Jodhaa Akbar–the Review

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.

45 thoughts on “Jodhaa Akbar–the Review

  1. “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.” – absolutely, this is what was going thru my mind as well.

    And oh yes, i’m first, yay.

  2. Many more ponderous questions: is the movie to be used in the abstinence campaign of George Bush? why does the Empress of India always sit on bare floors whether in the dining hall/bedroom/wherever? where the hell are those famed Persian rugs? why not even plastic chairs in the Emperor of India’s courts? why are all conspiracy (security/familial) issues discussed in diwan-e-aam? why does the Emperor negotiate with a rebel in a way that reminds you of Indian PMO? why so many stray people in the Emperor’s bedroom? why does no royal go to sleep in comfortable nightwear? Bojho byapaar!

  3. Jas-shala, ei ki gajakhori (Oh brother-in-law, what a load of marijuana)

    Akbar-jo tha (kya tha?)

  4. Poetically plastic!! and that is a plus point?

  5. I saw this yesterday and felt a little disappointed. I was going to write the review but, as with any other movie, I first came here to check if your sharp-as-a-chaaku-ki-dhar mind has spent some time mulling over that film, and as always, you did not disappoint. I felt exactly the same way as you describe in your review.

    Just for those “flashes of excellence”, I give it a 2.5 stars out of 5.

    I do not like when people say, “But for Indian standards, it was good”. By saying that you submit to the fact that we are capable of making only average movies. We are like that only. No no no. At this day and age, we do not have any disadvantage. So, lets not make any excuses.

  6. granted. but the reviews ripped the movie apart: if OSO can garner a 4.5, JA deserves a 3 – 3.5 at least.

    Why can’t Bollywood embrace CGI for recreating battle scenes than go by the weary, exhausted Ramayan ritual of underpaid extra wrestling half-heartedly in what we are told to believe are epic battles? I sat through them, my eyes glazed, playing again and again in my mind, the rush of the cavalry from Rohan into the infantry in LOTR – 3.

    And why the uninteresting subplots of petty fiefdom intrigues?

    I think another lost opportunity was the scene where Akbar goes incognito to the market scene. They should have built on it.

    But I liked the movie for the vignettes from Mughal royal life

  7. BTW, the movie made for a great candidate for smart-ass commenting over countless bottles of beer.. 😛

  8. Ila Arun — poisonously poignant –> true!
    Hrithik — physically powerful –> perfect description!
    Aishwarya — poetically plastic performance –> sheer brilliance!!!! 🙂 🙂

  9. wow .. great review.
    i would also take this opportunity to appreciate your perfectly chosen words.

    random thoughts – true … not what a normal human being gets 😉

    demented mind – perfect description 😀 i can bet you are the kind of person who would have has similar views for Troy, 300, Braveheart and other hollywood epics

    fodder for thought – sheer brilliance … i cannot find anything other than fodder in your thoughts 😀 *wow .. i am getting better* [smirk]

    now i am sure … there are people in india who still do not get the concept of trailers 😀 Btw, have have you filed for your money return in the consumer court.I bet you should … atleast that would be another opportunity to kill time.

    P.S – this was written by another vella guy like you just to have fun and in the same feeling you wrote the review 🙂 Hope you get it.

  10. Suna hai Jodha ne uske bete Jehangir ko Choda, yeh picchar mein maa behen ek kar diya.

  11. Arnab :
    Thanks for saving my money yet again !!! 🙂

    By the way, this commenter “sanyam” is creating some kind of suspiscion in my mind…I hope this is not Ashu G himself, hiding behind an alias. 😉
    I say this keeping his mind his utter disagreement with your views in a very politically correct as well as effortedly subtle (not so subtle in reality) manner. And we all know how politically correct Ashu G tries to make his movies look. 🙂

  12. The movie was long, Akbar’s characterisation leaves much to be desired, but i thought the movie was worth a watch..

  13. GB: Awesome review. “fought with the intensity of a ludo game at an old age home” Another classic! As I suggested earlier (in a similar post of yours), you need to give us an account to wire the money (or a part of it) that you help us save 🙂

    I quite agree with dEbOLiN’s assessment of ‘sanyam’. This dude hasn’t quite got a handle on subtlety. His taste (or the lack of it) is clearly evident from his polarity. And the comparisons to ‘Troy, 300, Braveheart and other Hollywood epics”… [smirk here!] Whoa dude! You can bet your dinner money – We got it!

