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Simplistic Tale of a Royal Affair

by Nikhil Gajendragadkar

Controversy, protests, ban and counter protest...Emperor Akbar could not have imagined this. Somebody going against him? But a film on his life- or rather part of his life-has seen this all. The new film “Jodhaa - Akbar” is  ‘eye of the storm,’ though small one, for some time now.

We first meet Jalalluddin Mohammad ‘Akbar’ in school. He is introduced to us as one of the most successful kings. His romantic side, if any , is never discussed, at least at the school level. So when  a film based on his love life is announced , it stirred curiosity and imagination of everybody. It has to be of epic proportion, that is what the producer and director(Ashutosh Gowarikar) must have thought. Naturally expectations of people were high. That is where it  fells short. The film can not bring out the love story strongly and remains far off from being an epic.

The film attracted a lot of attention because of controversy attached to it. Some say that, Akbar did marry a Rajput girl. She gave birth to a son -Salim-, who later became emperor of Hindustan, but her name was not Jodha. Then who was Jodha? and why there were no protests against “Mughal E Azam”which also presents Jodhbai as not only  Akbar’s wife but queen . Historians would like to debate on it for a while.

Let us accept for a moment that Akbar did marry Jodha, a Rajput princess. But was there any romantic angle to it or was it a marriage of political convenience? Let us assume ,again, that  ‘love ‘ was involved in the relationship, as the director wishes. But then he himself seems at a loss ,as he stumbles upon the question, how to develop the story further. So, he shows us that, their love bloomed after the marriage took place. Even that can be accepted for the sake of the film.

Writer and director have  run short of ideas, it seems, as far as the details are concerned. Unfortunately, there is no folklore to support the Jodha -Akbar love story as in the case of , Heer-Ranjha or Laila - Majnu. So director attempts to show the soft side of the person who rules vast expanse of land and its people, and stern side of a beautiful princess, who eventually falls in love with her husband. The effort, however, fails to create any effect on the minds of spectators. The film gives an impression that Jodha was Akbar’s first love and wife, was that the case?

Drama is necessary make a film  effective  and memorable. ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ lacks this very ingredient. It has a feel of a TV serial or soap opera. Conflict is superficial. Characters are in black and white, devoid of gray. Like t v soaps there is a vamp, a wet nurse who took care of Akbar in his childhood. It is unacceptable that, Akbar, king known for his just rule, falls victim to venomous words of this woman and drives his ‘beloved’ wife out. Can’t he check facts through his spies? Later this problem is solved very easily. He mingles with his subjects incognito to know the real plight of people( fact or fiction?). Then announces a certain tax cut. For this one measure people hail him as ‘Akbar’. Such scenes underline the simplistic and naive handling by the director.

Hollywood and Britain gave many films based on Middle ages, perhaps they have influenced director Gowarikar . Particularly lighting used in the film denotes this point. Politics in any era was not free from conspiracies; Akbar might have had his share of it. But in the film it comes as a supporting or secondary story and it does not mingle well with the main story (love story?). Like a hero of any other Hindi film Akbar fights and defeats a villain. All such ‘items’ come to project his greatness, it can be director’s point of view; but to assume that his feats created love in the hart of Jodha looks a bit far-fetched. These sub plots give a patchy feel to the film.

The film depicts the period nearly five hundred old. Religious Fanaticism was at its peak then. Akbar was ‘liberal’ compared to many of the given era. And yet here he utters words like “religious tolerance “,which is a very modern term and concept. This may be politically correct now, but why put these words in to the mouth of a man who lived centuries ago?

We don’t know how Akbar and Jodha looked like, but by casting two very popular and extremely good looking  stars -Hrithik and Aishwarya- producer Gowarikar has ensured minimum profit to his investment. They look really good, (do they suit the role?) big sets and rich jewelry, pleasing cinematography; everything gives a fine visual touch; but fails to give complete, total satisfaction. A feeling of abrupt end haunts viewer

Dance and music are said to be forte of Hindi cinema, but the film can not fulfill expectations on this front too. A.R. Rahman’s music is below par. to say the least. A ‘Sufi’ song is included, to underline liberal mindedness of Akbar. People’s song to hail the emperor is boring and ridiculous. One hears an echo of Rahman’s score to a Chinese film at the background.

One has the freedom to base a film on a historic theme and paint the picture with imagination, but that should make the story even more colourful, characters should come out strongly and the present viewer should be able to connect himself with the story. ‘Jodhaa- Akbar’ just cannot achieve it. What comes forth is a simplistic story, which says,‘well, this might have happen...’

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