Movie Review: Jodhaa Akbar

February 16, 2008
Amrita Rajan

Jodhaa Akbar, Ashutosh Gowarikar's sixteenth century epic about the political marriage between a Rajput princess and a Mughal emperor, is a must-see if period romance peppered with a dash of violence is your cup of tea.

There are extravagant spectacles, pretty people in elaborately lovely costumes, stirring battle scenes, evocative music, and a lead pair who turn in their career-best performances. And for all its eye catching splendor, Jodhaa Akbar manages to shine most bright in the more intimate moments - be it between husband and wife or swordsmen squaring off against each other on the battlefield.

We begin with Amitabh Bachchan's voice giving us a little tour through the early Islamic history of Northern India, where the Mughals are the latest in a long line of invaders. With Nasiruddin Humayun's untimely death, a meaningless crown passes to his young son, a somewhat squeamish Jalaluddin Mohammad. His father's general, Bairam Khan (Yuri), takes it upon himself to serve his young liege lord's cause. By the time Jalal reaches glorious manhood in the well-muscled person of Hrithik Roshan, Bairam Khan manages to cobble together an empire for him to rule.

A newly masterful Jalal begins to take over the reins of control by sending the ambitious Bairam Khan off on a pilgrimage to Mecca (a polite way of saying "exile" as such a trip in the sixteenth century would take years) and expanding his empire. But the Rajputs, Hindu warriors of the northwest, refuse to bend knee. Jalal manages to subdue some of them but there are still too many holding out. This isn't a state of affairs that a man who wishes to call himself Emperor of all Hindustan can allow.

Enter Raja Bharmal (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) of the Rajput state of Amer. Circumstances have made it necessary for him to seek Imperial protection and he indicates that he is ready to swear allegiance to the Mughal crown - if the Emperor would take his daughter Jodhaa (Aishwarya Rai) to wife.

Once the stars have aligned to put Jodhaa and Jalal in close proximity to each other - a process that roughly takes an hour - Jodhaa Akbar gladly puts its political pretensions aside and turns into a charming love story.

There are still a number of sword fights and a lot of talk about court/political intrigue, but the movie's heart isn't really in it. The only bit of intrigue Jodhaa Akbar is really invested in, is the one between its principal leads.

Apart from a bravura turn by Ila Arun as the jealously possessive Maham Anga, every character except Jodhaa and Jalal have about as much depth as a wading pool. The villains, including the hilariously portrayed Hemu (a Hindu king who captured Delhi for a brief period of time after Humayun's death) who looks like an escapee from a Ramsay Bros. film complete with greasy hair tossing, aren't just villainous but also rather stupid and given to showing their hand rather easily. And the "good guys" like Akbar's birth mother Hamida Banu (Punam Sinha) sort of glide about and make dutiful noises from time to time. The only bit of interesting dialogue afforded the talented Suhasini Mulay (Rani Padmavati, Jodhaa's mother) is when she offers her newly betrothed daughter some poison on the sly - "Death is surely better than suffering insult," she tells her shocked child. 

As for Rai and Roshan, they haven't been this good in quite some time. Roshan, in particular, gives his overworked facial muscles a little time off and taps into that well of talent that stood him in good stead in movies like Lakshya. Rai proves once again that all she needs is a director who isn't awed by her physical perfection to turn in a performance that hits all the right notes. 

However, I do think that the makers copped out on making a truly fantastic film by not allowing the more psychotic side of medieval royalty (witness the scene where Jalal has his injured foster brother dragged up the stairs just so he can have him thrown down once more) more screentime, but the tiny moments wherein Jalal and Jodhaa try their best to understand each other and begin to fall in love, make up for it. 

So does it take liberties with historical facts? In several places. But as a movie, it works very well. 

Amrita Rajan is a writer based in NYC
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Deepti Lamba
February 16, 2008
10:47 PM

Amrita, good review, trying for the tickets for next week.

