Iron Man 3: Meh!

Day 7, dud 2. Iron Man 3 was such a disappointment. I wish I wasn’t saying this because I was so excited about it when the film started. But it got me thinking, ‘Why didn’t this movie work? What makes a good Iron Man movie?’ Here’s what I didn’t like about this movie: The film was extremely dull because none of it is believable. This sucked the joy out of the film. It may have even been a halfway decent movie, but after The Avengers, it came up short.

Before we get into the specifics of this movie, let us turn to the first question. What makes a good Iron Man movie? Iron Man is a superhero who is a product of his suit that gives him the information he needs to stay on top of his enemies during battles, ability to survive any and all circumstances (even going to outer space through a wormhole) and the ability to fight even the toughest enemies. The suit is best suited to fight enemies with powers to match: people with enhanced abilities or advanced technology. But the films are also a product of the man behind the suits. Its Tony Stark that leads Iron Man into conflict. So, the movie must also be sufficiently challenging for Stark.

On paper, this movie has all these elements. The film challenges Tony Stark by separating him (albeit briefly) from his suit. It challenges Iron Man by making his suit vulnerable to the powers of the antagonists – extreme heat that can penetrate the suit. The antagonist is formidable because he creates an army of people who can generate extreme heat. What it lacks, which is perhaps the most crucial element in an Iron Man story, is a cohesive, engaging story to tie these elements together. This is because of a dearth of a fresh plot and well written characters, and because of the way in which the conflicts in the film are resolved.

In the end, the film is about saving the US from terrorist attacks and rescuing the President and Stark’s girlfriend, Pepper Potts, from captivity. The stakes are high, but the bar for stakes has raised even higher by the last few films. Think about it. At this point we have seen two intergalactic conflicts and battles over an energy source that can create a wormhole to the other end of space. Compared to that, these stakes look stale. Regardless, this could have been a good film had it not been for poor execution.  Rather using action sequences to let the tension linger and engage audiences, the film tried too hard to tie up all loose ends. For instance, when the President is attacked on Air Force One, the plane has been damaged and people are falling to their deaths. This was a moment of high tension, but the director chose to resolve it quickly by having Iron Man catch all of them mid-air by forming a human pyramid. This had me rolling my eyes as far back as I could. Similarly, the final action sequence Stark summoned an army of robotised suits back him up. This came out of nowhere and made me wonder why he didn’t do so before when he needed a suit desperately.

Additionally, the characters in the film lacked conviction about what they were doing. This is most apparent with Maya Hansen, Stark’s ex-girlfriend. The film starts to establish her as one of the antagonists before abruptly giving her a change of heart. Similarly, the film goes to great lengths to establish a terrorist organisation and its head, ‘the Mandarin,’ but later shows the audience that the organisation is a farce, a coverup for the real antagonist. But what this person’s motivations are, what he plans to do with his power, are all questions that remain underexplored. Because of poorly written characters, the film is held weakly together by the power of Iron Man’s suits.

I wish the third instalment in the series had tried to build on everything the universe had established and tried to take it a step further. Or in the very least been a well-written standalone film. Anyhoo. Tomorrow is another day.

The Avengers: A Lesson in Continuity

Unlike most superhero movies, The Avengers is one of two movies I seen twice before. The previous two viewings had been when I hadn’t watched the preceding Marvel movies. I had watched it as a standalone film and I had liked it. After re-watching the movie now, however, I understood the movie much better. What’s the verdict on this movie now, you ask? Up until the very end the film is fun and believable. The climax showing Iron Man carrying a missile with a nuclear warhead into outer space through a wormhole and making it back alive? Not so much. Regardless, what I really admired about the movie was its ability to take a story that weaves through different films and tie it all together without alienating any audiences. Basically, if you like me watched the movie as a standalone film with no prior knowledge of the universe, you would still be able to understand and enjoy it.

The director, Joss Whedon, did a great job recapping the five previous movies into one film. The way he does that is by not rushing to make the viewer comfortable right away, but by taking his time to firmly establish the plot of this movie before filling us in on details. For more than an hour into the movie, the film provides references to recap the stories of each of the superheroes through dialogue and flashbacks. Furthermore, the interactions between the characters also help the viewer understand their essential nature and therefore engage with the film. Thus, rather than a mishmash of different people with cool powers, the film becomes cohesive – one of a team banding their forces together to serve as the protagonists against a group of powerful antagonists.

