Jodhaa Akbar: No History, Plenty of Gowariker

Before I say anything else, you will have to commend me for heroically resisting the urge to cram this post with visuals from Ashutosh Gowariker’s labour of love. If nothing else, Jodhaa Akbar is certainly one of the best-looking films to have released in recent times, and I speak as one who has paid shameless repeat visits to the multiplex to sneak yet another peek — if not at the costumes, then at the jewellery, or at the sets, or at Hrithik Roshan.

I have found it interesting that the Rajputs (or some of them) are up in arms about whether Akbar’s first Rajput wife (there were others, but she was the first, and she was the daughter of Raja Bharmal, so no historical inaccuracies there) was indeed called Jodha Bai, but no one has said a word about the disclaimer at the start of the film — which also lists all the alternative names that the queen was called — that this is just one view of history.

Similarly, no one has objected to one of the film’s pivotal segments — Jodha’s courageous stand that she would not convert to Islam and would continue to worship her deity within her mahal. History says that Jodha Bai (we’ll just keep calling her that, shall we?) converted to Islam but continued to worship Lord Krishna in her mahal, which seems just a far more radical and film-worthy gesture.

I just think Gowariker would have been better off writing a ten-paragraph disclaimer at the start, explaining that this was his view of what might have happened between Jodha and Akbar, because no one knows what their married life was like. It appears as though Jodha remained one of Akbar’s chief queens, but that’s about it.

For more on this, I would suggest an inconsequential but interesting little book called Private Life of the Mughals of India by R. Nath. Incidentally, I have come across various writings that talk about Akbar’s ‘insatiable sexual appetite’, and trying to visualise that, given the Hrithik-Aishwarya chemistry, is a temptation that I will not resist.

Finally, I have come across several online posts that criticise the script for making things seem too easy for the young emperor. Example, how could he win over his Hindu subjects simply by the one act of lifting the ‘tirath yatra mahsool‘? Or, how did he acquaint himself with the grassroots simply by paying a single visit to Agra Bazaar? Or, did he actually have time to get involved in the Jodha-Maham Anga saas-bahu saga?

To answer the first two questions, you mean Gowariker should have put all his acts of benevolence and all his visits to Agra Bazaar on film?

And for the third, I think Gowariker missed a trick by not making someone in the film point out that nothing that happened in Akbar’s life could be taken at face value. If Maham Anga — his confidante and vazir — could lie to him about Jodha, she could very well lie about far more important matters. Similarly, if Jodha concealed the truth from him, the entire political alliance with the Rajputs was potentially under threat.

So that’s it. That’s the only area I think Gowariker did not cover — he should have established the fact that for Akbar, political and personal often merged to create a third dimension. That, and and the absence of a clear disclaimer stating that this was the director’s view of what might have been ‘once upon a time in Agra’.

PS: I forgot to talk about Rahman’s lovely, no-fuss music, but I suspect I’ve said enough already. However, I still have to say that I expected to see some acknowledgement of the fact that the background score that played during the sequence when Amer is taken away from Sujamal (and during the puja that precedes it) is the prelude to the song Baala Main Bairagan Hoongi (Vani Jairam, with music by Pt Ravi Shankar), from Gulzar’s underrated 1979 classic Meera. I know, because we had the LP at home and I was hooked on the song for the longest time. Did I miss the acknowledgement somewhere?

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