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Some Ramblings - Jodhaa Akbar
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla
jodha akbar

Take any historical figure who had made his/her mark on the pages of history, particularly, the ones history remembers fondly. Character transformation was elemental in their stories, and it is not because of what they were, but what they have become, that their names remain etched in the annals and the memories. King Asoka had everything handed down to him on a silver platter. An empire built by his father Bindusaara, a powerful army at his beckoning and the whole country in his sights. And he started his conquests. Right until this point, the biographies of most invaders, conquerors and other plunderers read the same. But what happened to Asoka after the Kalinga war, witnessing carnage and carcasses all around, didn't happen to the rest of the lot. The great realization and his ultimate renunciation of his warring ways, for the quest of eternal peace, not just for himself, but for his peoples, ultimately decided how King Asoka was going to be remembered - not just as another average war-mongerer, but as an apostle of peace. That transition defined his story. Born in yet another royal household, the horrors of the real world were sealed away from Gautama by his father Suddhodhana, at the behest of his astrologers. Gautama grows up as a garden-variety pampered prince, until that fateful moment, when he confronts death for the first time in his life. That defining moment forked a separate path for his fate, destiny and purpose. Transformation remains the key throughout the stories of key figures. Kicking out Gandhiji from the first class compartment in South Africa, Bhagat Singh's planting of a revolver in the ground as a child, in a bid to 'grow' more revolvers and liberate his country from the clutches of the occupiers - history is replete with examples showing how nobility is not something one is born into, but rather something one grows into.

The title 'The Great' is reserved to a chosen few - Alexander 'The Great', Catherine 'The Great, Asoka 'The Great', Akbar 'The Great' etc. While Alexander's epithet reflected his warring prowess than any other kind of wisdom, and Asoka's, because of his benign ways of rule, Catherine's and Akbar's were related more to their administrative abilities. Akbar casts a long shadow on the religious relations of the fractious country that he inherited from his grandfather, Babur. He probably was the first Muslim ruler from an invading tribe to realize that his dynasty was here to stay, and it was as much the country of the natives as it was his. The realization that a peaceful co-existence and mutual respect between the religious fraternities were the only ways to bind the country together, stands as the genius of Akbar. The biography 'Akbarnama' by Abu Fazil, and the religion he founded 'Din-E-Ilahi' by amalgamating the noble principles from the principal religions, speak volumes of his commitment at understanding the unifying ways of a divisive society. Whether his actions were politically motivated or phisophically oriented isn't the main question. His task at hand was running a country populated by diverse cultures and different peoples. That he filled his court with Todarmal, Tansen, Man Singh and even the famed Birbal, all belonging to different communities, who had equal access to him, as did the Mullahs the the Qazis, stands as a testament to his administrative abilities. Considering such a background, the climax scene of 'Mughal-E-Azam' was a master-stroke of genius by the director, K.Asif, where it will be revealed that though Akbar orders the execution of Anarkali, by burying her alive, he, in fact, lets her out through a secret trap door, ordering her mother and a shell-shocked Anarkali, out of the country and never ever return. Whether this choice was correct or not historically/factually is debatable, but conventional wisdom suggests that a kind, regarding for his nobility, would not just order an execution so trivial a crime. That kind of humanity accounts for his title 'The Great', the only Muslim king to ever be accorded such high status.

That said, "Jodha Akbar" suffers from the same scarcity of viable material as 'Mangal Pandey' from a few years ago. The choice of looking at the slice of Akbar's life only till the point of a few years after his marriage is certainly a confounding one, as that part of his history simply lacks the conflict angle, the bread and butter of cinema scenarios. This is the exact same mistake that the makers of 'Asoka' committed a few years ago, as their emphasis was more on the lead up to the events, than on the real reasons behind his greatness. Asoka was a great warrior, but so were Mohd. Ghajini, or a Mohd. Ghauri, or a Allauddin Khilji. But Asoka had a unique trait that the rest of the plunderers lacked, and that is the sense of realization, that a human life is much more valuable than all the riches of the world combined. And that accounts for his greatness. Instead the makers chose to concentrate on his warring ways and his romantic side, ignoring completely the nobility of his character. The same goes for 'Jodha-Akbar'. Granted the union of two opposite sides was a gem of a stratagem. It was a marriage of conveniences and compromises. But, what after that? With a little over three hours of running time, how much could be squeezed out of clash of cultures? To necessitate the mandatory conflict angle, a pseudo mother-in-law is drummed up, and the result does not amount to anything more than a regular Saas-Bahu family soap-opera found on any local Indian channel. Since the movie does not claim to be a factual representation of the actual events that transpired back in time, a better choice of material could have been, creating a character transformation (arc) for Akbar, from a ruthless warrior ignorant of other cultures to a benevolent ruler who ultimately embraced all faiths, with his wife acting as the catalyst to his change. Starting off with being a noble kid, transitioning into a noble warrior, and finally into a noble king, tie up the hands of the writer in not giving him enough dramatic choices to display the various facets of the character.

Compare it another historical figure who existed about 2400 years ago, about whom history knows so little. There were only a few snippets that were public knowledge - 1. He wrote Artha Sastra 2. He was instrumental in the downfall of the Nanda dynasty. 3. He was probably the first person to visualize the boundaries of India and energized the kings into banding together to fight the aggression of the invaders. Chandraprakash Dwivedi's "Chanakya" was a seminal piece of historical action/fiction in television history. Perhaps no other serial/movie attempted that kind of scope, breadth, and importantly, depth, that "Chankya" depicted. In that visualization Chanakya is a man consumed with passion (for his country), revenge (against Nandas), ideals (for a good administration) and a strong conviction (for his ideas). In effect, he was a consummate character, who could have easily lived in today's world, than just an idealized/idolized mythological figure carved out of the words of history. That it was a series and not a movie, cannot be held against it, as the attempt to understand what made Chanakya tick, far outweighed the format of the presentation. "Jodha Akbar" in its lofty aim to present Akbar as a ruler, warrior, lover, and an administrator ends up doing just that by the numbers. It creates a skeleton of his life without any real meat on it, probably because the makers were sinking their teeth in the wrong part of the body, where the bone didn't just have enough meat to dig into. It is important that makers of such historical movies realize that it is a one shot deal, meaning, each generation gets only one attempt at a particular slice of history (the fiasco of Bhagat Singh notwithstanding), and it is very important to get it right in the first attempt itself, failing which, all one is left with is look and rue at the ruins.

More Ramblings on films
There will be blood
Chrlie Wilson's War
No Country for Old Men
Om Shanti Om
Lions for Lambs
American Gangster
Michael Clayton
Happy Days
Chak De India!
The Bourne Ultimatum
The Simpsons Movie
The Grindhouse
Casino Royale
The Departed
Lage Raho Munnabhai
Superman Returns
The Da Vinci Code
Sri Ramadasu
Rang De Basanti (Hindi)
Jai Chiranjeeva!
Munich (English)
Sarkar (Hindi)
Mangal Padey (Hindi)
Kaadhal (Tamil)
Anukokunda Oka Roju
Batman Begins (English)
Radha Gopalam
Mughal E Azam
Virumandi (Tamil)
Lakshya (Hindi)
Yuva (Hindi)
Kakha Kakha (Tamil)
Mr & Mrs Iyer
Nuvve Nuvve

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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