Movie Review by Alice Castle
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Danny Denzongpa, Ajit, Rahul Dev
Director: Santosh Sivan
ASOKA is a Bollywood epic on the scale of BEN HUR, GLADIATOR and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Enter the world of melodrama – truly amazing battle scenes, perfectly choreographed fight sequences, Shakespearean like comedy interludes and a good ole moral message. Where ASOKA differs from the Hollywood epic is that in every place where you’d usually insert a screen kiss – you insert a vibrant MTV Asia group dance scene punctured with a few flash-bulb edits.
‘Asoka’ was an Indian Prince who lived 2000 years ago in the Kingdom of Magadha (now the Eastern part of India). The Indian hero is played by mega-star Shah Rukh Khan who has also produced the film. Poised against his competitive brothers for the throne, Asoka is encouraged by his beloved mother to go out into the world and live life as a simple man to avoid repeated assassination attempts by his brothers. When he refuses Asoka’s mother says she will take a vow of silence, and so he capitulates and leaves the dangerous Royal household behind. On his adventures in poor man’s world Asoka falls in love with Princess Kaurwaki the daughter of the King of Kalinga who is fleeing execution with her brother after their parents have been killed in a coup.
Princess Kaurwaki believes Asoka to be a simple soldier and agrees to marry him. The lovers are separated when Asoka’s mother summons him back to Magadha – and in his absence there is a violent ambush of the Princess’s camp and Asoka believes his new young bride has been killed. Bitter and twisted he turns to a life of violent battle-mongering, with a brief attempt at love in a marriage to the beautiful Buddhist Devi who saves his life when he was injured.
The real lovers are re-united and it is only then that Asoka realises what a power hungry horrible war lord he has become vowing to follow a Buddhist path for the end of his reign. It was this new spirtituality that made Asoka the hero he is today.
Totally melodramatic, and both violent and vibrant, Sivan’s cinematographic background makes for a sumptuous display of colour and stunning natural detail. For me the scenes focussing on snakes, butterflies and horses were truly beautiful.