Jodhaa Akbar made history of sorts, here in my city, in the US, by being the first ever Hindi film to be screened in a mainstream American theatre. Generally Hindi movies are shown in â€śdesiâ€ť theatres, which are dollar theatres pretty much, with run-down sound systems. I guess the economics of desi cinema makes it unprofitable to be shown in mainstream theatres, but blockbusters like this one could now be setting a precedent. The morning show I went to wasnâ€™t exactly a full house, but people packed more than half the seats by the intermission (which came 2 hours later).
Gowariker is known for his epic films, generally long-lengthed and sprawling (Swades, Lagaan), and this one is no different. Jodhaa Akbar comes in at under 4 hours, which is an awfully long time, even if beautifully picturized. At first glance, this can seem an overwhelming subject, but it is developed as a love-story, so Gowariker picks and chooses his scenes to fortify that aspect of the story. Essentially then, this film is a romance, with nods to historical perspective, and political climate.
Rajput princess Jodhaa, the daughter of Raja Bharmal, is married off to Mughal Emperor Akbar in a political alliance. A devout Hindu, Jodhaa, negotiates with Akbar to keep her religion and her beliefs, in her new Islamic home, but cannot be anything but aghast and outraged, at becoming the wife of the enemy (so to speak). Thus, she apprises her new husband of her state of mind, and he in turn refuses to consummate the marriage until he has won her heart.
Besides focusing on the romance, the film also develops Akbarâ€™s character and details his formative years, from his tutelage under Bairam Khan to his coming of age, as a just and kind king. Make no mistake, this film is an epic. Its grandeur and scale make it a movie to be seen on the big screen.
This film could very well have been a boring historical, 'documentar-ish' in style, had the director not chosen his scenes and imbued them with anecdotal references. Take for example the scene where Jodhaâ€™s mother mischievously informs her new son-in-law that he must find his wife among the many veiled women in the room â€“ then only does he have conjugal rights! We are also privy to household tensions within the Emperorâ€™s harem and while these add interest and develop Akbarâ€™s character, the director maintains a fine balance in not overdoing this, and turning it into a 'saas-bahu' drama.
Gowariker is also fully aware of the striking couple the lead pair make â€“ he virile and handsome and she, a glittering, delicate beauty! He uses this to his advantage in certain scenes portraying Akbarâ€™s valor, and his rippling muscles as Hrithik does a bare-chested sword routine (with the camera lovingly lingering on his muscular torso), while Aishwarya (and I) watch mesmerized. When I, fresh from the trauma of Dhoom 2, first heard of the filmâ€™s cast, Iâ€™d been pretty skeptical of Hrithik and Aishwarya as Akbar and Jodhaa respectively. However, the grace with which both of the actors have portrayed their characters, have dispelled any doubts on this.
Jodhaa Akbar also features a decent cast. Sonu Singh appeared impressive as Sujamal, and Kulbhushan Kharbanda quite dignified and ponderous as Raja Bharmal. Ila Arun portrayed the scheming Maham Anga effectively, while Poonam Sinha as Akbarâ€™s mother appeared a little stilted. Jodhaaâ€™s motherâ€™s role is well done by accomplished actress Suhasini Mulay. Bairam Khanâ€™s character was a parody (a penchant for lopping of heads), all popping eyes and bulging veins â€“ and the only one that I felt was jarringly bad (where thou, O understated killer?).
Like most filmmakers it appears that Gowariker too is in love with his footage. Luckily for us, the footage is engrossing, for the most part. Still, it must be said that there is flab, and the movie could have been edited to shorten the length by at least half an hour. Another flaw in this film, and in many Hindi films, is that it fails to rouse passion in the fight/war scenes. Why must armies facing each other appear obligatory? Why must hand-to-hand combats appear to be re-incarnations of the average 'dhishum-dhishum' of the past? Technology has advanced and it wouldnâ€™t hurt to have a cutting-edge fight scene in a 40-crore epic (a la â€śCrouching Tigerâ€ť).
The subject of this film is a large and exhaustive one. However Gowariker keeps the film focused and stops it from meandering. Amitabh Bachhanâ€™s voice provides intermittent narration, but the film is mostly held together by an adept screenplay and deft direction. Most of the dialogues are â€śsimpleâ€ť Urdu and Hindi, and are apt, although I did wince a couple of times at Jodhaaâ€™s â€śShahenshah-jiâ€ť.
Attention to detail and quality pays off in this stupendous period drama. This film was such a pleasing watch, that I wish such quality historicals had existed when Iâ€™d been gnashing my teeth in history class at school. Romances (concocted or not) featuring well-muscled, handsome Emperors might have been just the motivation to become a history â€śstarâ€ť instead of just squeaking by!