Arclightz & Films P. Ltd.'s ASOKA, cinematographed-directed by Santosh Sivan, is about the transformation of a youth from a beloved son to an obsessive romantic.
It tells the story of the great Mauryan king Asoka (Shah Rukh Khan), the grand-son of Chandragupt Maurya, who ascended the throne of Magadha in 3rd century B.C.
In a self-imposed exile from Magadha, Prince Asoka is intrigued by an old man who informs him that even emperors are ordinary people and that his destiny transcends the crown and the throne.
To extend the boundaries of his empire, Asoka waged one of the bloodiest wars in the history with the neighbouring kingdom of Kalinga, leaving it ravaged and devastated.
Confronted by the aftermath of his conquest, in which thousands lost their lives, Asoka renounced the path of war and dedicated his life to spreading the light of Buddhism across the world.
ASOKA, one of the most expensive films made in the recent times, is aimed at a niche audience ? the upper crust. Those who appreciate 'different' cinema. More specifically, the Overseas audience and film festivals.
Director Santosh Sivan has chosen a historical subject, but added his spice and come up with a fairytale kind of a flick. The film does not depict the life and times of the emperor in entirety, but just a fragment of it ? Asoka's love for Princess Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor).
The efforts of the producers (SRK and Juhi) and the director need to be lauded for attempting a period film (it's set in 3rd century B.C.) in an era when modern, youth-oriented films call the shots.
ASOKA is a diverse kind of costume drama. There are no majestic sets of palaces and the kings, queens and prince are not adorned with heavy jewellery at all. The look, the language, the costumes, the music, the choreography? just about everything has a present-day feel to it.
Unfortunately, ASOKA is brilliant in patches, not entirety. As a cinematographer, Santosh Sivan's work is flawless, but as a co-writer (screenplay: Saket Choudhary, Santosh Sivan), the scripting should've been cohesive.
Sivan has chosen a historical subject, but his interpretation is far from realistic. He has resorted to the age-old commercial ingredients to woo the masses. The Rajlaxmi song, for instance, was just not needed; it can easily be deleted. Ditto for the Johny Lever-Suresh Menon-Raghuveer Yadav track, which is enjoyable, but alienated from the film. Even Kareena's display of her anatomy was not essential. It looks completely forced and doesn't seem to gel with a princess' image.
On the script level as well, the film leaves several questions unanswered. For instance, what prompts Asoka to go on a killing spree should've been better explained. Even if his mother's murder was the reason behind his eliminating his step-brothers, what forced him to kill innocent civilians hasn't been depicted at all.
Similarly, the concluding scenes give the film an incomplete look. Asoka's relationships with the two women in his life ? Kaurwaki and Devi ? should have been given an appropriate conclusion. Asoka's transition to a messenger of peace -- spreading the light of Buddhism -- has also not been depicted, which is so vital in a film on the life and times of Emperor Asoka. All that Sivan has concentrated on is the love story, which was just a part of the emperor's life.
Anu Malik's tunes and orchestration are too modern to match the period film. Even the choreography (Farah Khan) gives a very present-day feel, in turn looking inappropriate in this period film. Dialogues (Abbas Tyrewala) are easy to comprehend. The background score (Sandeep Chowta) is appropriate. Editing is loose; the film needs to be trimmed by at least 20 minutes in the second half.
Shah Rukh Khan essays his part with enthusiasm. It won't be wrong to state that this is amongst his finest performances. Kareena Kapoor excels as Kaurwaki. But it was not at all essential for the director to make her wear such revealing costumes, considering the fact that she enacts the role of a princess.
Suraj Balaji, as Arya, is outstanding. His death sequence in the end is brilliantly executed. Ajit, as Asoka's step-brother Susima, is just about okay. Danny Denzongpa deserved a better role. Rahul Dev leaves an impact. Hrishita Bhatt has too small a role. She is alright. Subhasini Ali, as Asoka's mother, impresses.
* On the whole, ASOKA will win critical acclaim and applause in the film festival circuit. However, its class treatment will help it prove a money spinner in the Overseas territory. In India, the business in Mumbai and South India will be extra-ordinary. Lack of any major release in the next two weeks will also help. Its more-than-reasonable price should prove a bonus for its distributors.