movie film review | chris tookey

Asoka / Ashok The Great

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  Asoka / Ashok The Great Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
7.67 /10
Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Danny
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Directed by: Santosh Sivan
Written by: Abbas Tyrewala. Music by Anu Malik,
lyrics by Gulzar & Anand Bakshi

Released: 2001
Origin: India
Colour: C
Length: 150

A splendidly over-the-top, warts-and-all account of India's equivalent to King Arthur. Ashok was the semi-legendary warrior-king who unified India in the third century BC, and extended his empire as far as Afghanistan. Those huge Buddhist statues destroyed recently by the cultural philistinism of the Taliban were from his reign. The story begins with plots at the Indian court that are reminiscent of ancient Rome. A handsome prince (Shah Rukh Khan, pictured) escapes assassination by leaving his realm and dressing as an ordinary soldier. He falls in love with a beautiful princess from a rival state (Kareena Kapoor) who is escaping similar death threats by disguising herself as a simple tribal girl. They marry but have to part, and each believes the other to be dead. Ultimately, they meet and find they have been leading armies against each other.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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This is a film from a foreign culture, and it takes some swallowing. Its Bollywood origins ensure bizarre excursions into the Indian equivalent of disco music, complete with thunderingly banal pop lyrics. Imagine El Cid with interludes from the Spice Girls movie, and you'll get an idea of how weird some of it is.

But if the three songs composed by Anu Malik sound jarringly modern, Sandeep Chowta's rousing score compares with the best that Hollywood has to offer.

Santosh Sivan's previous film was a minutely detailed study of a suicide bomber, The Terrorist. This time, he goes all the way from art-house minimalism to crowd-pleasing excess. But there's real visual flair on display - it's colourful rather than gaudy, with magnificent scenery and production design.

For this is a majestic epic on the scale of Gladiator. The battle scenes are as impressive as anything in Braveheart, and were achieved for a tiny fraction of the budget.

There are elements of historical hokum and simplistic melodrama, but good and evil, heroism and villainy, are less clear-cut than in most Bollywood movies. Asoka touches on grand, operatic emotions, which the actors are not afraid to tackle; and there's a muscular approach to life as survival of the fittest which offsets the occasional descent into mawkish sentimentality.

Western film-makers could learn from its emotional directness and determination to involve the audience, not to mention a respect for inner spiritual development. I enjoyed it immensely. If you're in a mood to broaden your cultural horizons, seek it out.

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