Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Jodhaa Akbar (2008)

Alex has already posted a wonderful review of this movie and it was in fact on her recommendation that I watched it. Now that I did, I can totally understand her and I can't recommend it enough myself.

Just as I mentioned to her after watching it, the movie is an overdose for the senses, the colours, the photography, the music, everything is perfectly matched to make us feel emotionally involved and sometimes even a bit overwhelmed with emotion. In telling the story of Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar and his arranged marriage to Jodhaa Bai, Gowariker portrays the expansion of the Mughal Empire in Hindustan, the alliances with the Rajput, the costumes and traditions of both Islamic and Hindu communities in an interesting and colourful way that leaves us wanting more. Jalaluddin was the first emperor born in Hindustan and that certainly must have influenced his desire to unite the whole region under his reign. This was done mostly by military conquest but in the case of the Rajputs by a marriage alliance with a Hindu bride.

Jalaluddin seems to have been more tolerant than most and accepts the demands of his bride-to-be regarding her traditions and religion. He also respects her wish of not having the marriage consummated right away. For a while he doesn't even see her clearly, as she always wears a veil. When he finally does, one can't help but smile at his stunned, struck-by-a-lightning, look especially after she asks him for the sindoor and touches his feet. The movie presents several interesting moments where the traditions of both are put in evidence, take for instance the marriage ceremony or the significance of the Elder Mother making Jodhaa taste the food in front of a court full of men and then Akbar eating from the same dishes as a sign of his affection. I'm sure there are other scenes with interesting information and I'm just sorry that I am not knowledgeable enough to recognise all of them. A court intrigue separates them for a while and Jalaluddin is at his best while trying to win Joddha back. Other scenes are meant to show their relationship evolving like Jodhaa watching her husband in sword practice or the striking (and funny) sword fight scene that seems to signify a much more playful courtship.

The movie has been under attack regarding historical accuracy beginning with the name Jodhaa that some historians are not convinced was used to refer to Akbar's wife. These different opinions are acknowledged by the director, before the movie begins, where he mentions this is a possible version of the events and that there may be others. Gowariker has also mentioned in some interviews that 70% of it came out of his head. Not surprising as there must not be that much information on the relationship of these two personalities of 16th century India not to mention that at the time their idea of romance and love was quite different from ours.

However, after watching the movie, you will probably be wishing it could have been so, just like I did, and there lies the true virtue of Jodhaa Akbar, that you are so involved that after 3h30 you are actually sad that it is over. There may be some weaknesses in the dialogues and how they are delivered, but the overall effect is truly beautiful. There's an amazing chemistry between the Hrithik Roshan who portrays Akbar and Aishwarya Rai Bachcan as his wife Jodhaa and that certainly helps the final result. As a side note it should be mentioned that Aishwarya is using brown contact lenses as she and Hrithik both have green eyes and the director wanted to mark the difference in their origins. I have seen Aishwarya before in Bride and Prejudice and I think her ethereal beauty is perfect for this role. She is breathtaking even when she is standing still with her mouth closed. I had never seen anything with Hrithik but I did like him a lot in this role, he has a burning intensity that makes him seem to always be struggling with his emotions, which I found really nice, and makes him seem a bit awkward when dealing with Jodhaa which was endearing. His lovely eyes brimming with tears when he sends her away were such a perfect statement of his emotions. Akbar's only fault is that he is too perfect, too forgiving, too tolerant for his time, he seems more adapted to modern audiences than Jodhaa who besides demanding his respect for her religion is kept much more in a secondary and domestic role (except maybe for the swordfight scene).

Along the same lines as my other favourite period dramas this movie also features two lovers who at the beginning seem hopelessly divided but that after some misunderstandings and heartache learn to value and love each other. While Jodhaa is the one who seems to sacrifice more in the beginning, this is actually Akbar’s journey, coming into his power and making his own choices. In the end, to win her heart and the heart of his people, not only does he aboslishes a tax on Hindu pilgrims (the movie shows a wonderful, colourful and well choreographed dance as a thank you that will make you want to join in) but he also becomes much more tolerant in terms of religion as the final scene shows.

One final word about the music. I loved the music, felt it was beautifully adjusted to the action and can't help mentioning the song at the wedding where Akbar joins the dancers, the religious song Jodhaa is singing when he finally sees her in addition to the dance performed by the Hindus that I mentioned earlier. Something must be really right when I never was big on Indian music and now can't get these out of my head. The soundtrack is just the perfect complement for this beautiful movie.

A beautiful, breathtaking epic movie! Highly recommended!

This is my second entry for the Period Drama Challenge in the Kings & Queens Category. And you can also find this review here.

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