Let us first look at how the film fills the viewer in on the backstory. The Avengers’ challenge is that the story of the film deals with the Tesseract, an energy source that has been important in previous movies. A large chunk of the audience is also familiar with the stories of four out of the six Avengers in the movie as well as their relations with other characters in the film. But placed together, the events and timelines can be confusing. Before the film takes off, it needs to jog everyone’s memory. Since the Avengers don’t know each other, the film uses introductions and initial interactions as a way to sneak in the story line thus far. For instance, we learn about the conditions that transform Bruce Banner into the Hulk – high-pressure environments and pressurised containers like aircrafts and submarines are triggers that can unleash the Hulk – when Banner is trying to explain to SHIELD why he shouldn’t be on the team. We also learn that the Hulk cannot be controlled or killed. This information is important for the viewer to understand what a character (in this case the Hulk) can do. Similarly, we learn about the Tesseract (which was introduced in Thor and was explored further in Captain America) when Natasha Romanoff tries to explain it to Banner. The uninitiated audience gets a sense of what this object is, why so many parties are interested in it and why they need a team with a specific skillset to get it back since it’s been stolen. In doing so, the audience gets a sense of what the catalyst in this intergalactic conflict is. Using characters to introduce themselves, their stories and their interests gives the audience context about the story that is unfolding.

What I admired about the movie (and about Marvel as a whole) is that it didn’t stop at recapping the stories of characters and giving us a glimpse of their powers. It tells us about the nature of these characters. Marvel takes character profiles very seriously. A character’s actions are motivated by his/her personality. So, an action-packed superhero movie is not just a bunch of characters performing antics. The films tell a cohesive story whose dynamics are shared by the personalities of the characters, not just by their powers. And as the films progress, their personalities also evolve. This means Tony Stark is still an arrogant prick, especially when he condescendingly tells Thor that he has a ‘mean swing’. But the death of a beloved SHIELD agent compels him to put his ego aside and work with the other Avengers. Similarly, Thor isn’t just an alien who can swing a powerful hammer. In the previous film we saw him transform from a brute to a king. Here the trajectory continues with him wanting to use his strength to ensure good governance on Earth. But he actually takes it a step further, by realising that he needs allies in his quest and working together as an equal with other heroes on his mission. The Thor from the previous film wold have led his friends into battle or taken on the enemy alone. Working with others is new for the character.

Regularly recapping the story and focusing on the nature and personalities of the characters lend continuity to The Avengers. Without them, the film could have quickly descended into mindless action that would leave the viewers dissatisfied and confused (like Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald did. But that rant can wait).

Before I end, I express a few thoughts on Captain America’s espousal of the Idea of America. Given as this movie is about an intergalactic war that is not being fought by the American state, the writers try to steer the Captain away from engaging in any explicit propaganda about the US. Much of his old-fashioned behaviour is explained away by reminding the audience that he was asleep for 70 years and hasn’t been in keeping with the times (like when he dismisses Thor as being a God – even though he’s a Norse God – by saying that “there is only one God, and I am pretty sure he doesn’t dress like that.”) Even so, he is America. This means that when Thor and Iron Man are fighting, he is the voice of reason that tells them to cut it out. And when the Avengers assemble for their final fight of the movie, it is he who calls the shots. But I guess that is just who the character is, and writing him any differently would do him disservice.

Lastly, a couple random thoughts. First, how great is Loki? He’s good looking, sassy, formidable, and in Iron Man’s words, a “full-tilt diva”. He commands the screen and owns the narrative like no one else. Second, how great was the action scene in Germany set to wester classical music? Who knew fighting and Franz Schubert went so well together? And lastly, I’m so glad the film introduced Black Widow and Hawkeye and I cannot wait for these characters to get their own individual films.

There you have it, the end of Phase I. Now on to Phase II.

Captain America and the Idea of America

At the very outset, let me start by stating that Captain America is probably my least favourite superhero. He is too overly patriotic and too old fashioned for me, and his fighting prowess doesn’t do much to make up for his personality. That said, Captain America: The First Avenger is actually a good movie. Set in the early 1940s, Captain America is an experiment by the US government to develop a supersoldier in order to help win World War II. The period and setting of the plot explain the patriotism and the predominance of male characters. This stopped me from rolling my eyes and actually concentrating on the protagonist.

Captain America has all the trimmings of a traditional superhero, but he is different in one crucial aspect – the character was written as a part of US propaganda during World War II and hasn’t been able to shake off the remnants of propaganda since. This is because Captain America isn’t just another superhero or even just a great soldier. He represents the Idea of America. He is the image of the US that the latter wants to portray to the world. And the writers have kept this in mind while constructing the character for the film. Georg Lofflmann, a professor of US Foreign Policy and American Politics at the University of Warwick, has expressed this idea in his PhD thesis, “The Fractured Consensus: How competing visions of grand strategy challenge the geopolitical identity of American leadership under the Obama presidency.” He argues, “Captain America [in his costume of stars and stripes] doesn’t just fight for America, he also is America (emphasis mine).” Therefore, a close observation of the movie can help us get some insight into how the US wishes to be seen in the world.

