Shahrukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor
By Subash Awards Movie Review

Asoka (Shah Rukh Khan) is the stepson of Bindusara, the Emperor of the Magadha Empire. Bindusara's real son is Sushima (Ajith Kumar). Both of them want the throne.

But Asoka's mother, fearing for her son's life, banishes him to the forest, telling him to use a different identity. So Asoka wanders the forest, taking the name of his horse, Pavan. It is as Pavan that he meets Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor) and Arya, sister and brother, who are the actual heirs to the Kalinga throne. They are also in hiding since villains who desire the Kalinga throne killed their parents and wished to kill them as well. Asoka and Kaurwaki fall in love with each other, though Kaurwaki thinks he is only Pavan. Kaurwaki falls in love with Pavan, without knowing that he is actually Asoka.

Eventually, Asoka leaves Kaurwaki to visit his mother, promising to return soon. However, in that time, news (wrongly) comes to him that Kaurwaki and Arya were killed. Actually they are still alive and well in hiding.

But heart-broken Asoka, who does not know this, goes angrily to war, bloodthirstily and viciously, uncaring about death. Eventually, Sushima's men stab him, and Asoka is healed in a Buddhist monastery. A young Buddhist girl named Devi (played by Hrishitaa Bhaat) takes care of him, but when he is attacked, and she kills the attacker, her arranged marriage falls through the cracks. Asoka takes pity on her and weds her. Eventually, she becomes pregnant with his heir. Sushima tries to kill the pregnant Devi, and instead, the life of Asoka's mother is taken. In a blind rage, Asoka murders Sushima and all of his brothers. Since Bindusara is also dead, Asoka takes command as Emperor. But the people do not like him, calling him the Vicious and Bloody King.

It is at this time that Magadha and Kalinga go to war. Asoka and Kaurwaki, neither one knowing it is the other one they are fighting, face on the battlefield. Kaurwaki finally realizes that Asoka is Pavan, but collapses when she sees him murdering all around him viciously.

At the end of the war, Asoka has won, and when he is basking in his glory, he is told he is the father of twins (a boy and a girl). He is also told that all he has won is blood and tears. Asoka takes this to heart and visits the battlefield, where he meets the unconscious Kaurwaki. She berates him for becoming a bloody monster. Arya was also in the battle, and when he dies in Asoka's arms, Asoka gives up his life of blood and reforms and becomes Buddhist.

This movie is, in the end, the story of Asoka's conversion from violence to Buddhism.

This is, unless "Aalavandhaan" is a horrible flop, the most disappointing movie of the year. I had high hopes for this movie, and most of them all were crushed. I felt like I was going to see "Braveheart" and instead I saw "Love Story."

Since the basic point is about Asoka's Buddhist conversion, I would expect the violence to start early. Instead, it starts two hours and fifteen minutes into the movie, after a belabored and basically unentertaining love story featuring song sequences, a fight sequence, and scantily clad women.

Don't think of this as a historical film. History is used sparingly in the film. Instead, think of this as a fictional film set in the Asoka era, where the hero's name happens to be Asoka.

Santosh Sivan said he intended this to be a "commercial" film. So what's included? Classic Indian cinema cliches such as boy saves girl from villains, unnecessary song sequences, and a disgusting and unnecessary running comedy track featuring Johnny Lever.

The cinematography and direction are excellent. But that's to be expected; we are talking about Santosh Sivan. In the final war scenes, the scenes are almost beautiful despite all the blood. However, it's the story and the screenplay that need massive tightening.

The film has its moments (such as the tie-in between throwing his sword away near the end and the opening scene) but not a single scene stands starkly in the heart after the movie is over. Watching this, I just kept waiting for Asoka the warrior to stop being Asoka the romantic hero. It was far too late in the plot that Asoka actually becomes bloodthirsty Asoka, and that makes only the last half-hour of this film worth watching.

None of the actors have done very remarkable jobs. Ajith Kumar looks sadly out-of-place, and extremely fat. Shah Rukh is good in acting, but the story makes it so that we don't care.

The Tamil language in a Hindi dubbing film is usually written poorly (think of the Tamil in "Taalam"). But here, it is extraneous. The actors use both historical Tamil and modern- day Tamil, and so it's a mess.

Other reviewers will undoubtedly extoll the film for trying what so few films do -- be a biography and a historical film. But for me, it does this so unsuccessfully. The plot is too long and meandering.

The music, which sounded a lot better in Hindi, is near torture in Tamil. None of the songs make an impression. Of course, I'm no Anu Malik fan.

Watch it on DVD, I think. It might be a bore, but somehow, I still think it's worth watching on DVD (maybe for the cinematography or such). Make sure you get a good quality print if you watch it on video.



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