“Water and ambition have one thing in common. They are ever-swelling.”
Ashutosh Gowariker’s epic historical romance film Jodhaa Akbar (2008) is not only a production of inconceivable proportions, but it has also garnered many international film awards.
Set in 16th century India, Mughal emperor Akbar (Hrithik Roshan) has the auspicious task of uniting all of the country’s independent sovereigns under his rule. His labour is only made more challenging by his marriage to the Rajput princess Jodhaa Bai (Aishwarya Rai), whose faith in hinduism clashes with the governing body’s faith in islam. Simultaneously, the emperor has to suppress the rebellious thoughts and actions transpiring within his inner circle. Akbar’s world is turned upside down as he gradually falls head-first for his audacious wife, altering the fate of India forever.
The film, stretched to three hours and thirty-three minutes of screen time, contains seemingly three films in one. We witness the emperor’s rise to power, with his fortuitous victories that follow clanking battle scenes, the consolidation of two religions in a royal marriage and Akbar’s blooming obsession with his wife, and finally a gut-wrenching fight with one of his treacherous allies; and the consequences it brings. Because of this scattered approach to story-telling, defining the film’s genre becomes tricky.
There is too much talk of politics to make it a true romance, and yet the film is too overdramatised to be an actual drama. Unyieldingly, however, Jodhaa plays a central part in every aspect of the emperor’s life, and so lengthy romantic scenes disentangle the otherwise shallow sequences of pompous sovereignty.
It’s also hard not to suspect the numberous fight scenes, sprinkled in for some flair, of holding almost satirical value. Theatrically performed and mind-numbingly flawed, it’s clear that more time was spent on choreographing the dances than the actual battle scenes, which are undeniably more substantial to the progression of the story. However, the varied shots of the stretched fights succeed in making them somewhat entertaining.
Hrithik Roshan’s melodramatic acting verges on self-harming, seeing as many shots show his constipated concetration leading to broken blood vessels in the eyes, leaving him looking slightly unhinged. One could easily perceive his role in the film as an audition to be the next Superman, with his popping veins and bared teeth begging to be endowed with a dose of superhero talent.
However, he seems to perform much better during slow, intimate scenes, which he shares with Aishwarya. Delicate emotions bloom on his face much faster than the ferocious somberness his other responsibilities entail.
Just as you think the film is coming to an end, a new villain pops up, representing our deceitful human nature in all its glory. This is made jaw-clenchingly awkward to watch, as most of the cast seems to prefer the soap opera method of acting, performing full monologues on their death beds and weeping without shedding any tears. Despite this, the story does address the struggle of the classes, religious equality and the foundations of a strong relationship.
Even though the filmmakers seem to believe, or hope, that the inundating onslaught of vibrant colours and unthinkable riches will keep the audience too distracted to stumble into the story’s plotholes, that is almost impossible simply because of the project’s scale. Without A. R. Rahman’s thunderous soundtrack, the film would resemble Claude Nuridsany’s Microcosmos (1996). That’s not necessarily the film’s fault, though.
Generally speaking, the more stretched a film becomes, the more cracks and tears start to show. However, it’s a truly bountiful feast for the eyes, serving the kind of opulence, celebrtion and hope that are a rare find.