Let us start with Captain America’s origins. Steve Rogers is the literal embodiment of the American Dream. Before he became Captain America, Rogers was just another kid from Brooklyn. He wasn’t born with Tony Stark’s privilege or didn’t grow up with Black Widow’s training. He certainly wasn’t a god like Thor. Rogers was written as a man who believed that he had the ability to become whatever he wanted if only he went after it and worked hard enough – the literal definition of the American Dream. In the film his passion and perseverance turn a scrawny kid into the light-haired, light-eyed supersoldier who had the potential to win the war for the US.

Next, let us look at the supporting cast. When he realises that he needs to assemble an army to fight the Nazis, particularly to defeat their deep science division, Hydra. The Captain’s army comprises of people of different nationalities, cultures and races. People who otherwise would have been treated as refugees, having just been freed from an enemy camp. But Captain America takes them all under his wing and they become a part of his team. The banding together of different peoples is a metaphor for the US being a melting pot of different cultures domestically, and a capable leader of different nations internationally. These are both images that the US wants to project about itself (at least in part), and the film does that effectively.

Lastly, Captain America’s superpowers are an explanation for American exceptionalism, the idea that the US is not like every other country in the world. The idea, according to Lofflmann stresses the “singularity, superiority and essentiality of the United States in the international system.” Captain America has his powers because he got injected with a serum, but the serum only amplified what was already true of Rogers, that he was a good man and a strong soldier. The same serum when injected in the body of America’s enemies turns them into monsters, like Red Skull, the principal antagonist of the film. Captain America’s powers are therefore a justification for maintaining American military superiority because it perpetuates the idea that the US has the values to handle power, unlike its enemies that will only use power for destruction.

So where does that leave us? Clearly propaganda cannot be separated from Captain America. What will be interesting to watch in subsequent films (particularly after this viewing and analysis) will be how the character who is the personification of America interacts with other characters with different motivations. In the films that follow, I will be paying particular attention to this factor.

Hera Pheri: A win for writing

I want to talk about Hera Pheri. Unlike most films I review, Hera Pheri is certainly not new to me. Like me, some of you must have grown up watching and loving it. I would rank it as one of the best Indian comedy films. It has all the makings of a masala potboiler film – comedy, action and drama. Yet it feels fresh and real, rather than cringe and contrived as comedy films often become. And I would attribute that to one thing – superb writing. The writing deliberately uses the tropes of comedy, action and drama to control the tempo of the film and make it all work together, and it works perfectly. Action, drama and comedy work themselves through the writing with the help of two emotions – empathy and tension. These emotions reel us in and keep us engrossed throughout the movie.

Hera Pheri is essentially a story about poor people. The principal characters – Raju (played by Akshay Kumar), Shyam (played by Suneil Shetty), Babu bhaiyya/Baburao Ganpatrao Apte (played by Paresh Rawal) and Anuradha (played by Tabu) all drowning in debt and barely making ends meet. The writers use this as the first ploy to generate empathy among the viewers. Additionally, it is also used for the characters to bond with each other and empathise with each other, even as they make dubious choices. The poverty in the film is so organic to the film’s fabric that it isn’t a big deal at all. The doesn’t try to make a forced point about the characters’ situations.

Additionally, the film generates empathy using the tropes of comedy and drama, often in conjunction, to help the viewer become engrossed in the story and carry the narrative forward. For instance, when Khadak Singh (played by Om Puri), comes into town to claim the money Shyam owes him, the scene is a charged with emotion because of how much the former needs the money for his sister’s wedding. But the writers combine the drama with comedy seamlessly. The writers also use these emotions to raise the empathy between characters. Despite the quarrel between Shyam and Khadak Singh, at the end of the film, the latter (with a truckload of angry Sikhs) charges into the fight sequence where goons are beating up Shyam, Raju and Baburao because he cannot see his friend getting beaten. The scene is hilarious. As a viewer, the scene is very easy for me to watch, it keeps me entertained, and it makes me accept the story because I understand the characters and their motivations.

