Jodhaa Akbar
November 15, 2008
reviewed by William P. Meyers

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Jodhaa Akbar means "Jodhaa the Great." I rented the film out of historic interest and found that not only the title, but the film itself is great.

I would be willing to nominate Aishwarya Rai as the world's most beautiful actress, and Hrithik Roshan is a very handsome, dashing leading man. Beauty defines this film, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. The central theme is love, but there is plenty of war and political intrigue including assassinations.

Most of all, Jodhaa Akbar is a visual and auditory feast. The singing and dancing are sublime. The architectural backdrop transported me. The use of color in Indian culture was displayed in everything from soldier's customers to meal presentations.

The actors speak Hindi, but if you aren't intested in following the political intrigue you can follow it pretty well without glancing at the subtitles.

As to historical accuracy, don't be looking for too much. I had read about Akbar in Percival Spear's A History of India. The fact that Percival does not seem to think that Akbar has any other name, and that Akbar means "Great," is a bit scary, but in outline Akbar inherited the remains of a small empire in northern India when he was 13, and turned it into an empire that included most of what we now call Afghanistan and roughly the northern half of the Indian subcontinent. Jalaluddin Mohammed "possessed both personal magnetism, the ability to manoeuvre and to judge situations, and the Napoleonic gift of rapid movement." Like many imperial types, he thought people were better off as his subjects, and did not mind spilling some blood conquering them.

Akbar's political genius was to allow Hindus to share the governance of this empire with his own Moghal's, who subscribed to Islam. His empire is a good example of moderate, tolerant Islam at work. That is probably what attracted the film makers to this story. So they fudged history a bit and made it into a love story, with a woman who is traded as a wife to him in the leading role.

Akbar was indeed a religious reformer who invited religious leaders and philosophers of all stripes to his palace. He tried to start a new, synthesized religion, but it was attacked by the theocratically rigid clerics of both Hinduism and Islam. His Divine Faith or Din Illahi died with him.

India has made quite a comeback since it was crushed by two centuries of British raping and pillaging. This week they succeeded in making an unmanned moon landing. They have their issues, to be sure, but they clearly have a lot to contribute to world civilization.

Sometimes art shows you what life could be, rather than what it is. In this case I'll take the beauty of the vision of a religiously tolerant society, the Bollywood ending.

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