Sunday, March 20, 2011

Bollywood worth watching: Ashutosh Gowariker's spectacular JODHAA AKBAR

What? TrustMovies is watching Bollywood? Of his own accord? And more than three-and-a-half hours of it -- in a single sitting?  (Two sittings, actually. He took a few-hour break between his breakfast and lunch-time viewings.) The reason? To see more of two of the most beautiful actors -- face and body -- at work today: Hrithik Roshan (of the recent Kites) and Aishwarya Rai (of The Last Legion, The Mistress of Spices and Bride and Prejudice). Instead of fast-forwarding or giving up midway, he actually finished the film in a state of sated pleasure, for the movie, as much as any he's seen, puts the "ollywood" in Bollywood -- and does so in a manner that might make Cecil B. DeMille proud.

JODHAA AKBAR, from the fellow (Ashutosh Gowariker, shown at right) who gave us the Oscar-nominated Lagaan a decade back, contains just about everything you could ask for in historical spectacle -- except of course true history.  But that's the last thing we'd want in a movie like this. Instead we get glamor and gold aplenty, battles large-scale and small, love, devotion, betrayal and comeuppance, all handled in a smart, efficient manner that allows them to spread out across a vast canvas that will solicit our ooohs and aaahs, but also pass fast enough to make those three-and-a-half hours, if not fly by, at least move with surprising speed.

The story, which tells (as the movie admits upfront via opening title cards) its own version of the marriage that united a 16th Century Mughal emperor with a Rajput princess, thus brings together Hindu and Muslim religion and culture. As a writer Mr. Gowariker stresses time and again the need for religious tolerance -- a not-bad notion for our trying times. The storybook quality of the film is maintained nicely throughout, and even the several songs scattered through the film are used, not as the usual Bollywood interruptions to the story, but as either cultural artifacts (complete with dance) or musical background to the stunning visuals.

Both Ms Rai (above) and Mr Roshan (elephant-training, below) are as gorgeous as expected, and if we don't get to see much of their physical bodies, their sublime faces are much on display. In fact, there is a single extended scene in the movie in which Roshan, stripped to the waist, practices his swordplay, as Ms Rai looks on, hidden behind a curtain. For those interested in viewing the perfection of the masculine physique, the scene is a must, for Roshan combines the ideal body with the grace, strength and balance of a dancer in a way that even the most buffed of Hollywood actors can only view with envy and disbelief.

Jodhaa Akbar, on DVD and Blu-ray, is available for rental or sale, and the Blu-ray, incidentally, is a stunning transfer -- the best I've so-far seen (granted, I'm new to Blu-ray) with the exception of Criterion's The Leopard.

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