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.