Jodhaa Akbar – How it holds up

This is going to be a bit of a different post. Recently, I re-watched Jodhaa Akbar, which released in 2008 and is directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. I had first watched the movie a few months after its release and was awestruck by the manner in which the film captured the splendour of both the Rajput and Mughal cultures while sharing a sweet love story. In my most recent viewing, however, I didn’t feel the same way. The movie felt dated in some ways and there were several points that just didn’t work for me. So – despite my dislike of listicles – here is a list of things that struck me as dated or poorly executed.

  1. The costumes

Given as this film received praise for its style (it won the IIFA Award for Best Costume and inspired real and imitation jewellery in India for years to come), I wish this wasn’t the case. But the fabrics and embroidery used on the clothes is clearly machine stitched and mass produced. As are the turbans used by all male Mughal characters. Once you notice these details, they are hard to un-see, and become a distraction throughout the duration of the movie. For instance, Maham Anga, a minister in Akbar’s court, has lace on her dupatta (veil) that is completely out of place for the era. I’m not an expert on historical costumes, obviously, but I recognised its stitching and prevalence in Indian clothing (See 1:54:25).

Additionally, the beards and moustaches worn by the minor male characters appear visibly fake. There’s only so much make-up can do, the sight of real hair cannot be replicated.

In addition to clothes, some of the jewellery (shocking) also bothered me. Don’t get me wrong, Tanishq did a fabulous job with the sets worn by Aishwarya Rai. It was accessories to turbans worn by minor characters that struck me as not being of the same quality as Jodhaa’s gorgeous necklaces. Here we can also mention that the pearls used in the curtains in 1:01:34 looked fake and didn’t fit into the splendour that the film was trying to sell. For those who will come at me for being too picky, K Asif (director of Mughal-e-Azam) famously asked for real pearls to be dropped on the floor for a scene, because the fake ones were prone to breaking easily. And no amount of clever camera work to hide the broken pearls convinced him. And this part of the film wasn’t even in technicolour! Such attention to detail, sadly, is missing in this film.

  1. The sets and props

While the sets are carefully designed, one can clearly tell the difference between scenes shot on sets versus sweeping shots of actual Mughal architecture. For instance, the scene shot in the Mughal subhedar’s fort in Ajmer has a distinctly set-like quality to it owing to the texture and patterns on the walls. Of course, using sets is inevitable, and the sets really are beautiful. But they simply cannot match up to the real thing. In the same vein, while the props used were beautiful, they were blatantly inauthentic. Golden organza curtains? Nope.

  1. Editing and camera work

This is where the film really begins to look dated. Major transition shots are accompanied by ‘wiping’ the next frame in. This is a feature that should only be restricted to MS Powerpoint (maybe not even that). Smarter editing and dialogue could have also helped make the movie shorter (at 213 minutes, it is a LONG film). For instance, the scene where Akbar’s mother leaves the palace to go on pilgrimage (1:44:15) is entirely unnecessary. It could’ve been replaced with a single dialogue signalling her absence.

This is also coupled by sloppy camera work. Most notably in the song Man Mohana. The song first appears around 45’. The camera angle revealing Krishna’s face at 45:15 is reminiscent of a Sooraj Barjatya movie. That accompanied by low angle shots of the idol simply did not work for me. Similarly, the shot of a white light engulfing Akbar when he supposedly gains enlightenment at the end of Khwaja Mere Khwaja could perhaps have been replaced by a subtler shot of his expression to signify the same thing.

  1. The use of music

I am not questioning Rehman’s genius here. My point is a minor one. The background score, at times, is used poorly and makes the film feel loud. Shots of Akbar’s enraged face at 47:05 are accompanied by loud dramatic music. This is entirely unnecessary. The actor’s expression coupled with the camera’s angle conveys the emotion the director wants us to understand. By adding dramatic music on top of that takes away from the subtlety of the movie as assumes that the audience is too stupid to understand what’s happening unless shown explicitly. Similarly, there is a beautiful scene where Akbar showers flowers on his wife in the middle of a sword fight (2:23:03). But is accompanied by music that is dated and redundant.

 

Now that I’ve listed what didn’t work, it is only fair to mention what did.

  1. The chemistry between Hrithik Roshan (Akbar) and Aishwarya Rai (Jodhaa) is endearing. As someone who isn’t a fan of romantic films, I found it cute and refreshing. This may also have to do with the fact that the director took time to showcase the personalities of these two characters individually.
  2. The lighting throughout the movie is very good, and goes to convey the setting and mood of the film very well. Think dark lighting to accompany Maham Anga’s plotting (1:44:52) and warm light to accompany the central character’s blossoming romance in In Lamhon Ke Daman Mein.
  3. Rehman’s music continues to create magic regardless of how many times I’ve heard the film’s songs.
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