Puja Miri Yajnik
‘Aśoka’ is a Hindi-language historical film released in 2001. The Maurya Dynasty was founded by Chandragupta Maurya in 322 BCE with its capital in Pataliputra, modern day Patna. Aśoka was the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, and reigned from 268-232 BCE. The film deals with the early part of Aśoka’s life; it is directed and co-written by cinematographer Santosh Sivan and produced by Gauri Khan and Juhi Chawla. It stars Shahrukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Danny Denzongpa, Ajith Kumar and others.
The film is, in my opinion, one of the most authentic and skilfully made period films in Indian cinema, especially since it goes so far back in time. It captures very skilfully and lovingly the look and feel of the 3rd Century; from what we make out of what we read of it, at any rate. The costumes and sets are well-researched and look appropriate. The film is shot in Madhya Pradesh, Jaipur, Bhuvneshwar and other such locations, with indoor shoots at Film City and Filmistan. Almost all performances, including those of the supporting actors, are excellent. Apparently, some of the actors portraying warriors were in fact masters of Kalari, an Indian martial art originating in Kerala. Alongside this, I enjoyed the accuracy and meticulous detail in costumes as well. Another fact worth applauding is the absence of digitally augmented crowds, which significantly adds to the atmosphere of the film. There are, of course, the song and dance sequences, but they are well pictured and go with the period portrayed. The only awkward song, I thought, is an ‘item’ song which doesn’t quite fit in.
In my opinion, this is one of Shahrukh Khan’s all-time best performances, as he brings to life the young, dynamic, understandably spoiled heir of the Maurya Dynasty. He is very convincing as a young man of that century, carrying the clothes effortlessly and translating the body language believably, which is sometimes missing in even the most expensive historical films. The story deals with the prince being exiled from the kingdom for a while. He decides to travel incognito as a warrior named Pawan. Somewhere along the way, he meets and falls in love with Kaurwaki. She is the princess of Kalinga (today’s Odissa) in disguise, who is in hiding with her little brother. Neither of them know the true identity of the other, which leads to tragic consequences for the lovers.
The story stays within the early life of Aśoka and ends with his growth as he sees, with a new vision, the devastation of war. The poignant love story, set against the charming backdrop of old India, is touching and engrossing. The lush forests and simple villages with people going about their business, palace intrigue, personal jealousies and agendas, make this film definitely worth your attention and time. Although it may not be completely historically accurate in the storytelling, the combination of fact and fiction make for a memorable and awe-inspiring film.
Disclaimer: The above review solely illustrates the views of the writer.