In addition to empathy, the film uses tension to keep the viewer hooked to the film. Tension first makes an appearance right as the second half of the film begins. The first half of the film ends with a happy dream sequence, lulling the viewer into a false sense of security. This sets the scene for the shock to follow and intensifies the tension as we learn that the granddaughter of a famous fisheries magnate is kidnapped and needs rescuing. Largely, the film plays with tension through the use of action. The action sequences in Hera Pheri are long and the director, Priyadarshan, is in no hurry to resolve the tension. In the first half of the film, action is largely comedic, a way for the principal characters to fight, but ultimately harmless. It is a way for the principal characters to interact and for the viewers to become used to thinking of these characters as a trio. In the latter half of the film, the action gets a lot more serious, and the tension more palpable. For instance, when and the lead trio come in to rescue the kidnapped girl while pocketing half the ransom money, their plans are botched with the arrival of the police. What follows is a long escape scene that had me clenching my fists with in excitement even though I had seen the scene numerous times before. The trio, trying to run from the police, join a large group of cyclists. While the scene has a few funny moments, the nearly 4-minute-long scene is an action-packed chase sequence. For those four minutes, I was completely engrossed in the narrative, feeling the thrill of the chase.

As I think about why Hera Pheri continues to remain fresh, I think the writers, Siddique, Lal, Neeraj Vora and Anand Vardhan, deserve some serious credit. Combining three popular genres and not letting go of the viewers’ attentions while doing so will land you a classic, and Hera Pheri is just that.

Before I end this post, I also want to talk about the music of Hera Pheri. I know, I know… WHAT?! But hear me out; within the context of the film, the songs just work. Don’t get me wrong, the songs are objectively terrible. But they don’t seem too bad when seen in conjunction with the movie. Also, props to the director for shooting each song and dream sequence in the style of the dreamer. Raju considers himself a hero, so his dream sequence (the song Jab Bhi Koi Haseena) is like that of a typical hero in a 1990s-2000 mainstream Hindi movie. Baburao still likes luxury, but he isn’t much of a hero. His dream (the song Dene Wala Jab Bhi Deta) is much kitschier compared to Raju’s but still very filmy. Shyam is the most grounded of the lot and his song (Humba Leela) is shot in the same manner as the rest of the film. No luxurious dream there. Even Tabu’s dream sequence (Main Ladki Pon Pon) shows her as uncomfortable with the role of a typical heroine in the song because she is a realistic, practical woman in the film devoid of any airs. Tun Tunak Tun is easily the worst song in the film. But even that makes you empathise with the dancer when the film reveals that she’s also very poor and in desperate need of shows. Rather than show her as just another item girl, I appreciated that the writers tried to humanise her.

So there goes. If you are in the mood to watch something light hearted but well-written, you know where to look.

Made In Heaven: A triumph for character development

When was the last time you saw an Indian series that portrayed relationships as deep and complex as they are? Made in Heaven is that series. After its success and the success of her last film Gully Boy, Zoya Akhtar, one of its creators, is on a roll. She is fast proving that she can explore relationships like few others can. I must admit I was sceptical about this series when I saw its poster. The poster shows the six lead characters (three men and three women) and I mistakenly got the sense it would be three one-boy-one-girl stories. Made in Heaven is quite the opposite. Set in New Delhi, it is the story of two wedding planners who run a company called Made in Heaven and plan grand weddings for the rich. But that is not all it is. Through this basic premise, the story explores societal biases and hypocrisy. It does a deep dive into human nature.

The biggest strength of the series is undoubtedly the development of its characters – not just the lead characters but also side characters. You understand why people behave the way they do. The choices they make and the hypocrisies they exhibit are not random. They help the viewer understand the character. These characters are not one-dimensional caricatures. The most obvious example of this is Karan Mehra, a character played by Arjun Mathur. At the very outset it is established that he is a gay man. But unlike conventional portrayals of homosexuality in Indian film (television has only just begun exploring the subject), where if a person is gay, that’s all they are, Made in Heaven shows that being gay is a part of Karan. He has a life in addition to that. His relationships with multiple men don’t just put forth the point that he likes men, but show his escapism, something that would have remained just the same had he been straight. He’s a man struggling to come to terms with himself, to create a successful business and repay the massive amounts of debt he’s taken on. These things aren’t told through contrived dialogue or on the nose scenes, but is shown seamlessly throughout the series.

A subtler example of character development is Shobita Dhulipala’s character, Tara. Tara undoubtedly has the most well-presented character arc. At the beginning of the series, we admire this woman who’s defied the trappings of class. She married rich, but she married for love even as the world misunderstands her as a gold-digger. Her husband (Adil, played brilliantly by Jim Sarbh) has invested in her company, but she is her own person. This façade unravels as the show progresses. As a clue about this is revealed towards the end of the first episode, when she convinces Aaliya, a middle-class woman, to get married to her rich fiancé despite his family violating her privacy. “Its five fucking thousand crores. Don’t be an idiot,” she tells her. As a viewer I stop taking Tara for granted and begin to pay closer attention to who she is.

