Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Jodhaa Akbar: a coronation of two matinee idols

To portray Jalaluddin Mohammad in Jodhaa Akbar, Hrithik Roshan adopts a stiff prowl, scales back his doe-eyed charm and speaks in a sharp, curt tone. Retaining a massive bronzed presence he is an emperor trying to find the humanity in his haughtiness. Somewhere in the first third of the movie, he meets Jodhaa - and willingly succumbs to her exoticness because it (much to his surprised delight) leads him down the path of securing his hukumat.

Its a charming spin on an old bit of history. And I felt director Ashutosh Gowarikar has melded history and romance in interesting ways in his reportedly Rs. 40 crore opus. Filming a romance without the political intrigue surrounding it would make it irrelevant. Stitching together events from a time where history has obfuscated accuracy beyond repair wouldn't have stood up very well. And so the movie is given the structure of a larger than life romance and surrounded by interpreted events that propel the story forward - for the most part this approach sat well with me.

But Gowarikar seems to be working off a half-baked screenplay. His narrative, for example, takes its time zeroing in on the romance. Gowarikar often seems to be two different directors: he handles scenes in a closed set with aplomb. But put him outdoors and he seems to lose his imagination. Too often, he'll stick a camera in the sand, so to speak, and let a scene play out lamely. This makes scenes feel very choppy, inserted or acted in.

Let's say a scene calls for: "Sujamal overhears a plot to kill him". Is it really in order to show Sujamal dawdling along and suddenly stopping by a tent for no ostensible reason other than seeing a soldier enter it. And then proceed to listen in - in plain sight of everyone else? Scenes like this feel unfinished, even amateurish. Often I found myself thinking "put the camera on a track or a crane, for God's sake, and spend some time framing your picture"

Then there's the bit about not developing Jalaluddin and Jodhaa equally in character. While Jalaluddin's character is fleshed out as a benevolent emperor early on, Jodhaa doesn't get the same treatment from the writer. Instead her early scenes are used to explain alliances and political settings. At this point by not establishing his intent and developing his main characters in parallel Gowarikar had already lost me.

Yet as a romance, Jodhaa Akbar works really well thanks to its two leads. Hrithik and Aishwarya are both able to develop a mature, believable romance. Importantly, they cook up a crackling chemistry. Aishwarya Rai - who draws on her ability to organize serial expressions exquisitely - turns in a fine performance, save those sword fights where she is a bit too daavadol to be convincing.

A number of actors turn in some fine performances. Sure there are the Kulbushan Kharbandas and Raza Murads who are called on to perform their usual shtick and do so reliably.

But a couple of sharp hotshots also show up: Sonu Sood is able to convey an integrity that waffles under the weight of ambition and perceived injustice. And Nikitin Dheer portrays Jalaluddin's brother-in-law Sharifuddin, a menacing hulk who tends to dominate every scene he finds himself in.

Ila Arun plays Maham Anga, Jalaluddin's wet nurse, and you can see her visibly taking some chances to give her character much needed layers. Mostly she succeeds despite being called on to do some rote stuff.

It would be unfair to say Jodhaa Akbar isn't enjoyable - that it is. A.R. Rahman composes some rousing music. Gowarikar stages some scenes of pure brilliance - primary among them is one in which Jalaluddin wanders in on Jodhaa singing a bhajan, sees her in entirety for the first time and we see Hrithik uncoil his matinee-idol dreaminess as he strides through white curtains billowing freely in the breeze (analogy alert!).

Later yet, Gowarikar balances drama and romance beautifully in a sequence that involves a lavish Rajput feast. Finally, his depiction of the coronation of Jalaluddin to the people's Akbar is captured with a joyous shimmer in the song "Azeem-o-shaan shehenshah".

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27 comments:

indiequill said...

everybody seems to have loved azeem-o-shah but me. It reminded me vaguely of that song from Gupt that starts with Kathakali dancers and ends with Manisha Koirala stumbling around jiggling various parts of her body as though it belonged to somebody else. Anyway, the only thing that made azeem oh shah for me was the moment where hrithik takes in a deep breath and seems to lose himself in the adulation - that was a nice touch. however it all went to crap the moment the Mallika rides in on an elephant with all the elan of a housewife zipping home from the market.

It's these little things that took away from my experience of the movie. Although I did enjoy it. But I'm shallow like that. :P

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I think the picturisation of the songs was quite ridiculous. The whole movie seemed like I was reading an amar chitra katha story.

