Reviewed by: David Criswell, Ph.D.
|Featuring:||Hrithik Roshan (Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar), Aishwarya Rai (Jodhaa Bai), Sonu Sood, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Suhasini Mulay, [more]|
|Producer:||Ashutosh Gowarikar, Ronnie Screwvala|
|Distributor:||UTV Motion Pictures|
“a sixteenth century love story about a Mughal emperor and a Rajput princess”
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “‘Jodhaa Akbar’ is a sixteenth century love story about a marriage of alliance that gave birth to true love between a great Mughal Emperor, Akbar and a Rajput princess, Jodhaa. Politically, success knew no bounds for Emperor Akbar, After having secured the Hindu Kush, he furthered his realm by conquest until his empire extended from Afghanistan to the Bay of Bengal, and from the Himalayas to the Godhavari River. Through a shrewed blend of tolerence, generosity and force, Akbar won the allegiance of the Rajputs, the most belligerent Hindus. But little did Akbar know that when he married Jodhaa, a fiery Rajput princess, in order to further strengthen his relations with the Rajputs, he would in turn be embarking upon a new journey—the journey of true love.
The daughter of King Bharmal of Amer, Jodhaa resented being reduced to a mere political pawn in this marriage of alliance, and Akbar's biggest challenge now did not merely lie in winning battles, but in winning the love of Jodhaa—a love hidden deep below resentment and extreme prejudice. ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ is their untold love story.”
“Jodha Akbar” is an epic romance made in India. It stars former Ms. World and “Queen of Bollywood” Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan. The story is based on a true story about a Rajput Hindu princess who is married to the Muslim leader Akbar in a political marriage. As time passes, the two learn about true love and tolerance.
Before the actual review I think it is important to initiate some into Bollywood. Bollywood is the name given to the Indian movie industry. It is the second largest in the world behind the U.S. and certainly the most unique. Unlike the other film industries of the world, India clearly has its own distinct style marked by several features.
First, Bollywood films are usually much more family friendly than Hollywood or other international films. There is almost never a sex scene, nor nudity, nor for that matter even a clear kissing scene. In fact, India censored a kissing scene from a recent movie. Some readers may even remember that there is a warrant for the arrest of Richard Gere for laying a big fat kiss on one of their actress’ neck in public. Consequently, parents rarely need to worry about their kids, save the occasional cuss word which Indians seem to think is a regular part of the English language (the Hindi language is often mixed with English) and violence.
The second feature of Bollywood films is that most are musicals. Even in a horror film it is not uncommon to see the stars stop and start singing and dancing. The musical numbers, however, are not typical of American musicals but have a style all their own. It is hard to describe except that they often feature flashy costumes, a unique dancing style, and music that is a mixture of many genres, but still distinctly Indian.
Bollywood also usually features (but not always) a strong sense of humor. Few movies in Bollywood are pure dramas (“Jodhaa Akbar” is an exception). If anyone has ever seen a movie by Indian born director M. Night Shayamalan, you will be familiar with the unique style of humor Indians are born with. Satire and humor are mainstays of Bollywood films; even in the melodramatic of movies.
Bollywood films are often accused of overacting and overdramatizing, but this is intentional. Bollywood films seek to dramatize through emotion rather than sheer realism. With a few exceptions Bollywood fans should not expect to see a “slice of life” in Bollywood movies, but a dramatization of life.
Finally, Bollywood films are never short. They try to give you your money's worth. With as much as thirty minutes or more worth of songs, the average movie is nearly three hours in length. The good news is that, unlike American cinema, Indian cinema features intermissions. Since this is the time that people buy popcorn and cokes, it is odd that more American movies still refuse to have intermissions for long films (like the Lord of the Ring trilogy), but should you see a Bollywood film in the local theater, asks whether or not the intermission is retained.
If the reader has never seen a Bollywood film, and is reluctant to shell out $10 for one, then I recommend starting with the English tribute to Bollywood “Bride and Prejudice” starring Aishwarya Rai, the “Queen of Bollywood,” and directed by the woman who brought us “Bend It Like Beckham.” If you enjoy it, then you might try true Bollywood films like “Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham,” “Kuch Kuch Hota Hai,” or 'Veer-Zaara.'
“Jodhaa Akbar” is a historical drama set in the sixteenth century. It is also the most expensive Bollywood film ever produced at $10,000,000 American. However, that $10,000,000 goes much further in India and the movie has the look and feel of a $100,000,000 epic in the U.S. “Jodhaa Akbar” is filmed on location at many beautiful sites including some scenes at the famed Agra fort. The costumes and sets are beautiful as well. The film has the look and feel of a great epic and the musical interludes do not seem out of place as one might assume. The best song is presented as part of a festival to honor Akbar; thus it fits in perfectly. Aishwarya Rai is perfect at the beautiful Jodhaa and Hrithik Roshan performs well as the Muslim king. From a cinematic standpoint the only real criticisms include some cliches, such as a “mauno e mauno” showdown at the end of the movie and the runtime which is well over three hours. Will Americans sit in the theater reading captions for over three hours? Experts have already suggested that the answer to this question will determine the future of Bollywood epics.
