Jodhaa-Akbar (2008): En garde!

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81. Jodhaa-Akbar (2008) — Eight whole months since I last watched a Hindi movie. Terrible!!!

I guess a historical epic would be the best way back in … only that this really isn’t much of one. Ashutosh Gowariker, maker of nationalist epics Lagaan and Swades, somehow managed to make his biggest production yet all about the transformative power of love. Shiver me timbers.

(Good thing I’ve been recently immunised against the luvvie-duvvie shudders by Twilight.)

So, likes and dislikes.

I like how the beauty and grandeur in this movie is understated and even austere compared to the lushness of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali. But the sun-hitting-the-gilded-frame-of-a-mirror-and-setting-the-room-ablaze scene is a bit much.

I like how, if you don’t care about absolute accuracy, the story is pretty compelling. Couldn’t get out of my head what I’d heard at Sikandra, that Akbar had three wives, one each from a main religion — and anyway he had more than three women to his harem, definitely. That fact placed the movie’s luvvie-ness firmly in the realm of make-believe.

I like how Rajesh Vivek who played the actor-postmaster in Swades is rocking-horse craaaazy here. Really, really craaaazy. (“Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar!”) I like the honesty brimming forth from Sujamal, but his last scene was just so cliched, I just about passed out along with him. I just like the entire supporting cast — they had interesting faces!

I like the vegetarian feast — I need a vegetarian feast! Scrumptious and unavailable. Sigh.

I like anything from the musical nodes of AR Rahman, but I don’t like how the songs in the movie sound slightly anachronistic … that first verse sung by the male voice in the ‘first night;’ sequence was incredible though, as though the earth was truly shifting under them (I’ve had enough of witnessing a ‘first night’ with Rai though — cf. Umrao Jaan). And the sequence with the Sufi dancers freaked me out with the maybe-twins, and again anachronistic moves, but the song itself was entrancing.

I like a spunky princess (cf. Ella Enchanted — the book not the movie — and Leia Solo), but couldn’t Rai have put more spunk and less spacey-ness into the role? Sometimes felt as though I was looking at a paperdoll variously positioned around the mise-en-scene. I mean, I like swordfights involving femme fatales (cf. steady diet of Chinese swordfighting novels as a child), but I don’t like how Jodhaa (Aishwarya Ra?) fights like a girl — she looks like she’s withholding even when she’s supposed to be lunging in for the kill. If you want to taste the perfect mix of vulnerability and steel in fictional royalty, you gotta haul arse to Princess Fantaghiro in The Cave of the Golden Rose.

I like Hrithik Roshan’s throwing himself into the role, but I’m not convinced he truly mastered the character … maybe he was just meant to cover the early naivete, though, in which case, great job. The elephant taming and half-naked swordfight practice / temptation event were hilarious.

I like to think I can appreciate a grand battle scene after Lord of the Rings, but then it actually means I hold any wannabe grand battle scene to the trilogy’s impeccable standards. Jodhaa-Akbar’s battle scenes don’t match up — very odd mix of the believable and the ineffable. Just as well that things ended with the schtick (I agree with!) about how the grandest battle is won without a single drop of blood.

So, there’s enough to like about this movie so that it’s not a timepass or a timewaste, but there’s not enough to make it as much of a classic as Lagaan or Swades, in my horrible opinion. The religious harmony theme is much to be lauded, but the preachiness got a bit heavy-handed, as did the sudden beams of white light shooting down from skies and skylights.

Personally, I’m glad I watched the movie not just because it’s broken a long drought; it’s also brought back many lovely memories of Jaipur and Amber Fort.

I leave you with a shot of the swordfighting princess — cos I really love the idea of swordfighting princesses! Unfortunately, they sometimes turn out to be a touch too feeble:

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2 thoughts on “Jodhaa-Akbar (2008): En garde!

  1. Belinda

    What drew you to the Hindi cinema? I have to confess that the little I have seen of them, mostly when I lived in Britain and in Toronto, did not draw me in.

    Overly melodramatic and stereotypical plots.

    Anyway, I hope to read your stuff in the near future on the Gotham website.

    Roman

  2. Hi Roman — my entry into Bollywood fandom was carefully navigated by a great friend of mine, so I managed to avoid the poorer examples. Yes, Hindi cinema is often heavy on the drama and light on the differences, but the better examples always go straight for the heart with frank depictions of emotions joined with some of the best music in the world. When I first started gorging on the genre (and I think it has to be treated as such, with its own idiosyncracies and conventions), I really felt as though truer emotions were being drawn out of me than the standard Hollywood or Chinese fare ever could. Ripping yarns with lung-bursting songs and the comfortable colours of a multi-hued culture. Anyway, yes, see you back in ‘class’!

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