Starring Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sonu Sood, and Ila Arun. In Hindi with English subtitles. Rated PG.
History has been a hard sell in Bollywood in recent years, but the epic Jodhaa Akbar, starring A-listers Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, is hoping to change that with a mix of romance and chivalry. Despite a worthy effort by director Ashutosh Gowariker, the film only succeeds on the romance side.
Set during the Mughal era in India, the film recounts the legendary love between the only secular Muslim emperor, Akbar, and his beloved Jodhaa Bhai, a Hindu Rajput princess. Like many Hollywood epics, it takes liberties with historical facts and characters to rev up the drama.
The film opens with a 13-year-old Akbar, having been made king, leading his troops into battle as part of the Mughal dynasty’s push to gain a stranglehold on India. Having conquered much of the country, the adult Akbar (Roshan) begins to put his own mark on the land with a new, less violent, and reasonable approach to governance rooted less in Islamic religious dominance and more in pluralistic and secular society, allowing all faiths to flourish.
History says this approach came from Akbar’s love for Jodhaa (Rai Bachchan), a beautiful, sensual, yet tough-as-nails and virtuous woman. Despite having been used as bait by the Rajput Hindu kingdom to forge a peaceful alliance with the powerful Muslim king, she demands to be allowed to keep her Hindu identity. She also refuses to consummate their arranged marriage until he has won her heart.
There’s great chemistry between superstars Roshan and Rai Bachchan. Their solid performances bring home Jodhaa Akbar’s saga of star-crossed lovers. Although this isn’t a heavily dance-oriented feature, the music by renowned composer A. R. Rahman is particularly effective during a song and dance sequence in the Sufi style.
There’s also a message for today’s India, marred by communal violence between the now-dominant Hindus and minority Muslims. But judging by the vocal and violent opposition to the film from the Rajput Hindu community in some parts of India, it seems like history will teach us nothing!