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Jodhaa Akbar

Jodhaa Akbar , and its message of religious tolerance, arrives at an appropriate time considering global events. Gowariker's portrait of Akbar's reign shows that Islam is not all about terror and religious fanaticism. In Akbar he presents an Islamic emperor who allows Hindus to freely practice their faith. The film suggests that this tolerance arises in part from his love for his headstrong Hindu bride. Of course the film doesn't explore the fact that he may have had as many as 200 wives and concubines in his harem.

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Royal courtship in Jodhaa Akbar (UTV Motion Pictures)

The film clocks in at more than three hours but don't let that scare you. Although the first thirty minutes are densely plotted with the power struggles amongst a large cast of supporting and not always easily distinguishable characters, the film picks up the pace as the two leads take center stage and begin their romantic sparring. Bollywood films, more than films from anywhere else in the world, harken back to the heyday of the Hollywood studio star system with all the glamour and gloss that goes with that. This film is big and not just in terms of length. There are impressive scenes of vast armies marching and riding on elephants; lavish interiors of the palaces; gorgeous costumes; and an impressive cooking scene in the royal kitchen (don't come to this film on an empty stomach or the royal spread Jodhaa serves up will have your mouth watering). On a smaller but equally impressive scale is a scene in which Akbar tames a wild elephant and a final mano-a-mano battle between Akbar and an enemy. But I have to say that nothing in this film surpasses the breathtaking action choreography regularly found in Hong Kong, Chinese and South Korean cinema. Indian films, instead, excel at romance, glamour, and song and dance. But nobody surpasses Indian for the production values and scale of their musical numbers. Even in this historical epic, we get elaborately produced and choreographed musical numbers with overheard shots of hundreds of dancers that would make Busby Berkeley swoon.

In the tradition of the studio heyday, Jodhaa Akbar serves up a pair of impossibly beautiful stars. Rai-Bachchan - whom Julia Roberts proclaimed the most beautiful woman in the world - is both glamorous and charming as the spunky princess. She even gets to engage in some swordplay with her husband, just to prove she's no fragile beauty. Roshan is a hunky leading man who not only displays the best abs since the Spartans of 300 but also has singing and dancing skills. Plus he doesn't have that scary steroid buffness of Sylvester Stallone but rather something more attractive and healthy looking. And when Rai-Bachchan's Jodhaa secretly watches her bare-chested hubby practicing with his sword, the audience gets to ogle him with as much admiration as his young bride. But because this is an Indian film, don't expect to see any explicit sex or even a kiss that goes beyond a peck on the forehead.

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Jodhaa Akbar (UTV Motion Pictures)

Jodhaa Akbar (in Hindi and Urdu with English subtitles, and unrated but containing scenes of battle violence) serves up a highly entertaining Bollywood drama. Jodhaa Akbar is not in the Bollywood musical tradition of the recent Om Shanti Om but rather it focuses more on a narrative drama with occasional musical set pieces. Despite the long running time, this is actually a good film for people who have never sampled Bollywood films before. A little knowledge of Indian history, though, might help you through the opening scenes.

Thanks once again to Goldspirit Films for bringing brand new Bollywood films to San Diego. It's always a treat to see these epic Bollywood films on the big screen, and to see them at the same time they are opening in India. So go and enjoy!

Companion viewing: Devdas, Dhoom: 2, Lagaan

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