Jodhaa Akbar turns 10: Ashutosh Gowariker’s period drama is a fine example of the historical genre

The magnum opus Jodhaa Akbar remains one of the finer examples of the historical genre in Hindi cinema.

Gautam Chintamani February 15, 2018 16:24:57 IST
Jodhaa Akbar turns 10: Ashutosh Gowariker’s period drama is a fine example of the historical genre

The run-up to the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat rekindled both onscreen as well as off-screen memories of Ashutosh Gowariker’s period drama Jodhaa-Akbar (2008) — a film that celebrates its tenth anniversary this week. Released on 15 February 2008, which also happens to be the birthday of the film’s director, Joddha-Akbar drew much ire for its inaccuracies from not only the Rajput community but also historians who questioned most of the historical ‘facts’ depicted in the film.

In stark contrast to historicals that preceded it, Jodhaa-Akbar made it clear right at the onset that it was ‘one version of the historical events’ and despite the fact that the love story of the titular characters could largely be an entirely fictional account, the magnum opus remains one of the finer examples of the historical genre in Hindi cinema.

Based on the fabled love story between the Mughal emperor Akbar and Rajput princess Jodhaa Bai, the film is said to have originated as a pitch by actor and writer Haider Ali to Gowariker make something on the lines of a Mughal-e-Azam. Ali’s father had appeared in the K. Asif film and Ali felt that rather than doing a sequel or an even a remake of the masterpiece, Gowariker should look at a prequel of sorts. In an interview Ali said Gowariker’s Lagaan blended themes such as casteism, Hindu-Muslim unity, and communal harmony along with nationalism, without being preachy, and he thought that the same could be touched upon in the story of Jodhaa and Akbar.

Jodhaa Akbar turns 10 Ashutosh Gowarikers period drama is a fine example of the historical genre

Ashutosh Gowariker's 'Jodhaa Akbar'.

It took almost two and half years to script Jodhaa-Akbar and even though the film was pitched as a “romantic musical”, Gowariker is said to have sought creative inputs from people such as Bhawani Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur and his spouse, Maharani Padmini Devi to try to make Jodhaa-Akbar as realistic as possible. Despite best intentions the closer the film got to its release, the deeper it became embroiled in controversies. One of the big charges leveled against Jodhaa-Akbar was the way it shaped the character of Jodhaa Bai portrayed by Aishwarya Rai.

The film portrayed Joddha Bai as the daughter of Raja Bharmal (Kulbhushan Kharbanda) but Narendra Singh Rajawat, the head of the Rajput Sabha, argued that she was in fact, the daughter of Udai Singh of Marwar. Moreover, facts also seem to suggest that Jodhaa Bai was, in fact, married to Akbar’s son Salim. Many historians contested that neither the Akbarnama nor any other book written up until the later 18th or early 19th century mentioned a Jodhaa Bai to be the Emperor’s wife. The then president of the Rajput Karni Sena, Lokendra Singh Kalvi, too, opposed the film and a few states banned the release as well until the filmmakers moved the Supreme Court.

Would it be incorrect to say that Gowariker and company were not prepared for some kind of opposition when they decided to attempt a romance centered on a Mughal emperor and a Rajput princess? Perhaps not; but a decade ago the politically motivated pandering notwithstanding, any opposition to the historical might not have been as rooted in the idea of what a typical ‘Bollywood’ treatment could entail post, say, a Bajirao Mastani.

In some way, this writer believes that Gowariker’s intentions were in the right place in not only attempting such a subject but also the treatment that he had in mind. Consider the disclaimer right at the beginning of the film or what followed – there was no choreographed dance sequence like Pinga with the Jodhaa character.

Despite the opposition or questioning of the historical veracity of the events it depicted, Jodhaa-Akbar ultimately transcend into a territory where it was looked upon as one of the better examples of the historical fictional genre. It also managed to blend elements that are considered necessary within mainstream Hindi films (read song, dance, drama, et al) and made the historical genre a feasible business proposition.

The concubines that Akbar is said to have had in his harem that grew in direct proportion to his empire are missing from the film as are most of the ‘other’ 300 odd wives that Zill-e-Ilahi is believed to have kept but that is not what we think about when we think of Jodhaa-Akbar. In her essay “The Biopic in Hindi Cinema” Rachel Dwyer points out “like the other films on the Mughals, Jodhaa-Akbar is clearly about present-day debates, notably inter-communal marriage and the role of Muslims in shaping India.” The film’s narrative was contemporary and how Gowariker contributed to that was in finesse.

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