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Taj Mahal
Producer: Akbar Khan
Director: Akbar Khan
Starring: Kabir Bedi, Zulfi Syed, Sonya Jehan, Kim Sharma, Pooja Batra, Manisha Koirala, Arbaaz Khan
Music: Naushad, Uttam Singh
Lyrics: Naqsh Lyallpuri, Syed Gulrez

Genre: Historic Romantic
Recommended Audience: Parental Guidance
Released on: November 18, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 168 mins
Reviewed by: Shahid Khan
Reviewer's Rating: 4 out of 10
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Akbar Khan´s passion for the story behind the creation of the Taj Mahal is very much evident in his latest historical saga. It is Naushad who stirs the soul with his splendorous compositions. The emotions stirred by the contemplative words in "Mumtaz tujhe dekha, Jab Taj Mahal dekha..." linger long after the movie is over.

It is sad to say though but the film does no justice to the melodious music that it adorns itself with. Akbar Khan has gone to a lot of effort to present a memorable and legendary love story but the trouble is that everything seems too staged to make it a touching romance. Flabby and overlong scenes of evil plotting and rebellion turn it into a bloated historical epic. Burp burp.

Aurangzeb (Arbaaz Khan) imprisons his father Shah Jehan (Kabir Bedi) in his palace. A flashback reveals the details of Shah Jehan´s love story with Arjumand also known as Mumtaz Mahal (Zulfi Syed as the younger Shah Jehan, Sonya Jehan). The major obstacle to the love story is the villainous Noor Jehan (Pooja Batra) who desires for the prince to marry her daughter, Ladli Begum (Kim Sharma).

Yep, you read that right - Pooja Batra plays mother to Kim Sharma. The casting choice looks as odd as it sounds. Batra and Sharma do not suit their roles and their off-key approach to their roles does not help. The actresses should have remembered not to pout... They are in a period saga, not a song remix video.

The make-up department obviously could not be bothered to check whether their work is appropriate to the era or not (some of the make-up on any of the actresses look too modern). I´ll give them marks for knowing how to steal the show. Arbaaz Khan´s cameo is upstaged by a planted beauty spot on his cheek. It looks like a gigantic raisin that will fall off any minute.

Some of the special effects is iffy especially those galloping deer in the forest. Dear oh dear, the digitised deer looked very lost. I think they wanted to go back to their computer home page. This adds to the increasing suspicion that one is viewing a rejected draft of a Disney romance. Akbar Khan´s treatment reminds too much of a fairytale - how many times do we have to see two lovers skipping towards each other in slow motion?

The Disney influence is most noticeable in the villainous character of Eitbaar Khan (who reminds me of Jafar Khan from Ron Clements’ and John Musker’s "Aladdin"). Eitbaar is a eunuch who is all dressed up in black and has nowhere to go. A croaky and evil eunuch. I have a niggling feeling that the oppressed and repressed eunuchs in today´s India will not be applauding this film anytime soon.

The influence of K Asif´s "Mughal-e-Azam" is apparent right from the voice-over introduction to the theatrical dialogue deliveries. Akbar Khan has tried to equal some of it in terms of grandeur and has given it a darker touch. Some scenes - such as the moment when Shah Jehan sits down to eat dinner and finds his son´s head on the tray instead - are unintentionally funny but the battle scenes are impressively staged in parts and realistically gory even. The occasionally refined camerawork and dainty photography further compliments the atmosphere of such scenes.

Nevertheless, it is the central love story that is such a let down. Sonya Jehan makes a satisfactory debut but Zulfi Syed is more awkward and speaks as if he is reading from a piece of paper. Their characters go through the paces of falling in love just for the sake of it. Khan does romanticise their love story and spells it out with a hundred violins but he fails to bring out the inner nuances of their passion for each other.

It does spark up and the inner magic comes alive towards the end of the film when Kabir Bedi (giving a much better performance than Syed) portrays the shades of a man gripped by grief and encroaching death. But by then it is too late.