Mohenjo Daro


Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker

Starring: Hrithik Roshan, Pooja Hegde, Kabir Bedi, Arunoday Singh, Suhasini Mulay, Nitish Bharadwaj, Sharad Kelkar and Manish Choudhary

It’s difficult to believe that it was just a year ago we — well, some of us — were waiting with bated breath for the next film-collaboration of Hrithik Roshan and Ashutosh Gowariker after ‘Jodhaa Akbar’, only to have those high hopes dashed on the shoals of disappointment. Mohenjo Daro is based on Baahubali’s theme and is set in the era of 2016 B.C. taking Indus valley civilization as the backdrop with no relevance to history. Some ingredients are inspired from Lagaan and a climax hugely inspired from Swades; this is a fictional story with a dull first half and a modest second half. Ashutosh Gowarikar tries his hand on historical period drama again with a subject that has a lot of potential, but it was thrown away. Barring the sets, costumes and to some extent the language used, the movie has nothing that one can relate with the time period it is trying to refer to in the history. It is more like Baahubali getting Lagaan on the sets of Swades. And the central love story gets to look even more ridiculous.

Mohenjo Daro doesn’t have the raw energy or the unforgettable characters of Lagaan. It’s never as involving a story as Jodhaa Akbar. And yet what you cannot deny is the sheer craft that Ashutosh Gowariker tries to bring to the enterprise. The missing piece of the puzzle, sadly, is the inconsistent script; one that never lets us truly care for the characters, one that leaves too many questions unanswered. The film is an interesting show of tremendous sweep, strength and visual beauty. What makes it somewhat interesting, ultimately, is the uniqueness of its subject, the intensity of its setting-treatment.

We encounter a potentially crackling premise: Sarman (Hrithik Roshan) a crocodile-hunter and an inquisitive farmer-cum-merchant travels to the city of Mohenjo Daro to sell his indigo-yields against the wishes of his well-wishers. He is an outspoken and courageous fellow who enters the city, sells his first batch, and immediately falls in love with Chaani (Pooja Hegde,) who’s a princess of some kind, widely regarded to be a ray of hope for the citizens and the daughter of the city’s high-priest. Chaani reciprocates and Sarman pledges his alliance of love. There is much room for hilarity in a setup like this, and the film taps into a fair bit of it, even as the set pieces get bloated and the scenes thud with relentless repetition and hackneyed melo-drama.

The perplexing problem starts when Sarman comes to know about Chaani’s engagement with the douchey tough bad guy Moonja (Arunoday Singh,) the heir to the throne which is currently held by the dark-eyed, evil Maham (Kabir Bedi.) Soon Sarman gets embroiled in the city’s merchant market and becomes the voice of the poor against Maham and Moonja, the evidently autocratic rulers. His love for Chaani gives him power and helps him avenge a hidden truth and save the entire civilization from an inevitable flood.

But finally the film is less about characters and their stories, than the director’s strategies as a filmmaker. Rather than getting lost in the world Gowarikar has created on screen, he asks filmgoers to marvel at how he created that world, and how smoothly he succeeds in manipulating us. And mixed with the film’s obviously unacceptable desire to marry contemporary morality to a story that has absolutely nothing contemporary about it, we end up with a bunch of people who feel like junior artists in colourful costumes play-acting ‘bharatiya janata’.

With his tanned anatomy and rough-trade appeal, Hrithik makes a persuasive thug. His isn‘t a graceful body this time, or a particularly subtle performance, but he isn’t an actor who likes to betray his delicacy — he‘s strongest, or at least most comfortable, playing rebel. Whether he’s sizing up Channi or staring down an enemy senator, the actor seems to be channeling his acting at his most poignant louche. His modest jowls don‘t tremble much expressively nor does his lips glisten with a much rapacious promise, but there’s something in the way he makes Sarman interesting and vulnerable. From Jodhaa Akbar to Agneepath, Hrithik has created enough profiles in courage to fill a gallery. As the star of this new, epic-scaled flick, he celebrates yet another man of selfless valor.

The leading actress has no clue why she has been cast in the movie. Let’s give Pooja Hegde an honour for “also being there” and “for standing there”. This unexciting debutant is a cause of feline femininity; it’s such a sullen performance. Docile to a fault, the pretty girl ponders around the film, constantly getting in the way of the story. She sobs, she smiles, she scampers — she does anything the script wants her to do, making you wish someone tried asked her to be subtle. Her character is not just complicated but excessively given to world-pleasing. Her painful performance coupled with the horrible lines she’s given singles her out as the film’s weakest point — so her having the maximum screentime isn’t a positive. Kabir Bedi is ridiculous and hugely entertaining as the lead antagonist, and fills in the hollows of his character with the ease of a professional who‘s swaggered through bad movies and good while bringing compelling humanity to an otherwise uninteresting villain. Arunoday Singh acts with a half-winking smirk that appears leery (as if he’s been bench-pressing with his cheeks and can’t smile a human smile).

Mohenjo Daro isn‘t an impersonal exercise — it’s filled with the director‘s visual flourishes and obsessions, but what’s missing is his characteristic sense of urgency. His films are invariably pitched between extraordinary spectacle and ramrod storytelling (many of his films feature characters on the run, existentially or physically). But epics are hard to move — they’re ponderous by their very nature. Although it is visually sumptuous, Mohenjo Daro doesn’t have a point of view. The story that he signed on to, however, is predictable, formulaic, and there are too many instances when, he seems thwarted instead of enlivened by the constraints of the genre. We see the pre-historic crowd, fattened on bread and distracted by tax-tyranny, lowers its collective thumb and it’s clear that this boring, doleful epic isn‘t about swords, sandals or even slavery, but the tyranny of genre filmmaking itself. Mohenjo Daro is filled with brilliant setting and features outstanding backdrop, but it‘s neither profound enough nor pop enough to be great — it’s mournful, serious, beautiful and, finally, pointless. There are moments where you’ll be utterly frustrated by obscure angles that manage to almost completely mask the ledge you need or the rail you’re supposed to climb upon. The audience is constantly blindsided by unnecessarily elaborate scenes or by the cleavaged un-actress.

If you are a core fan of Hrithik Roshan like me go ahead invest your time; or else there’s nothing that keeps you invested in what’s on the screen. Director Ashutosh Gowariker has a half-baked and poor storytelling voice here, and there are more than a few inconsistencies. The film is not a failure but the disappointments are too colossal to handle. Plus, the film is just too painstakingly damn long.

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