February 17, 2008
12:50 AM

I do not know from where to start????

I saw the first day first show here in US, that was Friday, Feb 15 2008, 5:00 PM. After traveling in massive rain for 2 hours, and boy was I disappointed??? And you know what was even worse, that I didn't have to wait till interval to realize that I made a wrong choice, it was clear from the first 10 minutes itself, in the first "epic" fight.
I have always slammed Asoka, because I felt that it was a strong subject dealt so poorly by the director, but tonight I spent 2 hours discussing with my brother, how powerful Asoka was when compared with JA, and he agreed.

Why I am comparing this movie with Asoka??? because Ashoka and Akbar have always been my real heroes. They are the real historical figures, who are respected by one and all, regardless of religion, caste, or cadre. And I read about both in school history books, but sad to say, Akbar's chapter was much more interesting in that history book than JA.

Very first thing is, when you do not have enough extras to show a BIG army, neither computer technology to replicate frames to show a HUUUGGGEEE army, then never take an aerial shot of so called "epic" battle.

TBH it was my fault to expect something like LOTR from an Indian movie, when we do not have the sufficient technology. But I was disappointed to see that JA didn't even match Asoka standards, spl in war sequences, which was a low budget movie, and was released 5 years ago. Even after 5 years AG couldn't muster the technique to show better war scenes, just baffled me.

Movie started, just the way Lagaan did, with Amitabh Bachchan's voice, describing characters. But Akbar's character was shown very weak. Then came the war scene, and trust me if you remember the age old Mahabharta war scenes on TV, you will bang your head on the wall after seeing these stupid scenes. Nuff said.

As movie progresses you expect Akbar to become a big strong king, as you have read in books, but he has been shown as a man with no intelligence of his own. He is always shown as a person depending upon someone else for advice, which is quite frankly stupid. I know Akbar was illiterate, but it is said that he surrounded himself with some real intelligent and nice people and as a result he was a very able and smart person and emperor, therefore was loved by all his subjects. But never once in the movie you feel like Akbar had any interaction with the people of his empire, he is shown having just one circle of trust and do everything as they say. Something which didn't go down too well with me.

Now comes fighting with elephant, dude you gotta be kidding me. I mean really??? is this your idea of showing a strong man???? fighting an elephant with a "dhaal"??? and elephant becomes calm when you sit on top of him??? In between Hrithik had some ludicrous jumps though....which added some humor however unintentional from director's point of view.

Only scenes where you feel for the characters are, when Jodha and Akbar are getting married. The whole sequence is good and stays true to the expectations. Moreover emotions displayed by Hrithik and Aish are good in this part.

Infact if you want to see Hrithik and Aish, and their scenes, movie won't really be that bad, but everything else is so cliched and so over the top that you end up laughing at everything.

Let me go to the last fight now, as it might be getting unbearable for you to read anymore. I am a fan of Hrithik, not because of his acting, because that is limited, but because of kind of preparation he puts in for the character. I thought it matches the professionalism of Hollywood, but here Hrithik, I guess didn't really care. He never felt comfortable with whatever he was wearing, whatever he was carrying as a weapon. Hence you got real stale fight scenes. They tried to copy Troy in the end, but as rest of the movie, it fell flat on the face, and the movie ends abruptly.

Good part of the movie is Hrithik Aish chemistry, rest is just a mystery. I do not understand why it stretched to 3:20 hrs, when clearly atleast 2-3 characters were not needed. They had nothing to do, it might have been totally edited and hence shortening the movie by atleast 30 minutes or so. Again a plus point, the woman who played mother of Akbar, she was classy, spoke really well, portrayed the feelings of a mother really well. She was the only character very well sketched. And the dialogs, I must commend the person who wrote dialogs, there were some hardcore hindi and urdu dialogs, but you never feel like lost. You will come to know the meaning and might end up learning something. And even the dialog delivery had been spot on.

