Asoka
dir Santosh Sivan
scr Saket Chaudhary, Santosh Sivan
with Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Danny Denzongpa, Ajit, Rahul Dev, Hrishita Bhatt, Subhashini, Suraj Balaje, Umesh Mehra, Gerson Da Cuhna, Vinit Sharma, Vivek Sharma
release UK 26.Oct.01
01/India 2h30
4 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
whose destiny is greater than an emperor? While Indian films take a bit of getting used to for us Westerners, this high-powered epic certainly has the ability to get under our skin. It's the story of one of the most important figures in India's history. Set around 300 BC, the hunky young Prince Asoka (Khan) leaves the kingdom of Magadha rather than squabble with his ambitious brother (Ajit) and his wise, forceful mother (Subhashini). Incognito in the neighbouring Kalinga, he encounters another exiled prince (Balaje), who's accompanied by his big sister Kaurwaki (Kapoor) and their bodyguard (Dev). Soon Asoka and Kaurwaki are madly in love, but events larger than either of them tear them apart, and Asoka's inner turmoil turns him into a violent warrior and, ultimately, a brutally ruthless king. How long then until his heart is broken again?

The story is terrific, and extremely well told by director-cowriter Sivan (The Terrorist). It's funny, action-packed, corny and colourful, very pacey and involving, and punctuated by sexy musical numbers featuring gorgeous women and lots of oiled muscleman dancers (I've seen Madonna's next incarnation!). The overall camp approach is a bit jarring, especially combined with frequent swooning romantic clinches and battles choreographed more like ballet than fight scenes. This foreign feel is very reminiscent of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the only comparison I can think of with its huge historical scope and overwhelming romantic resonance (although this isn't nearly as lush thematically). The acting is fairly posey, but still effective. Indian megastar Khan certainly commands the screen, coiffed hair notwithstanding. Everything about this film is great fun--and if you warm to the style and feel of it all, it's surprisingly moving too.
violence, themes cert PG 4.Oct.01

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... whose destiny is greater than an emperor? "An extremely polished film with a cast that includes the brightest of Bollywood, it's a pity that the ambitious project has turned out to be much like US blockbusters - the trailers are better than the film itself. The story, for all its historical references (disputable as they may be - the film ignited much debate among historians in India, especially those who objected to the rampant display of flesh courtesy of the luscious leading lady), is too predictable. Try watching the film the second time round and find yourself trying to suppress your yawns and disbelief. The visuals by director/cameraman Santosh are masterful! He's truly a genius just waiting to be handpicked by Hollywood big-wigs - look what he can do with an ol' Indian camera and a shoe-string (by Western standards) budget! I would look at the film as a stepping stone for greater products to light up the screens, via Mumbai, the film capital of the world." --Srifan, Hong Kong 28.Dec.01
2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall

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