Whoa ! Is that man with the disheveled hair and over-all Pagal-e-Azam demeanor Emperor Hemu, the overlord of Delhi? Is that scuffle between underpaid extras, fought with the intensity of a ludo game at an old age home, a recreation of the historic battle of Panipat? Is that Amitabh Bachchan hiding amidst the shadows during the Akbar-Jodhaa love-making scene saying “Aiii, kahaan haath lagata hain” as Hrithik and bahu-rani Aishwarya make agonizing faces of passion all the while kissing foreheads and avoiding passionate tongue-action, which as we all know raised the heckles of the B-family previously? On a related note, why does Hrithik never offer a lift to Aishwarya in his helicopter?
Doesn’t Aishwarya Rai look like Zhang Ziyi in her white ninja get-up? Was the climactic one-on-one battle inspired from “Troy”? When an angry Jodhaa drops a purdah in front of Akbar, why does he not sing “Purdah nashin ko be-purdaah na kar doon to, Akbar mera naam nahin hain” ? How long does it take for a man shot full of arrows to die? Did Akbar invest so much time in wooing each of the hundreds of “companions” (spoils of war) that lived in his harem? If he did, no wonder he never got around to learning to read or write. And finally will the great emperor actually turn to Jodhaa, Dhoom II style, and say “Are you like checking me out” when he spies her ogling his bare torso as he does his morning sword calisthenics?
These and other ponderous questions (including “when was the last time I checked my car’s tire pressure” and “was the front door locked when we left”) occupied my mind as I labored through the three odd hours of “Jodhaa Akbar”, a fictional love-story overlaid on actual historic events, that is neither a compelling re-telling of the past nor a soaring romance. The best I can call it is an average, overdrawn period-piece which has its flashes of excellence, that are alas way too few and far in between.
There is something cringeworthy about depicting Akbar as a “Raymond’s Man”, the monogamous, uber-romantic ideal respectful of women in a way that confirms to 21st century norms, so far removed as it is from historic reality. This is not to say that Akbar was not progressive— his ideas on governance and equality of people of all faiths in the eyes of the State being centuries ahead of its time. But to stretch that progressiveness to encompass his treatment of women, may severely compromise the believability of Akbar’s whole characterization to some.
For me however, that’s not the problem. I am quite willing to see “Jodhaa Akbar” as primarily a work of fiction (the opening credits however stress the narrative that follows as a “view of history” and not as legend) constructed around things that happened and consequently detach the romantic ideal of Akbar from who he was in real life. Just like the romantic Selim of “Mughal-e-Azam” may have been quite different from Jahangir, the historic character. But while K Asif’s marvelously mounted legend of Anarkali, that weaved together fact and legend, is an eternal classic, “Jodhaa Akbar” can hardly be considered to come even close. This is primarily because of Gowariker’s overall inability to keep the story flowing, in a gripping fashion, through the alternating chapters of “historic events” and “kocchie kocchie love play”, introduction of extremely weak plot elements (I deliberately do not elaborate here to keep the review “spoiler free” but some of the hoariest Hindi movie cliches are present here along with some very convenient plot resolutions) and most tellingly the patchy technical work that imbibes “Jodhaa Akbar” with very little of the timeless grandeur that seeps through from every frame of “Mughal-e-Azam”, despite it having been made so many decades ago.
This is not to say that”Jodhaa Akbar” does not have its moments —for instance the scene where Jodhaa cooks for Akbar and is made to eat each of the items to show that they not poisoned has the signature class of the guy who gave us “Lagaan” and “Swades”. However such flashes are rare, as the Gowariker who gave us “Pehla Nasha” and “Baazi” seems to take control from time to time, much to our misfortune.
What saves “Jodhaa Akbar” from being a total wash-out are the performances. Namely a poisonously poignant tour d’ force from Ila Arun as Maham Anga, Akbar’s wet nurse, a physically powerful, regal performance from Hrithik Roshan as Akbar, a poetically plastic performance from Aishwarya Bachchan as Jodhaa Bai and all round competence from the supporting cast. A R Rahman gets the music spot-on but that he usually always does.
In conclusion, considering the financial resources at his disposal, the technology available today, the star-cast and most importantly the excellence of the source material, Gowariker disappoints with the mostly pedestrian “Jodhaa Akbar”, very much an underwhelming Bahadur Shah Zafar II of historicals.