As for performances, this is the first movie of Aish, where she acted better than everyone else. That can be due to her character being written and sketched out beautifully. Akbar's character was written half heartedly and moreover Hrithik is not one of the best actors around, and hence you end up feeling sad for real Akbar. Aish's bhaisa's character was badly written but the guy was ok in acting. Though I didn't feel like that the character was needed at all in the movie.

I will give this movie 2 stars, that too from the goodness of my heart, and the fact that me and my brother went to see a movie after a long time, and ended up laughing nonstop for 4 hours, which was clearly not what AG tried, but still thanks to him.

And yeah on a side note, after watching JA I am convinced, you don't need big body to portray characters like Akbar and Asoka, what you need is emotions visible in your eyes, your face, something which suggest you are a strong leader mentally.

Sidenote 2, please do not make Ramayna, and Asoka anymore, you don't have enough technology to match the expected standards, and you end up mocking these highly respected characters.

And if someone is still reading, thanks alot for your time and effort, trust me you while reading and me while writing invested more effort than AG did while directing.

February 17, 2008
01:05 AM

That could have been an *original* review on Desicritics

February 17, 2008
01:11 AM

Whose review you mean??? mine or Amrita's?????

February 17, 2008
01:19 AM

Dude, Amrita's is ALREADY on Desicritics as an article, who's left, Sherlock?

February 17, 2008
01:49 AM

Dee - one suggestion: leave the kids at home. There's no way the kiddies will be able to hack this thing for 4 hours. But if you do watch it, see it in the theater coz its worth it.

Kunal - HAHAHAH! I shouldn't laugh at your pain but that was hilarious. Yeah, I can see how you'd be disappointed if you went in expecting an LOTR kind of movie. I wasn't actually bothered by the small numbers (contrary to popular opinion, most "big" battles didn't feature a cast of hundreds and thousands) or the lack of CGI but I was disappointed by the lack of artistry in the war scenes - here the Rajputs and the Mughals, both good strategists according to history, just kind of have a stare down following by a lot of yelling and hacking away at each other. But I think the Ash and Hrithik (and I agree with you that neither of them is exactly god's gift to acting) managed to leave a lasting impression. Which is why I think this is a romance more than a historical. I liked it once I got that idea :)

Aaman - Kunal's still recovering from the horror :D

Deepti Lamba
February 17, 2008
02:35 AM

Did you say - 4 HOURS???

I'm maidless as usual, no where to leave the kids; movie will have to wait.

February 17, 2008
02:37 AM

"Dude, Amrita's is ALREADY on Desicritics as an article, who's left, Sherlock?"

Dude thanks for the compliment, but I never thought that my work can be deemed as original ;)

And Amrita, it was not just LOTR, but by any standards, as I said even by the standards of Ashoka, it was a poor attempt. And I read that Hemu had 1500 war elephants, cavalry, and even foot soldiers was much more. So clearly it had at the very least 3000 soldiers on one side.

But forget about the number, did you see that whole "sniper" scene???? honestly tell me, weren't you laughing???? and what was about just swinging your sword in the air, I swear those soldiers of Mahabharta, in simple Paragin hawaai chappal had more conviction.

Dude the fact is that Akbar has always been remembered as a great warrior king. One as you mentioned had tactically and numerically supreme military.

And one more funny thing, that whole bhaisa character had like 20 minutes of screen time scattered along 4 hour movie, and he took 12 minutes to die. And moreover in various camera zoom in zoom out movements you can see Ekta Kapoor's influence on AG.

And I swear that whole shaheshah song was like my sports day drill, where children come dressed as people from all over India, and do some weired flower formations. I don't know about you but we did alot in our school. One more reason to hate JA.

May be you liked the movie, and may be you are one of those mushy, cute, sweet girls, who like love stories. Don't get me wrong, even I enjoy those, but Akbar????? dude he was supposed to be a different person altogether.

