There is a mercurial moment in Jodhaa Akbar when a small group of Sufi singers twirl their bodies in front of a royal audience headed by Akbar, lost in song by starlight. Mesmerized, the emperor himself gets up, much to the astonishment of others around him, and joins the Sufi in their midst, lost in their flow and in sync with their thoughts. There is little doubt that watching this magnanimous film will be a similar experience for most people. You cannot but help be transported in a world of grandeur, intensity, and immenseness and still be sensitized to the simple love tale that this film unhurriedly narrates.
Ashutosh Gowariker makes some bold decisions. The first is to not ape Hollywood. In its essence, Jodhaa Akbar is a true Hindi film at heart. Its larger than life starry radiance, its pace of storytelling, and emphasis on stirring emotions make it as much a part of Bollywood as any other film. Despite the visual similarity, it doesn’t try to be a razor-sharp Alexander or Troy in its execution; Gowariker tells the story like its told to its target audience by any other film made for them. And that’s a big plus. It’s a mega Indian production that comes with its own identity. Even a simple thing like the scene of the long, overdue consummation of the marriage is celebrated with an apt song. Take that, Hollywood. What about the use of Urdu? How many times in the past have filmmakers copped out reasoning that language can be a barrier (take Asoka for example, where Urdu is used in 500 BC India) for masses to understand? But Gowariker has gone right ahead and kept it as authentic as possible – the Rajputs speaking their chaste version of Hindi and the Mughals sticking to Urdu. The dialogue writing is so finely balanced and so excitingly intertwined it’s almost poetry.
There are so many high points in the film! The heart pumping battle in the opening scenes is marvelous, the climactic one-on-one with Hrithik Roshan vs the impressive Nikitin Dheer is stuff you might’ve seen before but leaves you gaping nonetheless. When you are beginning to miss insights into the private being of the man who became Akbar, Gowariker gives you a scene out of a fairytale where you learn of Jalal’s inability to read. Could the little factoid be presented in any better way that it was in the context of the film? Not a chance. It’s a perfect scene. So is each and every duel, verbal and otherwise, between Jalal and Jodhaa after their dreamlike wedding. And Khwaja! And Azeem-O-Shaan-Shahenshan! And… And…
The cinematography (Kiran Deohans) is nothing short of spectacular. The camerawork is perhaps one of the best in any Indian film ever. It rarely stands out and feeds off the art direction to create hitherto unseen frames of splendor. Nitin Desai’s production design is the great backbone of Jodhaa Akbar. He is responsible for bringing back to the movies a sense of scale and grandness that we haven’t been treated for a while. It makes you yearn for a 70 mm comeback! The detailing of the forts, interiors and exteriors, is marvelous and seems well researched. Every curtain, every cover unjarringly occupies a space in the frame and in your memory long after the film is over. The finery provided by Neeta Lulla and her costume department is not to be left behind, the jewelry and clothes perfectly complementing each other. AR Rahman’s music languidly fuses with the film to become one (which is why perhaps on its own it never stood out in the promos). And as for the other departments, they are more than up to the task of serving a film of this magnitude. In fact editing the 6-hr first cut must’ve been a Herculean effort for it to look so seamless.
Lest we get carried away, there are downers too. Sujamal’s track is suspect and seems to have suffered on the editing table and lacks the depth the script might’ve earlier provided. His final scene is long-winded, clichéd, unnecessary and it’d have made a big difference had it been crisper or avoided, the point being made in a simpler way. Akbar’s character though graphed nearly to perfection, suffers from inconsistencies in a couple of aberrant scenes like the one where he orders the death of his brother by having him flung to the ground. Perhaps it was a character trait with the real Akbar, perhaps the incident really did happen, but was this scene necessary considering it went against the grain of the film from the first frame to the last and is one that doesn’t really add in any way? Probably not. What about the palaces and forts of the various kings that are not sets? Some of the establishing shots of the real locations are anachronistic as the facades are how they look today and not what they did in their prime. It’s a minor point but it irks. Also the pre-interval misunderstanding between the couple is a passé technique because nobody pipes up in time to account for the truth. The sequence drags and is easily solved post interval which makes it seem almost pointless.
Anyway, back to the praises: performances. Stand out performers from the supporting cast are Ila Arun, Yuri, and Nikitin Dheer. There is an intensity and screen presence about Arun that is unrivalled in the film, and Dheer makes a superb foil for Hrithik as a much bigger, stronger enemy. Against all odds he is to be defeated – to prevent the falling of the empire into wrong hands… Inspired stuff! All other actors are competent with perhaps the exceptions of Sonu Sood and Punam Sinha who fail to match the intensity of the others around them.
Aishwarya Rai does an encore after Guru with an equally fine performance. It’s taken her about 40 films, but she’s finally here. The inconsistencies are now gone. Hrithik Roshan, meanwhile, is on a whole new level. This is an absolutely brilliant performance. He has raised the bar a few notches for stars to aspire in his wake. Here is a Bollywood star who can act! Roshan’s rendition of the script is flawless. He seems to have perfectly understood every scene. He never seems clueless and commands the screen like few before him. Jodhaa Akbar is Jalal’s film. Make no mistake. And the man who has made it happen is Ashutosh Gowariker. Raise a toast to him and go watch the film.
Hindi, Urdu, Historical Drama, Color