    I hope to God that he doesn’t come to know about your (and your readers views) of Himesh and the likes. Hell hath no fury… like a crazy fan gone wild online!

    P.S: And as someone who’s new to RTDM, please keep one thing in mind – here we have a very low tolerance for anti-Indian, anti-Mithunda and anti-GB posts 🙂 I too am a ‘vela’ guy like you having fun and in the same feeling you wrote the comment. Hope you got it too.

  14. You watched Akbar-Jodhaa… , now watch …………

    Akbar-Jodhaa ……….the parody

  15. Arnab, finally i disagree with you.
    Firstly its no way pedestrian. Secondly, if u have overlooked the amazing writing the movie had, i am sorry i seriously think u were sleepy before the movie even began.

    The movie has amazing dialogues and well crafted urdu writings. Amazing camera work and flashes of excellence come pretty often.

    I think, gowarikar has in no way underperformed. He has retained the title of ‘one of the best in india’.

  16. An okay movie I’d say. It seemed a bit like a school drama made on a stupendous budget. The performances were mediocre with the exeption of Ila Arun, who I felt was brilliant. “Akbar” struggled with his Urdu diction and the one-on-one fight was hilarious. The film is too long. I think it could have easily been shortened by one hour if the Aishwarya-Hritik staring contests were cut. However, being a shallow Hritik Roshan fan, 3 hours of a gorgeous Akbar allows me to forgive the length. I would give it a 3.5-4/5 if I had a remote with a fast-forward button.

  17. Completely agree with you. I am great fan of Gowariker’s movies.After Lagaan and Swades(truly great movies) I was really excited to see this one. But the movie plainly lacks substance. Ofcourse when you read historical facts a lot more of the story makes sense( but the way the director has tried to potray it is misleading and amateurish. Ofcourse he could have devoted some more time to it had he cut through some of the useless song and dance prototypes. Apart from all the obvious holes and shortcomimgs in the plots u pointed out look how much the director has developed the character who is to prove the climax. And after being defeated in the fight he agrees to everything like a little baby…[:)] More surprisingly critics like Rajeev Masand and Taran Adarsh have given such good reviews which are completely miselading. I generally trusted these guys but guess these guys are also becoming a part of the Khaled Mohammed group….ofcourse the movie had its good parts which have been amply mentioned…our faith in you though is still intact. Great review da!!!

  18. there were some other excellent scenes:
    the elephant taming scene… extremely well done, albeit a bit cheesy…
    when akbar arrives and is received at amer fort… gorgeous cinematography, nice touch with the guessing game…

    i totally agree with skdb about it being a smart-ass-commentable movie… jodha’s palace-encompassing singing reminded me of manjulika… and i couldnt help myself from kicking the seat in front in fits…
    and since the whole movie was pretty much about hrithik wanting to get into rai’s pants (or churidaars), i couldnt help wanting to hear the song “would you go to bed with me?” instead of “aap humse mohabbat karte hain?”…

  19. Pagal-E- Azam! LOL!
    Wow- with all the controversy clouding Jodhaa- Akbar, it is difficult to say what will be its fate at the box office. With Rs. 600 million invested on it, it may have to bear heavy losses. Not only this- some of other period movies in the queue may be shelved. I read another piece on Helloji- and found it very informative. I would like to share it with you here- and hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks,

  20. Well, Bollywood never does a good job of depicting history. True there are some good movies made on the modern period but somehow history has never been the strong point of Bollywood. I have no clue why, we always do a very bad job of history. I am not surprised that Jodhaa Akbar turned out poor, the cast was enough to tell what’s about to come.