- Joules

Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I think the picturisation of the songs was quite ridiculous. The whole movie seemed like I was reading an amar chitra katha story.

- Joules

Beth said...

Oh yes, WHAT was with that sneaking around the tent in broad daylight as we saw at least one guard looking on from a few feet away? Absurd.

meena said...

aspi, great write up as usual.

The film had unintentional funny moments.
How about Jalal's favortite MO to punish underlings - send them on a trip to Mecca!

The director couldnt resist putting in the most hackneyed tool of the princely period dramas - the rousing cheer song where vassals bring their gifts (big drums and tribals to boot). this brought to my mind countless desi period dramas and for some reason Cleopatra. Amritha I am with you in disliking Azeem o shaan. Sorry Beth, but if you see more period dramas you will agree with me.

However he is forgiven for giving us one great song. Khwaja mere Khwaja will be playing in my house for a long time.

Joules you nailed it when you said it reminded you of amar chitra katha. The script writers wrote a few good scenes and forgot to weave it into an organic whole.

still, costume dramas rock and I did not 'feel' the 3hrs 40 mins!

Aspi said...

Darn it, I missed Khwaja but I did get a chance to see those glorious inverted flower pots on the singers' heads.

That "time to hit Mecca" routine was hilarious. Its the mughal equivalent of "time to japo maalas now".

headmistress said...

I've been looking to forward to this for aages - I haven't seen a big bollywood splashy affair in so long... although I don't know how I will cope with 3hr 40 mins (really???! that long?) with a half baked script and Hritik.

Still, shiny eye candy is much needed, and I just want to see Khwaja... hopefully I can check it out soon!

Mind Rush said...

For all its failings, the movie was charming and the Ash-Hritik jodi had supreme chemistry. I enjoyed the sets, and even the clothes and jewelry.

One question for the male Ash (director saab)...Did you consider doing this in two parts: Part 1--the early years, and Part 2 the sequel of the palace intruigue and their blossoming relationship? Sequels solve the poblem of length and also bring in twice the money.

megan's spirit said...

OKAY GUYS MEGAN HAS OFFICIALLY BEEN DECLARED DEAD FOR 2 DAYS NOW. SHE HAS DIED AND IS NOW IN ASHTHIK HEAVEN!!!!!!

megan said...

JA is a MASTERPIECE!!! the movie is just amazing..

I loved it so much. I watched it a few days ago and I am having some sort of a Jodha Akbar hangover.

Ash and Hrithik showed it to everyone that they're the best. I don't know how I'll handle seeing them with some other people. It will take some adjusting.

The movie is so well made. Ashu rocks..

haha *spoiler*

i am still trying to recover from the scene where Akbar is exercising (??) practising shirtless and Jodha is drooling over his shirtless BODY.. and OMG what a BODYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!

when akbar and jodhaa spend a night together seperated by a curtain My god so much sexual tension!!
and the sword fight, when jodhaa asked the guards to leave i was like OMGGGGGGGG they're gonna have some sexy time..

my heart skipped so many beats when In Lamho ke daaman main song was on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! when Akbar kisses Jodha all over, and she walks away and he looks at her OMGGGGGGGGGGGGG..

*spoiler end* but these scenes were anything BUT a spoiler for meeee

The Shafaruddin guy was hot too. So manly and muscly. I think he is a jatt. What is his name?

I didn't want the movie to end, i wish it was longer. I wish Bollywood made more mvoies like this rather than crap like om shanti om, chak de india, welcome, partner and other idiotic movies

M said...

everyone go watch it!!! You don't get to see a wellmade desi movie very often these days.

It has to be seen on big screen. Azeem o shaan shehenshah was picturized so well!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hrithik and Ash - that hotness needs to be made illegal

OKAY IMMA TAKE A COLD SHOWER NOW

m said...

I am watching it again tomorrow and then i intend to watch it over the weekend as well. Me and my sister are now obsessed with the movie. I am also recommending the movie to everyone!!!! and they're all like we'll watch it..

gotta support quality cinema

Anonymous said...

Megan, just a small query.......is it posibble to watch de movie ALONE??I dont have company to go wid...n from ur review...sounds like im gonna get DEPRESSED at de end of it....:-s

---SkD

m said...

depressed? yeah if you think that there won't be another movie like that in ages..
you could watch it alone as well i suppose.. its awesome

Anonymous said...

who wrote the crap about the Obituary of ever popular Megan ?
It hurts the true fans so be careful about what to write.

