Yesterday I spent about 4 hours of my life watching the worst film made in the history of cinema – Jodhaa Akbar. Oh and by the way, the cabbage in question is Hrithik Roshan’s Akbar.
At the end of Jodhaa Akbar, all I know about Emperor Akbar is that he had a stick-on moustache, a fair amount of jewellery and that he was illiterate. He also had a twentieth-century hair stylist but never mind that. Jodhaa (double a for numerological reasons) I know a little more about. She was religious, had more jewellery than Akbar, used way too much glycerine to induce tears and spent all her time playing with rabbits and doves.
The problem with the film, as with most Bollywood films, is that the story is Desdemona while the execution is Othello – so much possibility but ultimately all you get is stupidity and murder. A story set in the violent world of medieval India where two people find love in a marriage of convenience, which helps unite a significant chunk of the country, could have been fascinating if it hadn’t been smothered under shoddy storytelling.
If you do remember your basic history (if you studied in the Indian education system), then you’ll realise it is filled with errors. And no, I’m not talking about the identity of Jodhaa which has been causing much heartache to the Rajput community with different princely families claiming their ancestor (not named Jodhaa which is the major bone of contention) married Akbar.
The historical Akbar was illiterate (Akbarnama is a biography, not an autobiography) but held forth with some of the brightest minds of his times. He loved music and fine art which is why I’m pretty sure that if someone presented him with the ghastly song and dance routine shown near the end of Jodhaa Akbar (with choreography that looked suspiciously like Lion King), he’d probably have beheaded the lot of them. He did indeed have a Hindu wife but he also had a Christian one and a hoard of Muslim and Persian ones. Consequently for the Hindu wife to become his primary wife, she’d have had to do more than play with rabbits and sing devotional songs to a tacky idol of Krishna. There’s a glorification of Hindu pride in Jodhaa Akbar that I’m a little uneasy about. It’s a sentiment that is rather out of place in a film that is about a man who did his best to rise above ritual and religious practice. The film almost seems to suggest Akbar’s greatness lay in him accepting Hinduism, rather than in him being secular. Now there’s revisionist history for you….
Gowariker spent an obscene amount of money on the sets and costumes of this film in order to make them authentic, we are told. With much care and meticulousness, he rebuilt Old Fort to look like the Red Fort. This is particularly odd since the Old Fort was built about 100 years before the Red Fort (built in 1639) and the two structures look nothing like each other. Guess who was awake during History classes? Not Mr. Gowariker, clearly. Plus, the fabrics and embroidery used in Neeta Lulla’s opulent costumes are not true to the times or the region but yes, they are pretty and the jewellery looks real. Miss Lulla is being flooded by offers to recreate the Jodhaa look for wedding trousseaux, which is why she did the film to begin with one suspects, so hallelujah.
Gowariker takes bits of historical trivia – like Akbar’s illiteracy, his closeness to his aunt Maham Angha who was a scheming control freak, his practice of walking incognito around his capital to pick up on popular mood – but he isn’t able to make a proper narrative. Hrithik flexes his muscles and flares his nostrils. He also strolls languidly past gauzy curtains like a ramp model and shows up shirtless in one scene, thus reducing a number of our film reviewers to quivering, hormonal pulp. If we could raise money to send them to a Chippendale show, perhaps we’d have more reasoned reviews.
If Gowariker was looking at Indian history the way Xena: The Warrior Princess looks at Greek mythology, then no one could raise a finger against him. However, this man claims to be serious and concerned with depicting history with some degree of fidelity. Gowariker would have us believe that a girl from one of the most misogynist communities in the country was allowed to have a private audience with the man her father has said she will marry before the wedding. Not just that, when she does meet Akbar, the Mughal Emperor no less, she tells him that if he doesn’t let her be a practicing Hindu, she will not marry him. I’d like to see a girl from a conservative Indian family try laying down the law about her arranged marriage today in the 21st century, let a alone the sixteenth.
On top of that Gowariker would have us believe that out of respect for her finer feelings, Akbar doesn’t sleep with her for months, waiting for her to fall in love with him. Right, that makes sense. Let’s have a marriage of convenience but let’s not consummate it. Stunning strategy. This is from an ancestor of Shahjahan who basically killed his wife by fucking her too much (she had 14 children in 19 years of marriage). In the course of the film, Akbar sends his un-devirgined bride back to her parents’ home and then show up to woo her back, as though it’s a Hindi movie. Oh wait, it is a Hindi movie (see post below for definition).