Wednesday, February 20, 2008

'Jodha Akbar' is a film with political messages

Ashutosh Gowariker's Jodha Akbar has bedazzled and bemused film critics and filmgoers. They liked the scale, but they did not like many other things about the film. Some liked some of the actors, and some of the scenes. They commented on the Urdu dialogue spoken by Akbar(Hritihik Roshan) and the pure Hindi dialogue of Jodha (Aishwarya Rai). They all admitted that this film was not a lesson in historyon celluloid. The truth is that Gowariker's film is the first period film which wrestles with the political issues that Akbar and the Rajput princes of the day faced.

This is not a romantic story of Jodha and Akbar like the one between Salim (Dilip Kumar) and Anarkali (Madhubala) in Mughal-E-Azam, Shahjahan (Pradeep Kumar) and Mumtaz Mahal (Bina Rai) in Taj Mahal or between Jahangir (Rehman) and Noorjahan (Meena Kumari) in Noorjahan. Gowariker does not yield to the temptation of weaving a romantic tale between Jodha and Akbar. Throughout the film, there is a certain distance between the Mughal emperor and the Rajput queen, which conforms to the regal protocol of any age.

The film shows that Jodha was not exactly excited by the prospect of marrying Akbar, and Akbar too was not starry-eyed of marrying the stranger princess. Jodha lays down her conditions -- she wants to retain her religion, and she wants a place in the palace to create a small alcove for her god, Krishna. Akbar agrees. But he sees it as a politically necessary move. It is not because he is bewitched by the princess though he does admire her sense of identity.

But when he agrees to the offer of the marriage alliance, Akbar too makes his calculations. And he seeks inspiration from Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti at Ajmer. There is both idealism and realpolitik in Akbar's decision to marry Jodha.

Gowariker also shows that Akbar is mystically inclined, when he joins the whirl of dervishes at the Chishti shrine. Here the director must have taken liberty with the historical detail when he shows the Rumi-inspired Turkish dervishes dancing and singing at the Chishti shrine in a music-induced trance -- the sam'a. Later, Akbar is drawn to the morning prayer-song of Jodha for her god Krishna. But unlike the effete Wajid Aali Shah of Lucknow in the 19th century, Akbar never lost his sense of reality. He remained the ever alert ruler and general.

The director has also got some of the little details of history right, almost. There are two versions about the decapitation of Hemu after the second battle of Panipat. According to eminent historian Ishwari Prasad, Bairam Khan forced the young Akbar to cut off Hemu's head in order to attain the title of Ghazi, which is supposed to be given to a Muslim who kills a kafir. The other version is that Bairam did the deed on behalf of the young lad. Gowariker chose the latter version.

Similarly, the role of Meham Anaga, his foster-mother and her son, Adham Khan, is quite close to history. Ishwari Prasad narrates that Adham Khan one day entered the harem in a drunken condition, and Akbar in a fit of rage threw Adham Khan to the ground from the upper floor of the inner apartments. In the film, Gowariker shows Adham Khan walking into the inner aprtments with a blood-stained sword after killing Akbar's trusted official. And Akbar asks the guards to throw him over the walls.

He also shows Akbar's temptation to play with danger as when he tames a wild elephant. Abu'l Fazl, his courtier and historian, notes this fact about Akbar. He was a daredevil hunter as well.

Gowariker also shows the confrontation between the orthodox clerics at the court and Akbar.

So this is one film that looks at the political theme a little more closely than any other historical film. Perhaps he could have done more to highlight the confrontation. There is a lot of dramatic potential in the situation. To give Gowariker his due, he has gone farther than even K.Asif in portraying Akbar and his times.

Hritihik Roshan of course does not fit the role of Akbar. He, like Prithivraj Kapoor, is too tall for the character. Jahangir describes his father in his autobiography being a person of medium height. One cannot quarrel too much about the actor. Hrithik has given his best to the role, though he still fails to fill in the role. Hrithik as Akbar is comparable to Richard Gere playing the eponymous role in King David. Gere was too weak, and so is Hrithik. But Hrithik lends as much dignity as he has at his command to the role of Akbar.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has never been a great actress. She is too self-conscious about her own beauty. But there are some roles which she seems to carry with a certain amount of conviction. She did that in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and in Taal. She does the same as Jodha. There is something quintessentially Indian about the south Indian features of her face. She can be petulant, sensuous, rebellious and also yield to the man in her life. She shows all this in her protrayal of Jodha.

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