  21. Darn…I was hoping it would be good

  22. The movie also lacked research like showing a pile of potatoes in the royal kitchen. I thought potatoes came in India during Jehangir’s time and not before. But then, it was not meant to be a history lesson, but pure entertainment.

  23. I would love to watch it….

  24. Thank you Arnab, but no, thank you. Seeing the promos and looking forward to the prospect of watching the poetically plastic beauty in yet another period drama after Umrao Jaan, I had every desire to give this a miss. But family and friends will drag me along come this weekend. Always better to be warned though! By the way, do you ever write reviews of the films you really like? It’d be no fun, no?

  25. As I was beginning to type ‘’ in my browser window (yeah yeah OK…I am too lazy to put it in the Favorites), I was hoping you had done a post on this colossal waste of resources. I agree with almost everything you said, but I thought Aishwarya wasn’t bad. She had a couple of hamming sessions, but apart from that, I thought she was good. I also thought Kulbhushan Kharbanda gave Ms. Arun stiff competition in hamming, but I guess that is always expected of him. I would say the guy playing Behram Khan was a close third. Shatrughan Sinha’s wife can’t act.

    Liked two of Rehman’s songs – Khwaja and that song praising Akbar, but Gowarikar killed the former with his picturization prompting me and some strangers next to me to croon ‘Popcorn Khaja, Coke Peeja’ when Emperor Akbar decided to listen to the little ballerina in him and joined the rest of the dancers. What is surprising is that other people around me were watching the movie with great concentration and I even drew a whole lot of angry looks and khunnas from middle-aged uncles and aunties with comments like “Tere Salwar Mein Mera Talwar” during the sword fight scene.

    PS: The guy playing Hemu looked like an out of work Bhojpuri hero’s sidekick. Purdeh mein rehne do was classic!

    PPS: Wouldn’t you call Akbar’s treatment of women apropos the harem progressive? 🙂

  26. By the way, GBong, I was wondering if the dorbesh dance and khaajaa song combo made you reminisce about Mahaprabhu Mistanna Bhandar (Mahaprabhu’s Cornucopia of Sweets)…

  27. thing i Love about “this” post .. are the “commenters”. Whatever they may say atleast they have an open mind. Its so exciting to see how a blog and the “readers” create a virtual cluster of people with similar thoughts and likeness. (which is way better than creating gazillions of communities on orkut or playing random quizzes on FBook).

    Guys take my comments with a pinch of salt i am just another guy who liked the movie and disagree with the thoughts in the “post” and tried (just tried) to put it in a different way.

    “this” – when i say this … i mean this.
    commenters and readers will include me too :p

    btw, you guys must check out “the classic” – Gunda .. i am sure you will treasure it for ever and tell your grandchildren about it.

  28. why allow dirty words about Jodha and her son in a very crude way : Please delete that post.

  29. Thank you for saving my money YET AGAIN.

  30. My thoughts exactly GB..btw was it just me or did any one else find it odd that one of the evil kings (i think akbar’s bro in law) donned a brief while coming out of the hot tub aka the hamam and then casually wrapping himself with a white towel!

  31. Nice review. Looks ok though. Gowarikar shouldn’t go down this line. Love stories are cliched bullshit, if nothing else…..

  32. i seriously feel that Ashutosh is stuck in 26th Jan parade…

  33. Dammit…these right-wing Hindu types are asking us to boycott the “Jodhaa Akbar” movie.

    In hindsight, I feel that I should have skipped the movie anyway – for other reasons. I regret I wasted my money on pricey tickets at the multiplex. 😦

    I should have read your movie review first, Arnab da. That would saved me a load of money… I will remember that always.

