“Gowarikar came before the media with half a dozen history books and said that he researched the subject thoroughly before making the film.” You will just have to imagine my cheshire cat grin upon reading that sentence in an otherwise eye-rolling reportage on the “controversy” surrounding Ashutosh Gowariker’s bollywood spectacular Jodhaa Akbar. I want every director of every historical movie to come with such arsenal to press conferences.
The movie, which I had the pleasure of seeing, along with two dear friends, at a run-down, mob-front, theater on the north side of Chicago, is underwhelming. Purportedly, it is the story of the Mughal emperor, Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar (1556-1605) and his “romance” with the Rajput princess Jodhaa. The controversy seems to be in the realm of that pesky popular memory and history. Apparently, the offending parties claim that Jodha Bai is the Rajput wife of Jahangir – Akbar’s successor – rather than Akbar’s wife. And that brings some dishonor to some one. I really stopped reading after a while.
The movie doesn’t deserve any controversy. Irfan Habib and Muhammad Amin have the right attitude as historians: “… nothing to get worked up about”. Because if historians are indeed to huff and puff, the one-on-one combat sequences for all of Hindoostan are far more an egregious crime against history than whether Jodha Bai was Akbar’s wife or daughter in law. Man Singh, Pleez. Akbar did have (a number of) Rajput wives, and other wives, and not every one’s name is recorded. The one from the movie is named only by her given title, Maryam-e Zaman (Mary of the Times), in the medieval sources. A title that gave 19th century popular colonial narrators all kinds of wrong ideas about Christian influences on Akbar.
What I did find more troublesome than Jodha Bai, was the particular brand of Hindu-secularism at display in the movie. Wherein the open-ness of Akbar is needed only to give triumphal space for the Hindu dieties. And while Outlook India notes that this movie is the most noted example of an intercommunal romance where the man is muslim, I simply noted that every villain in the movie is a devout Muslim. Jodhaa Akbar, is a story about contemporary India and the world we live in, not about Akbar the Mughal King.
As teaching tool, I appreciated the bits of social and court historical display available in some scenes – the Diwan-i Aam, the Parcheesi, the night camps – but the rest would have to be avoided outside of a class on popular history and memory. My favorite scene was the “throw him over head first”. I dug.
For those who care, I have put the account made famous by British Orientalist about Jodhaa and Akbar, below the fold.
Here, then, is the account given by Vincent Smith – “the hegemonic historian of ancient India”, as Inden pegged him – in his biography of Akbar written in 1909. It informs some bits of “history” of the movie:
One night, Akbar, when on a hunting excursion, was Pilgrim-passing through a village near Agra when he happened to hear a party of Indian minstrels singing the praises of first Khwaja Muin uddin, the renowned saint buried at Ajmer, and was thus inspired to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of the holy man. Accordingly, in the middle of January 1562, he started for Ajmer with a small retinue, hunting on his way. At Deosa, midway between Agra and Ajmer, he received Raja Bihar Mall, the chief of Amber or Jaipur in Rajputana, who offered his eldest daughter to Akbar in marriage. The court made only a brief stay at Ajmir and returned by forced marches to Agra, leaving the heavy
camp equipage to follow. The marriage was celebrated at Sambhar. Man Singh, nephew and adopted son of Raja Bhagwan Das, the heir of Raja Bihar Mall, was taken into the imperial service, and rose ultimately to high office.
The bride subsequently became the mother of Jahangir. Her posthumous official title, Maryam zamani (or -uz zamani), ‘ the Mary of the age’, has caused her to be confounded sometimes with Akbar’s mother, whose title was Maryam-makani,’ dwelling with Mary’. The dust of Akbar’s first Hindu consort lies in a fine mausoleum situated near Akbar’s tomb at Sikandara. The building has been restored
by judicious measures of conservation.
Although it has been asserted that Humayun had one Hindu consort, that lady, if she really existed, does not appear to have exercised any influence. Akbar’s marriages with Hindu princesses, on the contrary, produced important effects both on his personal rule of life and on his public policy. His leanings towards Hinduism will be more conveniently discussed at a subsequent stage, and the effects
of the Rajput matrimonial alliances on public affairs also will become more apparent as the story proceeds. But at this point of the narrative so much may be said, that the marriage with the Amber princess secured the powerful support of her family throughout the reign, and offered a proof manifest to all the world that Akbar had decided to be the Badshah of his whole people—Hindus as well as Muhammadans. While the court was on its way back to Agra one of the keepers of the hunting leopards was convicted of stealing a pair of shoes. Akbar ordered the thief’s feet to be cut off.
Later in life he would hardly have inflicted such a savage punishment for a petty theft.
I recommend that you stick with the epic Mughal-e Azam (1960), one of the greatest movies ever, for your Mughliana romances for a while.