JODHAA AKBAR. Director: Ashutosh Gowariker. Players: Hrithik Roshan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Kulbhushan Kharbanda, Ila Arun, Nikitin Dheer, Sonu Sood, Poonam S. Sinha. Music: A.R. Rahman. Theatrical release: February 2008.


After the Oscar-nominated Lagaan, and the critically acclaimed Swades, Ashutosh Gowariker’s new film, Jodhaa Akbar, has been highly anticipated by audiences all over the world. At a budget of over Rs. 40 crores ($10 million), it is also the most expensive Indian film made to date—definitely a must-see for the theater.

The movie opens with the historical battle at Panipat, where thousands of extras, horses, and elephants engage in a bloody battle. But Jodhaa Akbar is really the fictionalized love story of the Moghul Emperor Jalaludin Mohammad Akbar (Roshan), and the Hindu Rajput princess Jodhaa Bai (Rai Bachchan). Historically, it is known that the marriage was a political alliance between Jodhaa’s father, Raja Bharmal of Amer (Kharbanda), and Akbar. But the movie takes us to see Jodhaa’s humiliation upon being forced to become a political pawn; she does not want to marry a man of a different culture and religion. The fiery Rajput princess consents to marrying Akbar, only if he agrees to her two conditions. This sets the tone for the love story between two headstrong, yet compassionate individuals.

The love story is interspersed with the politics and battles of the early 16th century, as Akbar attempts to unite (or conquer, depending on how you look at it) all of Hindustan. Akbar’s foster mother, Maham Anga (Arun), plays a strong adversary in the first half of the film, as she attempts to foil Jodhaa and Akbar’s love and trust for one another. It is an interesting saas-bahu conflict, and Arun plays with great conviction

The second half of the film continues to develop the relationship between Jodhaa and Akbar through a montage of events, including the song “Jashn-e-bahaar” as well as a feisty sword fight scene between Jodhaa and Akbar. The theme song, “Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah,” is picturized with the grandeur one would expect for the Emperor of Hindustan. We see more of the internal politics of the separate kingdoms, and the climax sets up another great battle scene. But the audience is left a little disappointed when there is no great battle-finale, but rather a one-on-one fight between Akbar and rival Sharifuddin Hussain (Dheer).

Hrithik really sinks his teeth into the role of Akbar. Aside from looking absolutely perfect for the part, his range of expressions is compelling—from confidence, to sheer arrogance, to blushing at the sight of his begum. It is definitely one of his best performances to date. Aishwarya looks beautiful, and expresses well, but her affected dialogue delivery takes away from her performance, and you can’t help but be reminded that you’re watching Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, and not the Rajput princess Jodhaa of the 16th century. Sood is convincing as Jodhaa’s brother, but Sinha, as Akbar’s mother, stands out negatively—luckily she only has a few cringe-worthy dialogues. Dheer is perfect as Akbar’s menacing, ruthless adversary.

Dialogues, by K.P. Saxena, are very well written, and the contrast of the chaste Hindi with the pure Urdu adds another layer of beauty to the film. Thankfully, there are English subtitles that help you follow along. Rahman’s songs are melodic and grow on you; the background score is one of his best to date. Production design, by Nitin Chandrakant Desai, is meticulously crafted, and a treat to the eyes. Neeta Lulla’s costumes leave you awestruck. She has created costumes better than ever—not only for Aishwarya, but for Hrithik, as well as the thousands of characters and extras in the film.

The sets, costumes, and jewelry are reason enough to go see this film in the theater. But, at over three and a half hours long, the film does try your patience. Intermission occurs after two hours, which is generally the length of a full feature film. By the third hour, you wish the director had not spent so much time establishing everything in the first half. The film could have been edited down by an hour.

All in all, Jodhaa Akbar is not only a feast for the eyes, but an imaginative love story, as well as a blast into the past of the great Moghul Empire of India. Just be prepared for the film’s length, and it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Antara Bhardwaj is an independent filmmaker based in San Francisco.