Towards the end of the series, the writers make sure I have no clear answers. She has married her husband for money, but she also loves him. She craves her own identity but takes pride in calling herself Mrs. Tara Khanna, an indication that her past life is behind her and she is now a part of elite, even though she has no friends there. She can be sensitive to the injustices suffered by other women in the show, but she is routinely terrible to her mother and sister because they haven’t escaped the poverty trap. And that’s what makes Tara special. She is complicated, as human beings are. Her inner contradictions also explain the outrage she feels towards her best friend (Faiza, played by Kalki Koechlin) when Faiza has an affair with Adil, when she herself had once initiated a relationship with Adil while he was engaged to another woman. As with Karan, Tara’s past comes to the fore as organically throughout the series as the narrative moves forward. And the real win for Tara’s character, and a testament to the writing of the show, is that I empathised with the character throughout, even during her darker moments.

The show’s primary focus is on the institution of marriage. Many Hindi films can lead us to believe that marriage is the ultimate goal of a romantic relationship, that it is the beginning of ‘happily ever after’. Made in Heaven rejects this idea and instead goes on to demonstrate that marriages come in all shapes and sizes. Any psychological or material safety it provides can come at a cost. For instance, when Karan’s landlord’s wife (Ayesha Raza) finds out that her husband (Vinay Pathak) has been watching recordings of Karan having sex with a man, she chooses to believe the lie that her husband is gathering evidence to evict Karan than face the uncomfortable truth that could destroy her marriage – that her husband is gay. Similarly, Aaliya and her fiancé Angad are an idealistic couple at the beginning of the episode. They don’t seem to care about money (even five fucking thousand crores) and claim that they don’t lie to each other. But when faced with the sceptre of the future, Angad lies to his parents about her past even though that was against her wishes. And she lies to Angad about her motivations to reconcile with his parents. We see that love isn’t always enough to keep a couple together. Sometimes, there are other binding agents. Despite this, Made in Heaven doesn’t have a purely cynical view of marriage. It does show couples who have weathered challenges and are still on the same page and in love. Only those form a minority when compared with all the other kinds of marriages out there.

In addition to marriage, Made in Heaven uses relationships to help understand characters. In the end, we realise most characters may not have clear motivations or consistent actions, because they don’t know who they are. This is most evident with Adil’s character. Adil cheats on his first fiancé with Tara and cheats on Tara with Faiza. While he is most certainly a douchebag, Made in Heaven gives layers to his character through his interactions with both Tara and Faiza. He is a character who doesn’t know what he wants and cannot deal with intense milestones within his relationships. Similarly, Faiza’s interactions with her therapist (again, kudos to the makers for normalising therapy) show her own internal contradictions. Her desire to not lose her friend even as she can’t stop seeing that friend’s husband. Faiza’s confusions are even clearer because she is dependent on the men in her life (her father, ex-husband and Adil) to keep her afloat. Even though she doesn’t want to lose her friend, she can’t rid herself of the need for a man who will take care of her.

Made in Heaven is clearly extremely well written. A number of episodes try to uncover problems of the patriarchy (dowry, widow remarriage, superstitions…). These issues may look like they’ve been addressed in other films and TV shows, but this show is written and directed with subtlety that doesn’t make them feel stale or cringey. Made in Heaven holds a mirror to society but it doesn’t try to assume a position of moral uprightness. It lets the viewer see and ultimately perceive the subtext of the show for himself/herself. All this while making the view invested in nearly every character in the show. Even side characters get a clear arc, like Karan’s landlord and his family and the production manager of the company. This isn’t to say that the writing is flawless. Kabir (played by Shashank Arora), the cameraman who also narrates bits of the series is not as well fleshed out as the rest of the cast. True, he gets a few scenes towards the end of the series, but it doesn’t seem like enough.

All in all, watching Made in Heaven made me tremendously happy. It is the second time that I have seen an Indian TV series that is world class (the first one being Sacred Games).  If you’re like me, you probably consume mostly American (and maybe some British) television. In which case you’ll understand when I say that mainstream Indian television with its poor writing and production quality cannot hold a candle to even mediocre sitcoms from the West. Made in Heaven is a small change in the status quo. Here is a show that tells the stories of people like me in a way that even a person completely unfamiliar with the Indian milieu will understand and appreciate. I hope this trend continues, and I cannot wait to binge watch Season 2.

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.