First things first. This is more fiction than history. So don't blame yourself if you've never heard about most of the key characters in this drama. Don't blame yourself if the history books you read never told you about a Ms Maha Manga (Ila Arun) who was ostensibly Akbar's governess and ran the imperial household like a thoroughbred evil 'saas' (stepmom-in-law) straight out of Ekta Kapoor's stables. Nor did they throw light on some badmash called Sharif-uddin (Akbar's brother-in-law) who plotted relentless intrigue against the Emperor and even sent a terrorist to kill him in the streets of Agra. This one being the Godfather-like twist, where Mikey Corleone had to fight his own brother-in-law-turned traitor for the sake of the family honour. And then, there's no mention too of the final man-to-man Brad Pitt-Eric Bana style encounter (remember Troy?) that Akbar had to engage in to safeguard the Mughal Empire....
No, we aren't going to quibble with history here because Jodhaa-Akbar is a plain and simple love story between a man named Akbar and a girl named Jodhaa who tried to come close together despite the sundry barriers of religion and culture. And instead of the car chases and the roller-blade rides that pepper modern-day romances, you have mad elephant tamings and sword-and-sandal battle sequences to rev up the dramaaaa. If you are willing to shed off all the trappings of history, only then will Jodhaa Akbar work for you. Because, despite the millions spent to create period and pomp, the film only works when Hrithik and Aishwarya try to find romance in an archetypal arranged marriage that was solemnised for everything but love.
It is only when an iridescent Jodhaa shows nakhra on her wedding night, declaring 'no sex please, until I know you', or Akbar stares at her longingly, passionately, on the distant parapet, while his governess instils state craft into his inattentive head, that the film really works. Then again, when Jodhaa stares out lustily -- from behind the curtains -- at her bare-bodied, abs-o-lutely oomphy husband practising the sword on the terrace, or does some more nakhre-baazi when Akbar dozes off unspent on her bed, that sparks fly and chemistry crackles.
Yes, Jodhaa Akbar works only because its heart is in the right place. The film talks about a love that transcends all barriers -- gender, religion, culture -- and dreams of an India where secularism and tolerance are the twin towers that should never ever crumble. And Akbar and Jodhaa are the alluring exponents of this dream. Beyond that, the film has nothing much to boast of, except a few interesting song and dance set pieces where dervishes whirl, drums roll and doves fly. The battle sequences are unimaginative, often tacky, the length inordinate, the political intrigue comic, the editing extremely loose and the narrative does test your patience. What carries the film through is the performances and bits of the music (AR Rahman). Both Aishwarya and Hrithik complement each other once again after ending up as one of the most sizzling couples of contemporary cinema in Dhoom 2. There is an elegance and a fine restraint in their falling-in-love act, even as some of the fringe players -- Sonu Sood, Ila Arun, Yuvi -- add character and form. Be very patient, sidetrack history, don't look for the artistry of Lagaan, and you might just like this 'Shahenshahji' (that's what Jodhaa calls Akbar) and his missus who doubles up as a crouching tiger to the hidden dragon.