Jodhaa Akbar

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.

11 Comments

Filed under Music, Film and Art

11 Responses to Jodhaa Akbar

  1. km

    Your restraint is admirable :) Now I have to watch it.

  2. Thank you for sharing your first hand experience of Jodhaa Akbar. With so much controversy clouding the film, it is difficult to say what will be its fate on the box office. I read another interesting piece on Helloji this morning, and would like to share it with you here. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks,
    http://helloji.wordpress.com/2008/02/17/jodhaa-akbar-clouded-by-controversy/

  3. have to watch this film yet. have promised my better half that we’ll try make it this week.

    what i found most interesting was your observation about ‘light’. must check that out.

  4. If nothing else, the fact that Indian film makers are now trying out this genre is creditable by itself.

    But history is a fickle mistress indeed, more so when it comes to making a film out of it, for to each of us certain facets of history appeal more than the others.

    And I’m not sure if history as is taught in India at school level makes for sufficient preparation for the reality of the age the events took place, given as the narratives are to painting sequences through succession of filters.

    If nuances go missing, they do so at the filters!

  5. My biggest issue with the film was the editing. So many times, I felt like crying out, “Get on with it.” Case in point: the scene where Jodha eats the food before Akbar can eat it – she makes such drama of eating the food, and the reaction shots take up more time than the action. Really, there is only so many times that you can see the same expression on the side-artistes’ faces.

    Not only the sword-fighting extras, I thought Aishwarya Rai’s sword fighting was lacking in power and conviction. She seemed too void of grace and ease when it came to handling the sword. I understand that reaching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon levels in fight sequences is not easy, but when you’re going for that effect, you might as well go the whole hog!

    But, yeah, the film had its moments. But overall, I’d’ve rather watched Mithya again!

  6. Got a crick in my neck because the cinema was so packed. Agree with all you have to say about the film and the songs. But Maham Anga was a bit caricatured for me.

  7. I wondered what you’d have to say about the movie (c’mon it’s not film is it? More Phillum?). And the strange Salman Rushdie tie-in witht eh Jodhaa Akbar story in the New Yorker. Here: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2008/02/25/080225fi_fiction_rushdie?currentPage=1

  8. Broom

    I had to leave when he fights yet another noble battle to save his country (or was it county?)
    Can’t believe you liked it.
    Gave me a freakin’ migraine.

  9. km: Well.. if restraint shows -then what’s the point? :)

    guruprasad: Hope you like it – or at least don’t sleep through it.

    Anil: Which is why I am choosing not to be too fussy about this film. It’s great that they even pick to make a film in this genre in the first place. Besides, as a history student, any film tinged with the littlest semblance of history makes me happy. :)

    andthirtyeights: Agree! The reaction shots were really getting to me! Way too many!

    mumbaigirl: I guess it was bit of a caricature, but I get the feeling that the sheer power in her performance was really held back by the director’s inability. His idea of jealousy is a bit too school boyish for me. But the character still held me – such eyes!

    Maya: Yeah I read that! Loved it!

    Broom: Well – I think I liked the intention of making a period film better than execution. But then again, I am a period film junkie. I don’t know what gives you the idea I like it – but I think it’s more interesting than likable. Not in the sense of “sit in your chair” interesting – but the sheer topic blah blah.

  10. DC

    I felt the film too boring.All the way it was the family problems, n Akbar seemed too diminished in power all thru.Lacking in ability to decide at first.And Ash seemed too weak to hold that sword wen she fights her bro n later with Hrithik.They could ve taken that scene out.It didn create any effect.And the war scenes could ve been better (I don expect it to b as good as troy n al).

  11. Small Round Person, you have Totally Lost It. That Rai creature – gorgeous? Stop smoking whatever it is.

    J.A.P.