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Review of the week - Asoka
Punch Line: Monarch bilittled?
Click here for more reviews - By Radhika Rajamani

Cast: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Danny Denzongpa, Ajit Kumar, Hrishitaa Bhatt, Rahul Dev, Suraj Balaje, Subhashini, Gerson da Cunha
Director: Santhosh Sivan
Music Director: Anu Malik, Sandeep Chowta & Rajit Barot
Dialogues: Abbas Tyrewala

Santosh sivan's celluloid dream of recreating Asoka fades away. Purporting to be a 'period film', Asoka is out and out commercial made in the Bollywood genre. Therefore, it is a glossy reconstruction of the monarch.

The film attempts to follow the journey of Asoka from "monarch to monk"(though there is no evidence he become a monk) as is outlined in the beginning. Fiction and legend take over facts in this cinematic depiction. The romantic angle predominates. The Kaurwaki legend is actually built up into the whole film superceding all the other essential elements.

The early part of Asoka's life itself is shrouded in darkness. The struggle for the throne between Asoka (Shah Rukh Khan) and his stepbrother Sushema, his father Bindusara's favourite (Ajith Kumar) and the subsequent interregnum before Ashoka's coronation is a sketchy and ambiguous narration.

During the course of his travels in the film, Asoka sees Kaurwaki (Kareena) bathing (typically filmi). Asoka is immediately smitten. So what the audience gets to see is the duo breaking into song and dance in true Bollywood style. This romance takes up a large part of the movie and at times one felt that Kareena takes up more of screen time than Shah Rukh, at least initially. Later she appears, 'dies' and reappears.

The narrative is rather nebulous. The story becomes serious when it deals with Asoka's conquests. The battle of Kalinga and Asoka's subsequent transformation from Chanda Asoka to Dhamma Asoka takes up the rest of the movie with a bit on Devi of Vidisa (Hrishitaa Bhatt) woven in. The film, thankfully, does not lay claim to historic authenticity. It is not a historical reconstruction of the king, only a passionate love story with elements of history. Asoka's marriage to Devi is portrayed, which according to historical sources, did not take place. The transformation of Asoka after the battle could have been more powerful.

If Sivan's intention was to recreate the emperor, he falls short of it. Inconsistencies in the script mar the narrative and what is finally dished out is a 'contemporary' perspective of Asoka. Some crude and inane humour and even a raunchy dance by Rajyalakshmi is inserted unnecessarily. What the monarch was known for (the policy of dhamma) which should have been given prominence is relegated to a few lines at the end of the film.

The film is visually good - particularly some scenes - outdoor locales and the war and 'kalaripayattu' but the cinematography is not as stunning as in Sivan's Terrorist or his other efforts. Costumes were too contemporary in some scenes. (Imagine a heroine playing a 3rd century B.C. character gyrating in a Manish Malhotra outfit).

The major plus point is Shah Rukh's portrayal. A rather subdued and mellowed Shah Rukh ably depicts the various emotions required of him. None of his usual histrionics but he is able to give a controlled performance. That is the image, which lingers on at the end. What is intriguing is Asoka bleeding from the nose everytime he is emotionally upset. (Wonder why?) Kareena looks and plays the sensuous girl she is. The chemistry between the two is good. Rahul Dev and Ajit surprise with their performances. After Shah Rukh, the little boy who plays the role of Arya (Prince of Kalinga and Kaurwaki's brother) gives an endearing performance.

The magnum opus of Sivan is rather disappointing considering the hype. He could have stuck to the period aspect and certainly made itt better with more substance. The true picture of Asoka as a monarch fails to emerge. By the way Asoka is certainly not written with a horizontal diacritic mark over s. It could have been spelt as Asoka rather than a transliterated Asoka with a wrong diacritic.

Courtesy: The Hindu

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