Anonymous said...

who wrote the crap about the Obituary of ever popular Megan ?
It hurts the true fans so be careful about what to write.

Aspi said...

Megan, sounds like you liked the movie :)

I have to say it wouldn't have worked without your two favorites. Although for a while it might be fun to think of Saif Ali Khan and Katrina Kaif doing this.

m said...

saif and katrina!! ASPI that is blasphemy!!! you heathen..

I don't know how I'll watch another desi movie that doesn't star these two.

m said...

these two as in Ashthik not Katrina, Saif

Aspi said...

One thing working in Saif's favor would be his height - Akbar was kind of short. He could do a killer elephant scene, kind of like a pacman bouncing around.

Anonymous said...

The movie was disappointing. I expected better from Ashutosh Gowarikar. The sets were good, Hrithik was very good, Aishwarya did as well as she could (can't act for nuts, but she does look great in this movie). The story did not hang together.

There were some laughable scenes, the elephant fight being one of them. The sight of Hritik prancing around a very peaceful looking, elderly pachyderm and everyone else looking on with bated breath, was hilarious. (useless trivia -Apparently the elephant's real life name is Sweetypie)

The short term overlord of Delhi--Hemu. (More trivia- he had given himself the grand title of Emperor Vikramaditya)Why was he shown going into battle looking like a wild eyed, unwashed prison escapee?

The battle scenes were really awkward. I loved all the jewellery on the local rajas. The shorter Rajas made up for their stature (or lack of it)by wearng huge head dresses.

An okay film..nothing great or memorable.

Aspi said...

anon, I found ways to enjoy the lame fight scenes. I can imagine Gowarikar on set going:

"Fake elephant foot! Ready!?"
"Extra on the ground! Ready!?"
"Got a mouthful of fake blood?!"
"Action"

sidekick said...

anon, having only just watched it i kinda agree. i can see why raja sen at rediff and bharadwaj rangan had their reservations.

like most folks here i too thought it was a visual treat and hrithik and ash have never looked better.... hrithik in particular was absolutely drool worthy. he shd be in mughal warrior clothes in every movie just for the prettiness! the sweet harlequin romance sizzled and i thought the film ought to have ended with Inn lamhon. Gowarikar failed pretty miserably at the setting up all the court intrigue and the battle scenes. i'm a huge history buff and happily watch both fiction and documentaries on history, but this one so missed the mark on that score. for the last half an hour or so i was so restless, i could hardly wait for the end credits to roll. there was absolutely no dramatic tension to either the battle scenes, the court intrigue or the final one-on-one Troy inspired combat.

That said it was still worth my $10. The colors and presentation of jodhaa's rajput feast made my mouth water! The Ashthik fireworks including the silly sword fight that simply breathed sexual tension and jodhaa's drooling over akbar's display of his magnificent bod were enjoyable for a gal that adores chick flicks. the beautiful songs played out even better on screen than on the CD - azeem-o-shaan, but even more so khwaja mere khwaja. it was just the supreme overall prettiness that made it worthwhile: sets, costumes, photography, songs and above all the lead stars. gowarikar had the prefect casting - gorgeous, regal looking stars who had the lightest of emoting load and there is no better fit for that than Ash and Hrithik.

Aspi said...

Now that you bring up that scene in which Aish spies on Hrithik uh, exercising...right after that one of our friends turned to me as asked "So did you survive that?"

"Barely" I told him.

sidekick said...

lol...aspi u almost sound like megan there :P

that scene in particular was so much the period version of ritwick's "are u like checking me out?" as weird as this may seem, in so many ways the JA romance seemed simply a classier, more dazzling version of the d:2 one sans the cringe worthy dialogs.

minnie said...

i found the movie to be strictly a one time watch...the jewellery ,the clothes are drool worthy ,,so is the pair..but the story line is half baked with frequent jumps ..not engrossing...you come out not with memories of a good time but with the knowledge of a dry history lesson where you learnt a few names and events( that too ,if the other researchers are to be believed ,is not entirely true) but no wish of it continuing ....relieved that it finally ended ...just as school should :)
ans sidkick is absolutely right where he compares the chemistry to dhoom 2..seems weird that the emperor with 30 odd wives mooning over one of them leaving aside all the durbar work...

NatC said...

It was an amazing movie..very very well made...and the sets were very beautiful.....