Saturday, August 6, 2011

Movie review: Jodhaa Akbar

Details: starring Hrithik Roshan as Emperor Jalal and Aishwarya Rai as Princess Jodhaa. Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker.

I think I have the Indian movie bug now. Jodhaa Akbar was an utterly spectacular movie. Every minute of this three and half hour epic was emotionally powerful and riveting. Its story was based on a marriage alliance between the 16 century Mughal Emperor Jalauddin Mohammad Akbar, often referred to as Jalal, and Jodhaa, a Princess of the Rajput Hindu kingdom of Amer. Trying to be progressive instead of brutal, Jalal seeks the alliance with the powerful Rajputs as a way to spread Muslim influence and authority among Hindus without resorting to more war. Jalal grew up as a child king watching wars be fought on his behalf as the Muslim Empire expanded into India. His marriage to a Hindu incenses his enemies and leads to assassination attempts and rebellion.

There is so much about this movie that is excellent, so I will simply make a list.

1. Poignant acting. All the actors really excelled in their craft.
2. Beautiful costumes and sets. Many scenes are done in actual Muslim and Hindu palaces from the era, and the artistry and architecture are without rival anywhere in the world. And the director set up the scenes complementary to the architecture too.
3. Stunning battles. There was no CGI. There were actually people on horses, camels, and elephants in full costume fighting it out.
4. Interesting touches, like a transvestite in the women's palace and a feast scene that celebrated the intricacies of Hindu cuisine.
5. Romantic and sexy.
6. Great music.

I was aware that Indian films were heavy with music, and I estimate that a good 20 percent of this epic was spent on music. Sometimes it was in the form of prolonged music video type scenes with a song playing, and other times it was in the form of large choreographed music and dance performances, like at Jalal and Jodhaa's wedding and the celebration honoring Jalal when he ends the tax on Hindus making pilgrimages. I really liked how the subtitles included the song lyrics, which were exceptionally beautiful and poetic even in translation.

The portrayal of sexuality in Jodhaa Akbar was also very culturally different than the movies I am used to watching. I don't think the Indian movies can show any nudity or lovemaking, but this movie was so artfully suggestive it bordered on being maddeningly erotic. I swear Jalal's long workout scene when he is practicing his swordmanship with his shirt off while Jodhaa watches is almost pornographic. I wish I could have seen that on the big screen!

This movie had so many exciting moments. I was constantly breathless while I watched it. And at its climax it had one of the best duels I've seen in a long time when Jalal fights his enemy in single combat for the throne of all Hindustan.

Jodhaa Akbar is a remarkable movie and I heartily recommend it. I've been watching Chinese and Japanese cinema for years, but I am definitely going to delve into the prolific world of Indian movies now. The South Asian culture and style were utterly different than the East Asian movies I have appreciated for so long. I'm glad to have found a whole new arena of entertainment and inspiration.