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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Review: Don’t Breathe

Good movies lure you in and don’t leave you even after the credits roll. Unfortunately, the 2016 Crime/Thriller movie by Fede Álvarez didn’t quite do that. My friend had been asking me to watch Don’t Breathe for a more than a few months, and with nothing else to do on a Saturday night, I decided to give in. What I got was a below-average movie, buoyed only because of its somewhat impressive plot and entirely inoffensive use of light, camera work and sound.

Although I hate summarising the plot, I need to do so to provide context. Money (Daniel Zovatto), Rocky (Jane Levy) and Alex (Dylan Minnette) are three friends from Detroit who rob houses to sustain themselves. In order to run away to California, they decide to steal one last time. They pick a blind, retired veteran’s (Stephen Lang) house, and hope that it would be an easy mission. Things, however, go wrong as the man fights back and kills Zovatto. The remainder of the movie is centred around the thieves’ escape from the house.

This basic plot kept me interested through at least two-thirds of the movie. The scenes involving Levy and Minnette’s escape from a locked house with a blind veteran with a sharp aim on their heels are realistic and engaging. This is especially true when, for, a brief time the two remaining thieves are forced to run through his house in the dark, losing the one advantage they have over the veteran – sight. These scenes are cleverly thought of and well executed. There are more than few genuinely scary moments scattered across the movie. These scenes are also exciting because they rely entirely upon visuals to communicate the scene, with little to no dialogue.

The paucity of dialogue is an even bigger advantage for the film considering how terrible the dialogues are. At one point, Zovatto, who is supposed to embody a ‘gangsta’ aesthetic (complete with tattoos and smoking pot) says unconvincingly of Levy who has entered the house through a bathroom window to let the other two in, “That’s my bitch in there.” In addition to poor dialogue, the movie is genuinely hurt by poor characters. It is almost a feat that in a movie with four lead characters, I found myself not rooting for anyone. Minnette, with his performance of a friendzoned thief with morals is entirely unconvincing. As is his rattling of state laws for different crimes at any given instance. Levy’s expressions, one the other hand, are able to carry the emotions of terror that the characters are supposed to be feeling. Stills of her terrified face and wide eyes may even remind one of Alexis Bledel in one of the execution scenes of The Handmaid’s Tale, of course, minus the latter’s brilliance.

The film tries too hard to evoke sympathies for its characters, particularly those of Lang and Levy. From the very beginning it is established that Levy’s propensity to steal comes from her fucked-up family dynamics. (Why do the other two do it? Who knows.) Lang has a woman locked up in his basement, but that is only because she killed his daughter. He has impregnated her, but professes that he didn’t rape her, but rather, artificially inseminated her. By this point, I was simply rolling my eyes. I assume that the writers of the film (Álvarez and Rodo Sayagues) hoped that these revelations would lead to complex characters with shades of grey. They do nothing of the sort, and all of the characters end up falling flat. I also had a problem with the pacing of the film. It is quite difficult to imagine that a 90-minute film feels too long, particularly when I am used to watching 3-hour long Bollywood films. But the chase sequences featuring Levy and Lang (complete with a dog helping him) do get tedious after a while.

When I started watching the movie, I thought to myself, let me see how sound and camera angles are used to convey feelings of terror. This movie didn’t succeed in helping me pin-point that. And I’m not sure if that is a point in the film’s favour or not. I wish I had started this blog by examining a film I liked more, and had more to say about. But there is no harm in watching the movie, particularly if you have nothing else to do on a Saturday night.