  34. @ahh gb!
    I told myself that I was going to check out the music of A.R.Rehman. That Akbar was a tubby round dyslexic man, very fond of hunting, polo and to listening to travelogues. Someone like that tiresome Nilanjan in class V, clever but with nary an intention to write any answer, however brief.

    At Rs 10/- a ticket in the ladies’ section of Atindra, any fillum would be paisa vasool.

    What I got was a lesson in gender psychology.

    The ladies’ was overflowing with college girls. You could hear the collective orgasm as the morning sword calisthenics takes place. Or the boys in the general section wolf whistling at every sight of Mrs A. Bachchan.

    Like my hon’ble fellow commentator, S. Pyne (Esq?), I wondered why the royals went to bed wearing lots of spiky jewellery? Medieval Mughal chastity blings?

    If in an earlier thread, certain people had expressed a desire for SRK, they SHOULD see THIS movie. The young Mr. Roshan is turning up to be a good actor AND quite quite er, delectable!

    But, Akbar WAS a podgy restless dyslexic boy with a decidedly central Asian cast of face.
    Give me Hrithik Roshan any day.

  35. Jodhaa Akbar was a torture of three and half hour..

    Its really sad to see all the talent being wasted in movie.
    Aashutoshi ji, aapse ye umeed nahi thi…

  36. mea culpa
    i went and saw JA again!
    all fa—aat ladies in my school are bowled over by this here hirthik horshan.

    in fact, the more ‘substantial’ the lady, the more the hero worship.

    mass dirctly proportional to fandom?!?

  37. Hey!

    During the swordplay between the lead pair, Akbar recites a couplet in another language. I was hoping the film would translate it at some later point. But I was left wanting. Does anybody know what those lines meant? From any DVD with subtitles, maybe. Please to share.

  38. Am I going to be the ONLY ONE TO WRITE IN ALL CAPS?

  39. Hara hara bom bom March 28, 2008 — 6:02 pm

    Swati had written “Akbar WAS a podgy restless dyslexic boy with a decidedly central Asian cast of face”.

    And he also had a mole! Yukkkk. Hardly hunk material. But he was one of the top 5 powerful men in the world.

    Hey, but what do looks matter anyway? I read somewhere that Anne Boleyn had 6 fingers on one hand. And a massive goiter to boot. Not at ALL like Scarlett Johanssen. No wonder ol’ ‘enry fancied her bereft of form neck-up.

  40. Jodhabai a myth, asserts Rushdie

    June 4, 2008, Rediff

    Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie believes Jodhabai, widely accepted by many to be Mughal Emperor Akbar’s wife, is a myth, fuelled by the popular imagination.

    Speaking at the Rubin Museum in New York on Tuesday to mark the release of his newest novel The Enchantress of Florence, Rushdie said Akbar’s queen was indeed a Rajput princess called Mariam-uz-Zamani.

    “You can tell from her name that she is a Muslim convert and is the mother of Jehangir. Jodha is not the mother of Jehangir. His mother is Mariam. Jahangir had a minor wife called Jodha,” Rushdie said.

    TThe celebrated novelist — who said he had conducted extensive research before writing his new novel that is partly set in Mughal times — told the audience that primary sources for the history of Akbar, including two works by Abul Fazal, provide long, almost day-by-day, historical accounts of the emperor.

    “But in none of them Jodhabai appears. There is no mention of such a person. There are mentions of Rajput princesses from Jodhpur, but there is no Jodha. It is not anyone’s nickname. It is simply one of the great myths that has grown up,” he said at the event organised by the Indo American Arts Council.

    But, he added, it is a happy myth. “It is a happy myth about a Muslim ruler who had a Hindu wife, who does not make her convert to Islam and joins her in her religious pursuits and you can see why — it is a happy myth and even a useful myth,” he said.

    “The only Jodha in history is the second wife of Jehangir and not his mother. So it is just a thing that has come up, exactly because everybody believes that she exists,” Rushdie said.

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