5 Excellent

Jodhaa Akbar

When the curtains descended over the magnificent ‘Jodah-Akbar’, I felt as though my skin shone with a newly acquired opulence: a whirlwind of rare, historic dust, gathered from Mogul gardens and battlefields and sprinkled over body and heart.
Hollywood has often been applauded for its befitting treatment of historical cinema. The cast and crew of movies like ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Troy’, and ‘Gladiator’ have often been seen walking down the Oscar aisle to collect awards bestowed in recognition of their outstanding contribution that helped weave the elusive genre of historical.
‘Jodah-Akbar’ is our very own historical masterpiece then. It shimmers through and through. Be it the dialog that holds the distinction of casting itself into poetry, witticism, metaphor, and action, the sets that gloss the screen and eye in burgundy and green, or the music that makes you celebrate things as diverse as love, victory, tenderness and grandeur all at once. This is perhaps the first Indian historical where the emperors and their counterpart are shown to speak and behave as people do at their home: cooking food, casual banter, and no officious language that is reserved for the court.
What I liked most about the film is its screenplay. There is not a moment of the film that is vapid, that makes me want to check on the time. Vividly detailed in the able hands of Ashutosh Gawarikar and Haidar Ali, every scene rings with authenticity, and captures the nuances of human equations. And to be able to sustain the human angle and make it stand out in the face of dazzling Rajput jewelry, grandly captured wars, and rich tapestry of Mogul tents is the true victory of the screenwriters. They have succeeded in showing one the most basic and yet rarely understood reality: that emperors, queens and the entire gamut of support team that populated their armies, courts, palaces and harems, are human beings. They too, possess their frailties, their moments of indecision, their moments of reveling in cold bloodedness, and ultimately, their moments of experiencing the absolute glory of human fragility.
The scene where Akbar rises from his imperial seat and swirls ecstatically with the dervishes; his steely eyes when he instructs his foster mother’s son to be thrown from the roof twice in succession; his reaction when he is honored with the title of Akbar. Undoubtedly, Akbar’s character is well rounded, holding enough gravity to not slip away in the breathtaking elephant, sword, and fist fights. And Hrithik essays this role with an aplomb that leaves one speechless. His eyes convey entire chapters of history, his expressions melt over your skin, making you want to fall all over in love with Bollywood’s most underrated actor. Hrithik’s persona not only provides him with the punch and veneer to carry the role of India’s most illustrious emperor, his stellar performance creates new insights into this famed emperor of our land. And there lies Hrithik’s greatest achievement of an actor. He not only portrays the nuances skillfully detailed by the screenwriters, he embellishes them with his onscreen persona.
Aishwarya is a fitting choice for an empress who possessed a rare streak of quite strength. It was a layered character that she had to portray on screen – a princess who handles sword and prayers beads with equal conviction. And she does justice to the role. Watch the confrontation screen between Jodah and the foster mother: kicking off in the imperial kitchen where the queen goes to prepare food for her husband, and culminating in the scene the queen has to eat the food herself first – as demanded by the step mother – to testify that it is safe for the emperor to have. Her expression, even from behind the gossamer veil, grab your attention by its cuff and draw you to the very edge of your seat.
The chemistry between the lead pair helps in understanding the complex progress of the relationship: from the misplaced alliance, to overcoming the distance of different cultures, religions, and hurdles set up by the entire gamut of thankfully non-cardboard villains, to their sword fight, to the final coming together in an intimacy that leaves you breathless.
Notable amongst the support cast are Ila Arun as the foster mother and Sonu Sood as Jodah’s brother.
Bringing together all these aspects in a project of this proportion and complexity, and yet offering a shimmering, seamless experience, the filmmaker, Ashoutosh Gowarikar transforms ‘Jodah Akbar’ to a monument of cinematic experience. Attention given to details – the first battle of Panipat, unlike the other war sequences that feature in the film, does not use canons – speak for his caliber. And where he succeeds the most is in translating the excellent characterization into unforgettable on-screen experience, so that the age old characters of Jodah and Akbar seem real, contemporary, their mores of love and family that exist in spite of the political and religious upheavals of the times carrying a universal ring that seem identifiable even in the contemporary era.
And ultimately, yes, ‘Jodah Akbar’ is a film that has much to say in today’s times. By watching the story of an emperor whose religious tolerance helped the scattered factions of the country unite, we have much to learn. Quoting the emperor himself, ‘By discriminating between the peal of the conch and the call of the azaan, one is only belittling the power of the supreme who has given all of mankind the right to worship Him in any manner that is aligned with their faith.’
Do yourselves a huge favor. Watch ‘Jodah Akbar’ today. Do not deny yourself a five star instance of cinema. We Indians are passionate cinema lovers. We deserve cinema like ‘Jodah Akbar’. Entertaining, riveting, with a solid message, and ultimately, leaving you feeling cleansed and richer.