Gautaman Bhaskaran
an indian journalist
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© Copyright 2004

 

INDIAN CINEMA

Cinema In General

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Pans & Tilts…Jodhaa Akbar, Black and White, Filmfare awards…

Ashutosh Gowariker’s “Jodhaa Akbar” refuses to leave the limelight. Even when the film was in production, there were unforeseen delays caused by illnesses. Gowariker had a bad back that confined him to bed. Later, just before the release, India’s Rajputs cried shame. They argued that Jodhaa was not Akbar’s wife, but his son’s. The Rajputs stopped the movie screening in Rajasthan and elsewhere. A court ban seemed like the last nail on the coffin.

However, India’s Supreme Court has now lifted the ban, albeit on an interim basis. The final ruling will come on March 14, and Gowariker and the film’s producers are hoping that the court will pass a favourable order.

Be that as it may, I wonder why all this fuss over a movie that is at best mediocre, and uses Akbar merely as a historical peg to narrate what is essentially a love story between two very unlikely people. Jodhaa was a Hindu princess, steeped in her religion and passionate about Lord Krishna. Akbar was a Muslim to the core, though age mellowed him down to become more tolerant of other faiths.

And as a movie, “Jodhaa Akbar” works in a very limited way. Aishwarya Rai has never been a good actress, and she is largely disappointing in this film as well, and we must, therefore, give credit to Hrithik Roshan (playing Akbar) for doing a somewhat satisfactory job. Playing opposite a bad actor is no mean task.

I really think that Indians, Rajputs in particular, would look at “Jodhaa Akbar” as a mere movie, a bad one at that, and not as a document of history. Oh, please, “Jodhaa Akbar” is not worth all this time and energy, and I am sure India’s apex court has many, many more pressing cases to grapple with. It should stop admitting such cases where the motive is clearly harassment, and little else. In the “Jodhaa Akbar” case, for instance, there really is no merit for the highest court in the land to get involved.

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Bollywood big man Subhash Ghai is ready with his new release “Black and White”. After the debacle of “Kisna”, Ghai must be nervous, wishing that his latest film does not go the same way. “Black and White” deals with terror, and tells how a young radical Muslim wants to blow himself up along with Delhi’s Red Fort on India’s Independence Day. He wants this to serve as a call to Muslims to unite against Hindus. At least one early review of this movie is not all praise; it avers that Santosh Sivan’s work on Sri Lanka terror was more intense and less pretentious than Ghai’s “Black and White”.

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Ghai, who has introduced Anurag Sinha as his hero in “Black and White”, says that Bollywood is starved of fresh faces and talent. Though the industry has been expanding, the whopping salaries that corporates pay stars will merely push up production costs. And there is no guarantee that returns will be good. Ghai has missed a very important point here. Though he talks about lack of talent, few in Bollywood are concerned with this. Very little premium is attached to performance, with all the attention being diverted to pretty faces, seductive figures and muscles. Can anyone please tell me why, why at all, was that scene of Akbar/Hrithik Roshan fighting an elephant included in “Jodhaa Akbar”? It was only to show a bare bodied Roshan, muscles all toned up! And, finally, why must Bollywood tolerate someone like Aishwarya Rai? It is only because she is gorgeous to look at. In short, this is what Bollywood is all about.

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Tailpiece: Let me end this column in the same vein. Lack of concern for talent. At the recent 53rd Filmfare Awards in Mumbai, Shah Rukh Khan walked away with the Best Actor trophy for his role in “Om Shanti Om”. What happened to the other nominee in this category, Darsheel Safary in “Taare Zameen Par”? I thought he was brilliant as a dyslexic child bewildered by his disability and harassed by the adult world that is blind to his suffering. Men like Mr Ghai can continue to talk about talent and recognition, and they sound unreal in an industry that celebrates mediocrity. Now, Khan certainly did not deserve that award.

(Webposted March 6 2008)