From a moral stance the first ten minutes of the film should carry a strict warning for parents. The opening battle scenes are graphic and include an elephant stepping on someone's head, another elephant stepping on someone's chest causing him to cough up spurts of blood, a severed arm flying through the air with blood splattering, and numerous other violent battle scenes. However, after these graphic opening scenes the movie is strictly a mild PG affair thereafter, but parents should be very aware that the nature of these early scenes is the equivalent of an R rated movie. There is also the odd addition of a homosexual/transvestite man serving as the head eunuch. In reality such a thing would never have occurred and it feels very odd and anachronistic. Outside of this there is little of a strictly moral issue to offend. Even the love scenes are done without sex or kissing. In fact, the only time Akbar's lips touch Johdaa's is when he kisses her on the forehead. You can, however, see some cleavage and Hrishik has a scene reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian where he flexes his bare muscles while practicing with a sword.
The greater issue is not moral but religious. The theme of the film is tolerance, but its depiction goes beyond history and may actually serve to be self defeating by promoting a naive view of Islamic dynasties. This is not to say that Akbar the Great was not a great Muslim ruler in the context of his times, nor does this alter the enjoyability of the film, but it is relevant inasmuch as both India and the U.S. are fighting against Islamic extremists.
Even before “Jodhaa Akbar” hit the theater it was hit with controversy over its historical accuracy, or lack thereof. The Rajput community has traditionally been ashamed of the fact that one of their kings “sold” off their daughters to Muslim kings in the name of peace. Unlike the film, the Rajput princesses (Akbar had nine wives) were required to convert to Islam before the marriage. In the film Akbar does not require her to convert to Islam and even builds a Hindu altar for her in the Harem. He tells his soldiers not to force the conversion of their subjects, goes through a Hindu wedding ceremony with Jodhaa, and gives a wonderful lecture on honoring his subjects regardless of their religion. Unfortunately, much of this is an exaggeration of the facts. Akbar did lift the tax on Hindus and refused to tear down their temples, but Jodhaa did convert to Islam before the marriage and he did not build any Hindu altars. This depiction of Akbar serves the purpose of the film in promoting tolerance, but also promotes a naive view of Islam. Consider the remark in the film that “Islam gives women equal rights to pursue divorce.” It is possible that Akbar gave such rights to women (I could not confirm this) but few Islamic societies give women any such rights. In fact, Sharia law gives the man the right to beat his wife, or even murder her if she “shames” him. In Saudi Arabia a woman was recently arrested, stripped, and beaten for sitting with a man at Starbucks when she was not married to him. The nobility of the film is welcome, but the reality is that India is in the same war on terror as America, and Islamic extremists are the enemy. We cannot fool ourselves into believing that most Islamists are tolerant.
Chances are “Jodhaa Akbar” will not be playing you local cinemaplex. You may find it at an arthouse theater or perhaps a Hollywood Theater chain if you lucky. Additionally, if you happen to live in the Dallas, Houston, Chicago, or Maryland areas then you can look up Funasia which plays Bollywood movies. They are the only major movie houses to carry Bollywood films in America, so if you don't live in these areas and don't have a Hollywood Theater complex near you then you may have to wait until it comes out on DVD and get it from Netflix or a similar outlet. Nevertheless, the fact that “Jodhaa Akbar” is playing in America at all is a good sign for the Bollywood film industry which seems to be reaching its golden years, while Hollywood's golden years were left far behind in the 30s and 40s.
Just as this movie has been controversial, apparently so has my review. Some have taken my comments out of context to imply that I am somehow typecasting, stereotyping, or slandering Muslims in general. In fact, in reading such comments, I saw that none of them actually refuted my statements concerning Sharia law or Islamist governments. One reader did correctly state that “whatever Saudi does is not Islamic law. Just like whatever China does is not communist ideology.” This is true. Catholic countries do not necessarily represent Christian values, but they most certainly do reflect Catholic values. There are many sects of Islam. My comments concerned radical or extremist Islamists.
For the record, the woman I love is from Indonesia (a Muslim democracy). She has many Muslim friends and has read the Quran. I do not say she will agree with everything I have said, but it is ironic that some of those who accuse me of spreading anger are angry with me when I did not once quote the Quran or refer to Muslims as a whole or group. The context of the film is set against the Pakistan-India war [with which parallels are drawn] which is (as one of my critics said) fueled by religious “extremism [which] is largely promoted by Pakistan for its own political purposes.” These are the “Islamists” to which I refer. It is clear that these very issues bring up a lot of anger and emotion. This is why I feel that the portrayal of Akbar as a saintly man creates more myth than reality. The film is a good quality movie, but Akbar's failings would be something we could learn from, as well as his successes.
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: None
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.