Jodhaa Akbar

I tried to download the movie a day after its release and much to my annoyance it turned to be a fake torrent. Well, there was another movie in its place -- Super Star. I did, however, get the actual movie yesterday. After watching it, I so wished that the second download was a fake too.

The fact that this movie has been lauded as one of the greatest in recent times just shows the perversion in the mainstream consumption of mainstream art forms, especially movies[1]. It happened among Tamil cinema viewers in the last decade. When the dearth of 'good' movies and pseudo-critiques in TV created an illusion of differentiating the 'good' from the 'bad'. Of course, the need to put down the Other -- non-Tamil movies, especially Hindi -- effectively blurred the viewers possible 'objective' assessment of a movie further. Veyyil and Paruthi Veeran are lauded ubiquitously, almost (Paruthi Veeran is also "going places")[2].

I wonder if the same phenomenon has caught up with the Hindi movie viewers as well. The need to "have something on par with Hollywood". I'm not as surprised by a few "critics" on TV because they are known to be cronies of one faction or the other. After all, they need someone for their 'Grope a star' kind of shows. But the mainstream viewer's enthusiasm to suck up, in this context, is slightly disturbing. They are either gleefully buying into the false binaries created by the TV hosts (Hrithik can act, Sunil Shetty cannot. Aishwarya Rai looks like a feathered turkey, but she looks stunning etc.) or they are caught in some kind of self imposed binary. To choose between national pride, supposedly represented by this "great Indian movie", and being an American boot-licker.

The reason one likes this movie cannot probably oversimplified like above, but who cares? When one likes an oversimplication like Jodhaa Akbar, he/she better be prepared undergo the same treatment.

1. To quote from one of my previous posts: the perversion is not in the consumption per se, but how it's perceived. Ex: when a health expert appears on TV and starts explaining the benefits of consuming 500ml Pepsi everyday.
2. Read this interesting column by Sudhir Mishra


Padmanabhan said...

Hi Suresh,

I watched Pirivom Sandhipom recently and am quite impressed with it. If you have time and interest , do a poscast on it.

Suresh said...

Sure Padmanabhan, I'll try to get the movie. Don't know if I can do a podcast though, will definitely try. Thanks.

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Mathangi said...

Hi Suresh,I have been listening to a lot of your podacasts,I am a bit of a fan too of your style of talking.Being a movie buff myself,I agree with most of your views on many movies.I watched Jodha Akbar in a theatre...i felt it was a bit crude in many areas and simplistic,as you said.I still believe it was a good effort ,in the sense that the potrayal of 16th century women was far better than that of women as just song accessories in today's movie.It showed that a women has the right to refuse sex with her husband even if he was the "emperor,the right to religion...The historical truth of this can be challenged,but as an idea I think it was brilliant. Marriages of convinience exit today as well...I have heard many stories of such arangements for things far less than power and land..I liked Jodha akbar it was refreshing,although i did feel it could have been better edited.I loved the grandeur of the movie.I am architect,i could appreciate that they had got most of the authentic details correct in all their sets..I was never convinced of Hrithik's acting skills before since he saved his antics only for his father's movies. Hrithik did bring a dignity to the character,atleast he did not overact like our very own tamil actors when they don real life characters.i think you might have appreciated the movie a little better if you had watched the movie in a theatre and if your hindi was as good as your tamil.This is my view and I know that no one more than you will agree to disagree.

Suresh said...


I'm glad you listen to my podcasts. Thanks.

As for the movie:
{{The historical truth of this can be challenged,but as an idea I think it was brilliant.}} - In movies of this kind, what makes anything admirable or interesting , as far as ideological make up of the characters is concerned, is when the characters are more true to the historical figures they are based on. That is, you might be in awe of a 16th century woman (although, personally, I don't find it all that fascinating. We have several examples of this kind) who actually did what is shown in the movie.
Either that or when the movie itself is old. That is, if this movie had been released in the 60s, you might surprised by the 'modern' touch in the characters' behaviour.

But that's not the case at all. How hard is it to make some 'secular', pseudo-feminist, 'modern' ideals and make them get acted out in some farcical historical setup?

We long ago reached a point where movie makers had developed the pretentious "courage" to throw in pseudo-revolutionary ideas. (This might point makes more sense when you consider some 'truly' revolutionary movies of the 70s.) He wants to make a movie with ideas that can be easily sold among the educated, middle class Indian crowd. Heck, even the 'masala' movies show women beating the crap out of men. I don't know why nobody thinks that is "refreshing". The masala movie heroine is no more fictional than Jodhaa in JA.

He might as well have shown Akbar devising a constitution that allowed for democratic elections. May be open a few universities and appoint Jodhaa as a professor (you know, make her really "smart") in it. That would have been even more interesting. If he is not going to give damn about what actually happened why stop with one or two corny ideals?

A typical Gowarikar movie: a bland, unoriginal concoction of what is likely to be the least cerebral in a movie.
The underdogs, after some random singing and dancing, win the cricket match in a grand finale. The Brahmin man (after some, you know what?) finally manages to tame the savage brutes of the village to bring them electricity and other "developments" that required his presence. And the good looking, all conquering king (after some..yeah, you got it) is "civilized" and brought to his knees by a woman -- all thanks to "love".

(Please don't accuse me of reducing his movies single statements, for he (AG) reduces everything else just for a "happy ending".)

I'm surprised that you felt that sets were grand. I thought they are some of the crappiest I've ever seen (especially when you think about the colouring of those stone walls that appear during this heroic thiruvila elephant ride scene etc).

But yeah, I will agree to disagree, indeed.

Mathangi said...

