Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Pooja Hegde
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
It breaks my heart to say this because so much talent and sweat is involved, but Mohenjo Daro is a mess. It has ambition and scale. It also has the industrial-strength sincerity of Hrithik Roshan, who pours his soul into every scene. But the burden of carrying this leaden, cartoon-like narrative proves too much even for his Herculean shoulders. At best, the film works as unintentional comedy.
I’m sure that director Ashutosh Gowariker started with a grand vision – a historical film set in 2016 BC, essentially Amar Chitra Katha meets 300 meets Baahubali. The film doesn’t claim to be an accurate representation of the ancient Indian civilisation. In essence, Ashutosh, who has also written the story, was creating his own world. The vision deserves applause, but the director has been utterly let down by his own writing. The story is so simplistic and feeble that the film starts wobbling in the first few minutes. And you have approximately 150 more to go.
We are introduced to the noble and handsome Sarman, who can kill a crocodile. Sarman seems like a regular village hero, with a sidekick named Hojo – perhaps inspired by Hodor of Game of Thrones. Except that he dreams of a one-horned animal and is desperate to see the big city – Mohenjo Daro. Soon he makes his way there.
Before you know it, Sarman and Chaani, the priest’s daughter, are making eyes at each other. He saves her from horses – they are rushing at her; he jumps in between and shouts ‘Shaanth’. And they listen! But Chaani is already booked – she has to marry Moonja, the glowering son of Mohenjo Daro’s pradhan, Maham. Between them, the murderous Moonja and Maham keep all the citizens of this town terrorised and subservient. Obviously Sarman isn’t going to stand around while injustice is meted out every day.
This battle of good versus evil is interrupted by traditions like Milan Raat – basically a mass dating night during which men have to declare their love for the women they desire. Sarman has already been identified as a troublemaker, so he participates in disguise – he puts two white lines on his cheeks and red paint around his eyes. And guess what – no one recognises him. I think the weight of all the headgear these people wear had probably addled their brains.
In another scene, Chaani disguises herself just by taking off the ridiculous feathered headdress she wears! And guess what, no one recognises her either. I was bemused to discover that the ‘palat’ rule was operational in prehistoric India too. You know, palat from DDLJ – when Raj decides that if Simran loves him, she will turn for another look. Sarman uses the same line and, of course, Chaani looks back.
When Sarman gets too problematic, Maham throws him into an arena with oversized, dreadlocked warriors called Bakar-Zokar. Their fight sequence is the highlight of the film. As is AR Rahman’s fantastic music. The rest of it veers between bewildering and bad. Ashutosh tries to bolster the story by tacking on larger lessons on greed, the price of progress and revenge, but it just doesn’t hold together.
Debutant Pooja Hegde looks lovely but I hope she gets to do more in her next film.
In an interview, Ashutosh had requested viewers to suspend disbelief when they see the film. I really tried. But, eventually, Maham’s horned headdress defeated me.