A Taste of Jodhaa Akbar
Smitha Radhakrishnan watches Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan's latest film and realizes that eye candy that lasts this long is too sweet.
Published: Friday, April 04, 2008
Connecting Personal Issues to the Big Picture
Smitha Radhakrishnan has been publishing her podcast Desi Dilemmas from Podbazaar since November of 2005. On August 2007, she joined Asia Pacific Arts. Desi Dilemmas weaves together narratives, opinion, and research with Indians on three continents, to place common issues facing desis in a larger social and economic context.
Questions? Comments? Write to her at email@example.com.
Welcome back to Desi Dilemmas. Today, I share with you my impressions of the much-touted hit film, Jodhaa Akbar, that's just about finished its US run this month.
I caught the much-talked-about Bollywood smash hit Jodhaa Akbar on the very last day it was playing in Massachusetts. The large theater was cavernously empty. Besides us, there were just a handful of people. Not exactly the Bollywood experience one would hope for, but I figured the unprecedentedly big-budget Bollywood flick starring Ash and Hrithik had to be entertaining, and I was just happy we caught its last showing.
The opening scenes on the battlefield, depicting the advance of the Mughal army, were vast and impressive. The split-second shot of a man's head getting squashed by the mighty stride of a battle elephant seared itself into my brain. Before we knew it, the young king was grown up. Hrithik made a shockingly formidable young emperor, and the grown-up princess Jodhaa, played by Ash, made one hell of a sexy swordsman. Visually, one couldn't help but be captivated by all the eye candy.
Yet, you couldn't help feeling that this plot was ambling on, so slowly and aimlessly, with such an unconvincing series of events, that the eye candy got sugary-sweet pretty fast. By the time the intermission came, the fatigue from the contrived plot and unconvincing characters was already palpable. The second half picked up a little, though, as banal stories of apparent political intrigue turned more substantial, and Jodhaa and Akbar finally hook up. The eye candy was broken up by the gorgeousness of the language: the pure Urdu of the Mughals and the elaborately perfect, Sanskritized Hindi of Jodhaa and her family were a treat to listen to, a huge break from the mishmash of modern Hindi and Hinglish that populates most Bollywood films these days.
Despite being overall underwhelmed by this film that was supposed to be oh-so-overwhelming, and despite having to hang in there through the finish line with the patience of a long-distance runner, there were a few memorable scenes that I just have to point out. They weren't necessarily memorable because they were great scenes, they were still, well, memorable.
The first: the moment when Jodhaa first has the hots for Akbar. If you've seen this film, you know exactly the moment I'm talking about. Jodhaa is watching from a corner, dressed relatively simply for once, perfect skin and glinting eyes all aglow. And a half-naked Akbar is practicing swordfighting. His every muscle is pulsating on his broad back, and the camera focuses on the drops of sweat streaming down his arm. He doesn't know he's being watched by his wife -- who, incidentally, has not yet allowed him to consummate their relationship. The camera follows her apparent glance with all its lusty desire. There's nothing too explicit about the scene, but you feel like you're watching something illicit and naughty.
What's so fascinating about this particular scene is that it's a kind of moment that's so very Bollywood. How often in Hollywood movies do we see good girls gazing hungrily at hunks? How often is the female gaze so sexualized as it is in these Bollywood moments? Characteristic wet white sari scenes aside, recent films and ads in India seem to be capitalizing on the female gaze as well, and the two minutes of this very long film epitomized this trend. The Empress Jodhaa, who insists on cooking for her husband, even at the risk of her position in the palace, who submits to her father's wish to marry a Muslim emperor in the first place, against her own wishes, is not above a lusty gaze. And as hilarious as the scene seemed at the moment, I appreciated it. And the footage of Hrithik's physical exertions wasn't too bad either for this particular female gaze.
And the best romantic scene in the movie: when Akbar goes to Jodhaa's home to win her back. She's still playing hard to get in scene after scene in this part of the movie, ducking behind bejeweled curtains and colorful veils with wit and defiance. The climax of her resistance is a cheesy, but nonetheless, a breathtaking swordfight between her and Akbar. Ash must have worked hard to pull off the acrobatics and strength required for this scene. She seriously looked like she was ready to destroy her opponent, who happened, at this moment, to be her husband. Of course, it was all very subtle and sexy in a classic Bollywood interplay of romance and battle, her simple white clothes swinging from her limbs as her eyes and nicering flashed. The swords clanged against one another, and his muscles pulsated. Like I said, cheesy, but memorable.
All said, it was Hrithik who carried this movie. I'm not a huge Hrithik fan or anything, but he was utterly impressive in this film, and it really wasn't hard to believe him to be the emperor of sara Hindustan. Rahman's scoring seemed inconsistent. I don't know if the theater we were in had a bad sound system or what, but the interjections of loud music in between scenes seems to lack all subtlety and taste, which I found to be a bit shocking. The songs were pretty great, though, a very classic Rahman soundtrack, though the devotional song that Ash croons like a dozen times in the movie was a bit much for me.
In any case, if you missed this movie, you missed some fun, but also a seriously drawn-out film. Watch it on DVD while you're doing your laundry and stop to watch the swordfights.
That's it for today. Listen to the audio podcast for a snippet of the gorgeous "Jashn e Bahaara" from Jodhaa Akbar. Enjoy.