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If you watch only one Bollywood movie this year, you probably want to watch this one. By the same director as Lagaan, it's a historical epic about the political marriage between Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (Akbar the Great) and Hira Kunwari aka Harkha Bai (often known in modern times as Jodha Bai).

Akbar was the 16th century Mughal emperor who united, through a combination of conquest and diplomacy, all of Northern and Central India. The Mughals were Muslim, but Akbar maintained a policy of religious toleration and married a number of Hindu princesses in order to consolidate his rule. Jodha (she had 3 or 4 different names during her life and came to be called Jodha long after her death when a historian confused her with another of Akbar's wives, but let's keep things simple), was one of the first of these princesses and mother of his heir.

On the one hand, the film tells a dramatized version of the life of Akbar. On the other hand, it turns to legends of Jodha's life (because nothing about her life before her marriage appears to be known and very little afterward) and tells that. Nobody knows what they thought of each other in history, but in the film, they marry as a matter of politics, but then gradually fall in love. This is a Bollywood film, so it's 3 and a half hours long, and includes elaborate song and dance numbers. There's the mandatory misunderstanding leading to a temporary estrangement, the mandatory stepbrother of Akbar who seeks to userp him, and the mandatory brother of Jodha who allies with the stepbrother because he mistakenly believes Jodha is not happy in her marriage.

But this is very high-end, very Westernized Bollywood - the production quality is superb, the plot makes logical sense, the actors are very talented, the script is excellent, and the songs are integrated very logically into the whole instead of bolted on afterward.

Reasons you want to see this, in no particular order:
-Hrithik Roshan (Akbar) has a lot of presence, and an amazingly intense gaze. If you like men, he's very swoon-worthy.
-Aishwarya Rai (Jodha) is a talented actor, and she fully deserves her reputation as one of the most beautiful women in the world.
-Hollywood would have made this film by including a ton of CGI, and it would have looked like crap. Since this is Bollywood, though, they actually hired a cast of thousands, including several dozen elephants, and did it the old fashioned way, and as a result it looks amazing.
-the sets and costumes. A lot of it was shot on location in the actual palace (Agra Fort) used by Akbar, which has got to be one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen, and the set decoration lives up to the demands of the location. And the costumes on the actors make them look like they *belong* in those gorgeous sets.

NB: if you rent this, be sure to check out the deleted scenes on the bonus materials disk -- unlike some deleted scenes, where you can see why they were left out, these were cut not for pacing or dramatic reasons, but in order to keep the running time down, and they add greatly to one's appreciation of the film.

I can't help but compare Jodhaa Akbar to period dramas about Queen Elizabeth, whose reign overlaps with Akbar's. And what it shows, I think, is that for all the wealth and power of 16th century England, it was still a very poor and grubby place. It helps to remember from time to time that Europe only became the centre of wealth and power in the world in the past 250 years (or even more recently, depending on how you're keeping track), and before that, well, you really wanted to be in Asia.
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Being a potpourri of reviewlets.

1. "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" is a perfectly acceptable, fun movie. Nothing special, but a lot better than the previous two installments in the series. a rocking Reepicheep single-mousedly pulls it out of the humdrum, but cannot make it great )

2. In contrast, consider the Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, a lovely, wonderful, fun film from France. Think of one of those children's books where the author seems to have thought up all of the most amazing and wonderful things they could have happen and then packed them all into a single story. This movie is one of those books, on film. And it's proof that not all comic book inspired movies have to be testosterone poisoned teenage boy power fantasies )

Trust me, you want to watch this one.

3. Endhiran (the Robot). I watched the "best action scene ever" excerpt from this after it showed up on Boing Boing, and was inspired to seek out the entire film. It was quite the educational experience. Jackie Chan is the #1 actor in Asia, and he is widely known in North America. Rajinikanth is #2, and few people in North America have heard of him, which is on the one hand understandable, and on the other hand a pity. musing on genre conventions and trying to comprehend the scope of Rajinikanth's popularity )

Anyway, Endhiran is a SF movie set in India's near future. Rajinikanth plays both the genius robotics engineer (Dr Vaseejaran), and his android creation, Chitti. lots of spoilers )

So, that was weird, but in a very interesting and educational way. I'll be watching one or two more Rajinikanth movies in the future, but I doubt I'll become a fan.

4. "The King's Speech" is not every bit as good as its reviews say, it is better. I was especially impressed by the way Firth portrayed a gradual slow improvement in George's stammer over the course of the movie. It's a shoo in for several Oscars, but I think it probably has greater resonance for citizens of the commonwealth than for Americans, since the newsreels and recordings and historical photos that the film goes to many pains to faithfully recreate are not part of the American cultural DNA.

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