Anyhow you liked the movie, I kinda... hated. But yeah I liked the way you wrote the whole review. Your language was seriously slick.

February 17, 2008
02:45 AM

"Did you say - 4 HOURS???

I'm maidless as usual, no where to leave the kids; movie will have to wait."

Trust me Deepti you won't regret. Go treat yourself with Mithya instead.

February 17, 2008
07:00 AM

What's with the rash of websites moaning about boycotting the movie?

Here's one

February 17, 2008
07:01 AM


you are kidding me!

by the time you add in the prep time, the commute and and and and, its like a bloody day out!

i will wait till it comes out in comic book format :P

February 17, 2008
10:03 AM

Kunal - it's been so long since anybody called me a nice sweet mushy girl, I'm gonna take it and run. You can't have it back! :P
Re: the 3000-strong army of Hemu. Thats the point I was trying to make: In movies like LOTR the armies run to hundreds of thousands thanks to CGI. I think Narnia and 300 were a lot more "real world" in terms of numbers - although 300 was up against a pretty huge Persian army. I remember reading somewhere that that particular scene - and yes, the sniper was pretty LOL which is what I was hinting at in the review - had some 5000 extras in it. Which seems about right from the looks of it.
Talking about Bhaisa and how badly drawn the character was - that was pretty much established for me in that intro scene where young Jodhaa cries about her spoilt painting to her big brave bhaisa and he pats her head benignly and says, "So draw another one". *blink blink* Sonu Sood did well imo.

Dee - well, the movie itself is supposed to be 3.20 hours long. then there's interval, commercials and commute. Four hours if you're lucky is my guess. Awww @ maidless. This really is a theatre-oriented movie.

BD - did I shock you? :D Like I told Dee, depending on where you live, including commute and everything, it comes to about 4 hours. If you go for it, then take a friend and lay off liquids.
I didn't know those guys had a website up - they're people offended by historical inaccuracies in the movie, LOL!

February 17, 2008
11:13 AM

Thanks for both reviews by Amrita and Kunal. Both are useful!

February 17, 2008
01:15 PM

Good review. And you beat me to it :)

February 18, 2008
03:25 AM

"it's been so long since anybody called me a nice sweet mushy girl, I'm gonna take it and run. You can't have it back! :P"


Yeah you are right, they don't really need so many people if there is enough technology, but sadly, it wasn't the case here.

Anywho..... looks like movie is doing good business.

But now you know after 2 days and getting off with all my anger, I really feel like movie wasn't as bad, it is one time watch. Forget about cliches, watch it for Hrithik, that poor soul deserves a hit, though I can't see him on award shows as his sense of humor sucks big time.

February 18, 2008
03:41 AM

When did DC become official flirting centre of India.

February 18, 2008
03:47 AM

Tum paas aaye, yun muskuraye.... kitno ke dilo mein, sapne jagaye.....

Ab yaar tum jaise hunk honge to kahan jayegi koi bhi chhori.

February 18, 2008
03:50 AM

see when you subject people to 4 days a week of saas bahu for 7 years, thats what happens. Your mind becomes numb to any intelligent or for that matter not so intelligent show. All you care about then is jewelery and sarees of actresses. hence JA scores big time.

February 18, 2008
04:38 AM

thanks fr ur compliment kunal

February 18, 2008
01:49 PM


Good review. Agree with most of it. Lovvd Ila Arun, btw! I think Hrithik is AG's muse: how often is he in the center of a frame, and from flattering angles too (including the bare torso seduction sequence)...Also thought the way Hrithik used his body language and voice were remarkable. I daresay, Dilip Kumar's Salim feels a bit stiff now:)

Other things I liked: AG's use of semi-transparent curtains as a symbol of the peculiar equation btwn J and A (and by extension Hindus and Muslims)and his vision of separation of church and state (snide to Maulanah Abbaasii) and the amazingly bold interruption of a harangue abt Islamic purity by a Krishna bhajan:)

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