Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Saffron-hued Akbar

Why all the fuss about Jodha Akbar? Why are Rajputs protesting a against a film that presents Hinduism/Rajputism, rather, as conquering a Mughal emperor? The historical inaccuracies apart (Ashutosh Gowarikar doesn’t claim to be making an episode for the History channel, after all), even what has been hyped as “just a love story”, is disturbing in its blatant Hindu promotion. Throughout, Aishwarya-Jodha-Rai-Bachchan is decked up like a mannequin from Rajasthan Emporium (and as lacking in expression), complete with bindi, red ghagras and backless cholis. She is minus kajal apparently to convey an ethereal look – but ends up looking even more vapid and blank. But what is more unreal, and troubling, is the Hindu propaganda – she makes the setting up of a puja room in Fatehpur Sikri (or wherever that set is supposed to be) a condition precedent to marrying Akbar, and does Krishna puja everyday, getting Akbar to eat prashad and do aarti. As a “special” gesture, she cooks Rajasthani vegetarian food (without onions and garlic) in the Agra Fort kitchens, and Akbar is so overcome with appreciation for dal-bati-churma and besan ki sabzi, that he orders she cooks it for him at regular intervals. When she is sulking in her maika, she agrees to return only after she is charmed by Akbar’s decision to abolish the tax on Hindu teerth-yatras/pilgrimages. This last – a result of Akbar’s forays into Agra’s bazaar disguised as a commoner, when he tries to understand the people’s problems. Apparently, the rising price of onions or dal apart, the major grievance seems to be the teerth yatra tax!

Throughout, Jodha spouts clisht Sanskritised Hindi, while Akbar talks in Hindostani. The one and only concession to mughal/Muslim culture the stubborn Jodha makes, is to learn Persian calligraphy. And there too she is one up on Akbar, who, according to the film, was not literate. Jodha is shown as a strong woman – literally too, since she is equal to Akbar in fencing – who does not compromise. But all her “conditions” and demands, revolve around religion – Hinduism. Surely, to portray Akbar’s legendary tolerance, Gowarikar could have done without having to make him submit to everything Hindu. The only reason I could endure this three and a half hour long overdose of religion, colour and sound, was to wait out the eight-hour daily power-cut in Kathmandu. If the film does well in Nepal, that will be the secret behind its “success”.

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