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1 rating: 5.0
Art House & International movie directed by Santosh Sivan

Both stylish and stylized, Santosh Sivan's Hindi epicAsokatells the heavily fictionalized but nonetheless compelling story of India's greatest emperor. In the third century B.C., the Mauryan king Asoka built a vast empire by means of ruthless conquest; … see full wiki

Tags: Movies
Director: Santosh Sivan
Genre: Foreign
1 review about Asoka

my first Bollywood experience -- and it won me over!!

  • May 3, 2006
I didn't really know what to expect going into this film (I'm embarassed to say that I even teach occasional film classes and had never seen a true Bollywood film, only read about them) -- I knew it was a Bollywood Blockbuster, and one of only a few that had wide success outside of India. For that reason I wonder about how characteristic this film is of Bollywood film generally -- but that is I suppose an odd question: like seeing Star Wars or Jaws or The Titanic only and asking "is this what all Hollywood films are like?" But judging on this film alone there is a whole new world of film to explore, and I'm excited to take the leap.

The story of the famous warrior king Asoka who became a Buddhist missionary for peace, it starts out beautifully, and one gets the sense this will be an epic film in the style of Hollywood epic melodrama. Then, when he has left his homeland and gone wandering he catches the eye of a beautiful young woman, things change suddenly and one gets the sense this is nothing like a Hollywood film. The vast scope of the film narrows and instead of lush and broad period backgrounds we get closeups of navels and hips, and it becomes a fiery dance number, with dance moves inspired by ancient Hindu love texts and diagrams (think Kamasutra style without sex: on the documentary included on this disc the choreographer said that diagrams from the Kamasutra as well as other early Hindu texts provided inspiration for some of the dance moves). The epic story resumes quickly but is "interrupted" several times by bizarre but catchy and infectious dance and song numbers, that appear a peculiar hybrid between Broadway, MTV and traditional dance. After I got used to such scenes they grew on me and I found myself smiling and laughing in ways that I rarely do watching a Blockbuster Hollywood film. Even though some (not all) of the dance/music scenes are erotically charged there is a remarkable innocence about them that hearkens back to early Hollywood musicals -- and I think my response to these numbers (partly due to the unexpected novelty) was close to what it must have been like to experience great Hollywood musicals as they emerged and not through the jaded eyes of a filmgoer whose experience is with films that have "grown out" of such styles. In its epic mode, too, the film has a grandeur that is rarely approached in Hollywood epics today (and does not solicit the same kind of cynicism at least for me that seems an appropriate response to films like "Alexander"), and comes perhaps closer to Kurosawa films like Ran. Another connection to Kurosawa is in color -- though I think that where this film falls short of the Japanese master is in the editing which sometimes feels a bit too contrived (comparable at times to MTV style editing: cutting for a preconceived effect rather than cutting to create an organically seamless unity).

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