The hall was packed. And I mean packed. Every seat taken. I promised myself that I wouldn’t crib about the historical inaccuracies. It’s a film. If I want history, I go back to my undergrad books.
Jodhaa Akbar is full of light. For some reason, a lot of the period films produced out of Bollywood are shot mostly indoors, with kitschy sets. Jodhaa Akbar, even as it is shot in sets and rooms – feels like it’s been shot in real sunlight. For that reason alone, it feels very airy and not claustrophobic. The sets and costumes are elaborate. Beautiful.
The thing is, the film tries to peek into history and a troubled romance at the same time. That’s a tall order. But apart from Akbar and Jodhaa, everyone is reduced to a caricature. Evil Men wear black clothes and have tight black beards. Jodhaa’s flunkies are a giggling group of girls. The “aam junta” generally hangs around the market place spouting political commentary. There is one character however, that you want to see more of – Maham Anga. She’s such a complex character that you wish a little more time had been spent on developing the show-down between her and Akbar.
Which brings us to the most troubling issue. The Mughal Era was a violent period. Much like its contemporaries elsewhere. Akbar, as benevolent and secular as he might seem, was pretty much a product of this age. He wasn’t all mush. He couldn’t have held his empire otherwise. Apart from one scene where he orders the death of Adham Khan, you don’t get to see that side of Akbar at all. Everything in this film is so simplified, that it doesn’t even begin to touch the complexities of the age. Now, a film can only do so much. But this incredible attention to detail, could have been sacrificed mildly to build some nuances. When you walk out of the theatre, you struggle to remember what might have appealed to you. In all, you might come up with a list of about 6 scenes.
But the film does succeed in using simplicity to build the idea of a budding relationship. Jodhaa literally drools as she sees a half clad Akbar practice his sword swinging. But there are some bits that are so filmi that they overwhelm the subtleness of those few emotions. Like when she spends an entire night praying and is visited by a bright light signaling that her husband is no longer in the ICU. (I swear I expected a hakim to come say – Hamne injection dediya hai. Ab sab uper waale ke haath mein hai.)
The war scenes were slightly comical. Extras seemed to have generally instructed to charge each other and jab their swords into each other. But given that the usual sort of war scenes that we’ve produced are the Mahabharata type, it’s not all bad. A bit more tension, a bit more emphasis on the art of warfare, rather than just random people killing each other after someone yells “Attack!” might have been more engaging.
When I first heard the soundtrack, it took me a little time to warm to it. My biggest disappointment was that there weren’t more songs. But given the length of this film, perhaps it was wise not to throw in an item number in the harem. The song that really held my attention was Khwaja Mere Khwaja. Gently filmed. It almost makes you smile. It builds up its tempo, and “feel” – and it almost ends too soon. There’s something close to mystic with the near symmetry of the movement of the song. The other song that I like listening to – “Azeem O Shan” somehow lacked something in the way it was choreographed. It didn’t have the spontaneity the song deserved. Felt too contrived. But the aerial shots were lovely.
The film ends on a very weak note. It’s almost as if they ran out of time, and decided to wrap up.
Truth is, we could have found faults no matter how this film had been made. We’re generally kinder to films made a little before our time. Despite all its flaws, it’s an interesting film. Plus, Aishwariya Rai looks so gorgeous that you have to see her on the big screen. Seriously.