I'll be the first to admit that my knowledge of Indian films has been limited to Bollywood dance sequences, and over the top acting. This past Saturday that impression was roundly set on it's ear, as I watched what may become my favorite film of the year.
Jodhaa Akbar is the epic period piece depicting the Mughal (Turko-Persio-Mongol dynasty) ruler Akbar, who ruled as the Moslem emperor over largely Hindu India during roughly the same era after the Mongolian invasion of Persia.
Akbar is played by the handsome hunk of Indian film, Hrithik Roshan, and possibly the most beautiful face in film today Aishwarya Rai. Gentlemen, at 8 feet high in the theater, Rai is simply dropjaw stunning. Ladies, if tall buff men with great hair and skin, and green eyes does anything for you, ditto that for Roshan.
The film is set in the age of glorious palaces, stunning scenery, pomp and majesty of ancient India, under Mughal rule. The issue of the day is that Hindu India is under Moslem rule. Akbar's dilemma is how to establish his rule, and separate religion from the court, while keeping control and peace. Marriage to a Hindu Princess (Rai) seems to be the simple solution.
As all simple solutions go, they are rarely as simple as the appear. Betrayals and disloyalties, conspiracies and assassination, all rear their heads to try and undermine the well intentioned King's plans.
The message of the film was great, I thought the nod to current world religious-political issues and the general dilemma of which religion is right, was spot on relevant.
It is not quite a perfect film, but the breathtaking cinematic quality more than makes up for the sluggish and awkward fight scenes, and more than occasional over acted facial expressions. I felt like I was watching an Errol Flynn pirate film at times. ironically it appears that India would do well to "outsource" it's stunts and action sequences to Hong Kong!
Thankfully the film was subtitled. Pretty well too, far better than Iranian films have been lately, so the story is pretty easy to follow, if a bit annoying as you have to constantly choose between reading and watching. What I enjoyed the most however was how much Persian is in Indian, and how I could understand the words we share in common. Here are just a few:
Hesab Ketab (the accounting of affairs)
Lavish costumes, huge casts of dancers and extras, pile upon pile of jewelry and gold, this is a feast for the eyes, to be sure. Until you hear the score. The music of the film was so moving and exquisitely done, that I had to buy 2 of the songs immediately, thankfully the full soundtrack is available on iTunes.
This film unlike other films you might see, is 3.5 hours long! But not to worry, there is an old fashioned Intermission complete with a screen slide that says "Intermission", which gives you plenty of time to get up stretch your legs a bit, and go get a nice somosa or pakora plate, or quench your thirst with a nice Angoor or Kharboojha Sharbat.
At one point in the film, the king recites a modified Persian proverb taken from the Naser Khosrow poem, and says to the Princess in Persian, "Az Mast Keh Bar Mast Chon Digari Nist" which loosely translates as, "What comes to us is by us, for there is no other" or take your destiny into your own hands.
The insignia of the Mughal dynasty depicted in the film was adorned with the familiar lion, sword, and sun imagery we have often associated with the Pahlavi era, but which of course goes back far further in Persian history. And there are many other obvious Persian cultural visuals like this throughout the film.
Jodhaa Akbar is to date the most sweeping and expensive film in Indian history, and the expenses not spared to make this film are obvious. At over 500 million rupees it is easily one of the most expensive films in Indian history, but now imagine that this is merely $12 Million, and you really appreciate the film even more.
My personal favorite observation was in a scene in which literally thousands of soldiers stand on one side of a valley, waiting for the command to attack another set of thousands of soldiers of an opposing army, and realizing that none of it was computer generated! It is rare today to see a film that is on as grand a visual and overall entertaining scale as this one.
Here is the clip in which the King recites the Persian proverb:
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