In a world wrought with religious fundamentalism and violence, Jodhaa Akbar, director Ashutosh Gowariker’s latest venture gives a refreshing peek into the history of Hindu-Muslim unity. The movie is both a 16th century love story, and a chronicle of religious respect between two very different people.
“Akbar, the great,” is said to have been one of the finest Mughal (Muslim) emperors to rule India, and is played by the handsome and talented actor Hrithik Roshan who fits the character like a glove. To bring unity among various kingdoms diplomatically, rather than waging a war, he takes a Rajput (Hindu) princess Jodhabai as a wife, much to the chagrin of everyone including the princess herself. The ravishing Aishwarya Rai Bachchan does full justice to the role of Jodha.
Princess Jodhabai, who has been used as a pawn in a political move, challenges the emperor and says she will agree to the wedding under two conditions—that he let her remain a Hindu and that he builds a temple for her inside his Mughal palace, something unheard of. Akbar concedes to her demands. Eventually love blooms between the two of them, and the rest is history. It is said that Jodha and Akbar ruled together for many years as king and queen.
This is definitely one of the better recent Bollywood movies and was very well received among North American audiences—the film is reported to have grossed $1.3 million dollars at the box office there in the first weekend alone. It has its share of singing and dancing, but the musicals are all very tasteful and choreographed to the score of renowned music director A.R. Rahman, of Bombay Dreams fame.
This movie arrived with its own set of controversies and objections from religious fundamentalists. The ones worth mentioning are historical in nature. Some historians say that Jodha was Emperor Akbar’s daughter in law, and not his wife. Others say that while Akbar did marry a Rajput princess from the same kingdom as in the story, her name was not Jodhabai.
Gowarikar, who is also the director of the Academy Award-nominated Bollywood flick Lagaan, responded by saying that “While making the film I did my best to go by the book. I consulted the best historians and went through the most rigorous research. And there are different names used for Akbar’s wife, Jodha being one of them. In fact, there’s a disclaimer about the Rajput queen’s name at the beginning of the film. But to see that, the protesters have to see the film.”
Controversial or not, this is an entertaining and thought-provoking film that makes one sit back and wonder—if in the 16th century, inter-religious marriage was eventually accepted, four centuries later, why do we still keep fighting about it? Why does Hindu and Muslim religious discord still exist?
–written by Visi Tilak