & dancing.

    Bollyviewer: I've never found anticipation to make my movie-watching experience anything but worse. LOL I bet if you gave it a re-watch you'd enjoy it more. There are so many great moments on the romance front: Hrithik finding Aish in a room full of veiled ladies; his "Mash-Allah!" when he sees her hair down for the first time, the singing moment I mentioned... there's plenty to like, for me at least.

    Hi Bollywood Fan! Yes, a tighter hand with the editing would definitely have helped; I think the scenes with Jodhaa getting engaged and playing with younger Raj could've been done away with entirely, as could some of the battles, or at least shortened in their case.

    I think Gowariker shares your admiration for Akbar; I can't count the number of times someone says, "I had misunderstood you" to him. I had to wonder if he was making a comment about how history perceives Akbar. I tend to feel that his benevolence also solidified his kingdom in more ways than one; as the Romans found, letting the locals keep their religious rituals went over a whole lot better than forcing conversion.

    Nicki, it exceeded my expectations also; I really wasn't expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. You should reread your review--I always love to look at your screencaps! LOL

    Veracious: I agree that definitely Hrithik did all the pining... visibly anyway. I kept on wondering if Gowariker was instructing Aishwarya behind the scenes to play it cool so the audience was as in doubt about Jodhaa's feelings as Akbar.

    I remember reading some complaints even about Akbar's devotional twirling so I guess it's just as well they didn't Bollyize it even more. Still, I love your concept of a dancing movie--something like DTPH, except, you know, not sucking, would be awesome.

    And LOL about the sound effects; I think after hearing the "He's Pissed Now!" trumpet flourish five times on surround sound I'd burst into giggles every time thereafter.

  7. I really enjoyed this movie..I agree the sword scene was good and I loved some of the songs...especially the Jashne bahaara number

  8. Oh my gosh, those horns! lol For me, it was probably THE only thing I disliked about the movie...Well said, Ajnabi!

    I actually didn't catch this either the first(and second time--lol) I saw JA in the theaters, but when I watched the DVD (yes folks, I've already seen this 3 times) I noticed the "harem" mentioned breifly when Jodhaa is given her tour of the palace. You'd barely notice if you weren't looking for it...Nice way to slip something in you don't want anyone to really pay attention to, Ashutosh.

  9. Hi Reviewer! I really enjoyed most of the songs; I think my favorite is actually Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah; it's so fun to see the huge numbers of dancers--so Bollylicious!

    Yay, Nida makes it online! I can't believe you've already seen it three times. LOL Now that you mention it, I do remember the one guy saying "harem," I think in the subtitles it says "womens' quarters" or something? I suppose it's to be expected that the queen and the common women of the harem be kept completely separate; still, I would've liked to have seen some onscreen acknowledgement of the fact. But! Alternate history! LOL And it didn't keep me from loving the film.

  10. The movie Jodha Akbar belongs to Hrithik Roshan for his dazzling performance.

  11. Hi Saheli: I agree that Hrithik gave a fantastic performance. But really, the whole cast did great, hai na? The supporting characters rounded out the film well.

  12. I liked Hrithik but I found him a little over the top. I could sense him trying hard to behave like someone from that period(his walk, the way he talked.) Never really became Akbar for me even though I enjoyed the movie.
    Aishwarya Rai came off much more natural and comfortable in her role.

  13. Anonymous, thanks for stopping by & commenting! I hadn't noticed the effort in his acting but you're not the only one to mention it so maybe I'm missing something. I wonder if the effort of speaking Urdu made it more difficult? Actually that makes since Aishwarya is a much better Urdu speaker from what I've been told.

  14. "I am Jalaluddin, and I can't see a damn thing through my own veil, so consider yourself lucky."

    I would just liked to say that I died of laughter after this part, and could not read the rest of your review. My sincerist apologies.

  15. *sigh* I hate when my reviews lead to manslaughter. It's so tragic.

  16. Hey, I'm joining in! Love your blog - I'm a newbie to the Bollywood world but I'm totally besotted..

    I loved this movie. This was the first Bollywood movie I bought, (after watching two others on planes) and I was enthralled by it. I checked my disbelief and expectations at the door and just allowed myself to love it all - those settings and costumes, the jewels, the songs and my new crush, my boy Hrithik.

    The acting was better than I had expected but still, a bit broad - although there were a few very lovely and subtly acted scenes between Aish and Hrithik, like the first time he sees her, where you can literally tell that he's in love at first sight, or the scene in her bedchamber with the dividing curtain which was just beautifully done.

    Aish looked beyond gorgeous and acted very natural and fit the part to a T. Honestly, I don't know how that girl lives with herself.
    Hrithik's acting should be all about "less is more". (Same rule should apply to his wardrobe..) I felt he tried too hard to show us that he's "acting" and got a little fake at times, but their on-screen chemistry is totally palpable, that can't be faked and that's really what helps to carry the love story.

    And I also loved the Maham Anga character as the resident Cruela De Vil of the palace! She was fabulous!

  17. its very clear that jodhaa wants srkbar right from the wedding night that h walked away from her due to her rejection, the next day she was surprised he had gone. commending on their chemistry you canot fake it.give kudos to the guy he had raw deire in his eyes which i have never seen in any actor not even in porn film will you see raw desire in a guys eyes. as for jodhaa look at ash clearly she keeps parting her lips when she is with him she wants him and each time she does that you can see his eyes darken with desire. in the love making scene the neck vein was throbbing, her lips were parted, she opened her eyes when he grazed his lips with her her syes was full of desire you ahd to look at them very well to see the subtle signs. on the bed the look she gave him towards the bed can make a guy come she was looking at his lips and the guy looks as if he si goin to jump her. thank god they are both married it would have been very sudden for them. if you wacth tehm closly in dhoom2 ,you might dismiss the kiss as nothing but if you llok closely it was tongue kissing and very erotic they were both affected she opened her mouth and the guy was stunned as weell before they both recovered. i guess they did not expect the attraction they felt for each other. wake guys the attraction is real she is very grounded but the tell tale signs are tehre the guy wants he wants her and he is aware she wants him. both are happily married to their respact spouses i beleive its best that way but they i real life hrithik and ash are time bomb waiting to explode look at all their interview the attractio is there like a sour thumb i dont think they can do anything about it though. but if i were their spouses i wouldnt leave both of them alone in aroom toghther with a bed its tempting they wiill explode. check the star screen awards when she received for popular actres fo jodhaa arkbar wacth hrthik face towards the end of her speech surprised? you have to look at him closely to see the kiss he did when she was making her speech. anyway i hope they will both stay married to their spouses. if they dont cross the line.

  18. Hi E! Sorry, I missed this message before. I agree with you that the movie is fabulous. I wonder what you'll have to say about the acting in a year's time? I find myself much more tolerant of Bollywood's broad style nowadays. :-)

    Anonymous: It's called acting. They pretend to be other people on camera for money. If Hrithik blew a kiss to Aishwarya at the awards then he must've known it would be on camera.


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