Hey Suresh...I have to say that you have too many utopian ideals.The world is grey everything is "psuedo-something".
This movie only depicts the relationship between Akbar and his hindu was a time before Akbar rose in stature and became the emperor we know.He shows akbar as being smitten,impulsive and naive.So he doesn't come across as anything more.I think it is a story...on the lines of Mouna Ragam set in the 16 century.Could it have been better?.. maybe...but I still liked it.
As for the song and dance part of Jodha Akbar,I am a big fan of rahman and thought the songs and BGM did add to the movie.The songs styles were also appropriate.I always like Rahman's Islamic songs he sings them with conviction.I love his Piya Haji Ali from the movie fiza.
The lyrics for the songs in JA also alternated between Urdu and chaste hindu,esp in the Song "In Lamhon ke daaman mein".I cant quite imagine Indian Cinema without songs and frankly they needn't be a hurdle for good cinema.
I said they had got the details correct in the in mughal and rajput architecture,the scales could have been better.As for the colour schemes,traditional Indian colour schemes are gaudy/rich.Mughal architecture reached its best only during the time of Shahjahan,during akbar's time they were still experimenting various persian techniques with local materials.Infact if you have visited Fatehpur Sikhri which was to be the capital city of Akbar; built towards the end of his reign,you will still see contrasting colour schemes in red sand stone and white marble.

About the handsome king...I want to see good looking men in Indian cinema I DONT want to see 50-60 year old bloated grandfathers romancing 20 something girls..and going to college.I want to see eye candy men.So I thought Hrithik is perfectly Ok,if i need to see him for an extended period of time on a large screen.
As for your problem with Swades ...Do u have a problem with his hero or with the fact that the hero is a brahmin??It is true that brahmins till sometime back had a greater opportunity to come to the US ...So if you are depicting someone in the US who is a in their late 30s and who is "successful" and in a technical/engg job,there is a possibility that he is what is wrong with the protagonist being a brahmin?I am sure you figured out I am a brahmin,(I listen to your podcasts...I can also figure out the background of most ppl with their names)......but I dont believe I am any better than anyone else.

Why do you hate happy endings??..Why cant ppl be happy in the end of the movie?Maybe they will get miserable later but I would like to leave things in a happy note.Even in your fav movie Aval me it was a happy ending...Kamal realised sripriya is not cut for marriage,sripriya realised that like kamal like most men is pseudo-feminist and rajini continued his MCP life.If kamal and sripriya had gotten together I think they would have separated in sometime...
Suresh i agree ,you have a right to criticize,but we all criticize ppl who are "successful" ....would you concede that maybe they did reach where they are bcoz of talent even if it is minimal?You seem to have a problem with Dhoni,AG...and I know your list doesn't end here.
Anyways thanks for the quick response....hope to agree/disagree with you a lot more in the future.

Suresh said...

Now that my criticisms have been called "my criticisms", I'll try to find other critics who have already articulated "my criticisms" in detail and better.

You haven't addressed any of my main points. You have just listed why you liked the movie (or movies in general). If that what's we were going to talk about, we need not need this movie (or any movie in general).

I don't really have a problem with good looking people or song and dance routines. I won't be complaining about those features had it been a movie like Dhoom. There is a particular kind of politics involved in using "good looking" people in movies with "historical" and other "serious" subjects (another example: Water). Anyway, let's not go there.

I don't hate happy endings. (And Aval Appadithan is the farthest from a "happy ending" movie. )

I don't have a problem with "successful" people. Dhoni is no more successful than Sachin. Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic are no better than Federer. I think you get my point.
Your terms for criticism (or the lack of it) in itself seems a little problematic. You have to respect everyone simply because they have some kind of talent that made them "successful"? Isn't this the same kind of rhetoric that we hear when we criticize Shankar or Rajini? I'm sure, a lot of thought and research goes into making a tasty sub or a Wendy's takeout meal, but few would disagree that it's still "bad food". (I usually use Pepsi or Coke for these analogies, but what the heck?)

I'll quote a part of mail exchange that I had with a good friend who also criticizes my criticisms.
We’ve have had enough discussion about the “purpose of criticism and its nature” several times. Just like movies themselves, there’s no one way of analyzing it. We’ve discussed this several times too.

A view, either way (for or against) it would emerge out of your philosophical understanding of life vis-à-vis economic, social and political expectations of your own life (and the ones you think ought-to-be for others). Add to that the way the story itself is narrated.

That is, a movie can be analysed/criticized from several points of view: academic, political, economic, aesthetic etc. Of course, a lot of these aspects are intertwined. You might find my criticisms to be from an idealistic standpoint, probably because I politicize (or I would like to think) and problematize things more often than not.

I'll quote the blogposts in which we had long exchanges, you may read if you're interested:

As for Swades:
The problem is not that the lead character is a Brahmin or that it was Shahrukh (may be, but they are trivial). You'll understand my criticism if you can relate this video to the movie:
Swades wouldn't stand this parody either

As I said earlier, I'll try to quote articles that have expressed "my views" better.

Suresh said...

Regarding Swades: this articles hits it bang on

The vision of development that the NRI brings with him, and that the film promotes is, however, problematic. The director, Ashutosh Gowariker, initially establishes Mohan’s credentials as the carrier of the message and methods of ‘development’—he is educated, relatively wealthy, and upper-caste. At a meeting with a group of men from the village, where Mohan ostensibly questions the inequities of the caste system, someone asks him what he is, and he replies, Brahmin. It might have been interesting if the film had explored the caste negotiations that arise in the complex process of ‘development’ if the NRI engineer were a dalit: what then would have been the reaction of the dominant castes in the village to Mohan’s developmentalist interventions? Most of the men featured in the film who are given a voice are upper-caste. The voices of a few dalits—such as a family of labourers living on the caste-determined village boundaries—remain marginal in the film.

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