Historical Romance — Movie Review
Romance and Tragedy à la Shah Rukh Khan
There is something irresistible about the Indian film industry, especially when it comes to outstanding historical films like this one. Made in 2001 and co-written by the director, Santosh Sivan, Asoka tells a lightly fictionalized account of the early life and trials of Ashoka the Great.
An emperor of the Maurya Dynasty and grandson of the founder, Chandragupta Maurya, Ashoka became the third Maurya emperor after defeating his brothers to claim the throne and ruled from approximately 268 – 232 BCE, setting this film over 2200 years in the past. The opening scenes of the film, depicting Chandragupta’s renunciation of his throne in favor of the monastic life of a Jain monk and his warning to Ashoka that the sword he is discarding is evil, with a thirst for blood, are particularly foreshadowing of the path Ashoka’s own life will take.
With Shah Rukh Khan playing the titular role and Kareena Kapoor cast as his primary love interest, the princess Kaurwaki, you can count on stellar performances that come across authentically on the screen. Khan’s Ashoka starts off as a somewhat proud, slightly arrogant young man with a great sense of pride, dignity, and loyalty to both the crown and the dictates of his mother. Over the course of the film, we see Ashoka transformed first into a devoted lover, then a vengeance-minded warrior, and finally a ruthless emperor who only comes to realize the error of his ways when it is, in some respects, too late.
Kapoor has her fans and detractors alike, but her portrayal of Kaurwaki was that of a somewhat mischievous, lighthearted princess on the run from court intrigues that cost her mother and father their lives. Kaurwaki also has a touch of fierceness, a trait that really shines in the latter part of the film, and she is extremely protective of her younger brother, Arya.
The cinematography is fluid, and the scenes are equal parts rich and beautiful in every respect, including gorgeous costume designs and the lush, verdant landscapes used in many of the shots. From rolling green hills against a mountainous backdrop to waterfall and river scenes, and then to battlefields, forests, and more desert-like terrain, there is a lot of eye candy in this film.
In addition to outstanding delivery from the main actors, there is a broad cast of supporting characters who help bring the film to life with their nuanced performances. Fans of Johnny Lever will be delighted to see him in a cameo appearance as one of the palace guards, while Danny Denzongpa brings equal parts humor and seriousness to the screen with his portrayal of Ashoka’s unexpected friend and savior, Virat.
The lovely and charming Hrishitaa Bhatt also appears in the role of Devi (this was her debut role), a young Buddhist woman on the eve of being married when Ashoka arrives at her temple. While her role was largely a supporting one, Bhatt delivered a wonderful performance as an innocent maiden swept up into events larger than her. Scenes with Devi were heartfelt, emotional, and thoughtful, though little of the real life romance between Devi and Ashoka is shown during this film due to the focus on Ashoka and Kaurwaki.
Asoka also boasts an outstanding soundtrack created by Anu Malik. Whether the music is happy, playful, somber, or filled with longing, each song fits its scene and is thoroughly evocative. Without a doubt, this is a soundtrack you can listen to over and over again with much enjoyment.
At 2:41 long, Asoka is a definite 5-star film, well worth your time to enjoy all it has to offer. From court intrigues, political machinations, and the occasional bit of fratricide, to empire-expanding battle scenes, true love, jealousy, and some heartrending tragedy, there is something here for everyone. So grab yourself a copy, settle in with a table full of snacks, and prepare to be immersed in this historical epic; you won’t regret it.