Mohenjodaro has an absolutely superb opening shot: a narrow sea inlet of jade green water, on either side of which are insurmountable cliffs. Surprisingly, the hero is shown in the very first shot, unlike the trend Bollywood seems to be following nowadays where it springs the lead pair on the audience in a surprise!surprise!move several scenes down the line, like we didn’t know whom we were going to watch already!
So like I said, the opening shot is rivetting. Don’t get carried away – what this means is that the cinematographer is uber skilled. As for Mohenjodaro itself – I can’t recall when I last saw a more unbearably tedious movie! Director Ashutosh Gowarikar has taken a piece of rich history, the most ancient, fascinating civilisation the world has a record of and turned it into a tawdry nautanki of songs, unicorns, simpering hero and buffalo-horned baddie. WHEN is Bollywood going to wake up to the fact that all narrations don’t require songs?! And to think this movie made it as the ‘Closing Film’ of the Locarno Film Festival; boy, the Swiss would have been stupefied!
Lord knows why Gowarikar wanted to particularly set this story thousands of years ago as well as title his film Mohenjodaro after the ruins of that great civilisation, when all he did was re-hash ‘Dharamveer’ where a low caste dude falls in love with a higher born damsel but of course subsequently we learn the lad has been of noble birth all along; his daddy had been whacked by the villainous chieftain. It is a thousand pities that, in spite of getting so many experts on board and, one presumes, done some research of his own, the scriptwriter has then tacked on a done-to-death love plot against this setting.
Sarman (Hrithik Roshan) belongs to Amri village where he and his uncle (Nitish Bharadwaj) are indigo farmers. Sarman has always been thwarted in his wish to go to the big fair at neighbouring Mohenjodaro. Eventually his uncle gives in and he sets off along with his friend Hijo. In the big bazaar (sic!) he sees this girl whom he is told is Channi (Pooja Hegde) the daughter of the head priest (Manish Choudhary) and his heart instantly goes thump-thump. No kahani mein twist now, sigh: Channi is of course betrothed to Moonja (Arunoday Singh) the son of the baddie Maham (Kabir Bedi) the chief of the tribe and who killed off Sarman’s father, the previous chief. The story so far is hardly rocket science but then it starts to get confusing – Maham gets a dam built to alter the course of the river Sindhu so he can get his greedy paws on the gold that litters the river bed so he can buy weapons made of iron (gulp!) from the Persians…so much laalach is making my head ache. In a fitting finale the river goddess, Maa Sindhu, who’s hopping mad at the temerity in changing her course, comes roaring full spate over Mohenjodaro, truly making it the mound of the dead (one of the popular translations of the meaning of the name Mohenjodaro) except that our superhero, good ole Sarman, has already taken the villagers across to the other side AND renamed the river therein as the Ganga!
Phew. I was mopping my brow in disbelief at this distorted crash course in history – and me, a history student!Where should I begin with my doubt checks? Did they really have all these rich hues in textiles and designer thigh-slashed clothes and those crazy headpieces way back in the Indus Valley civilisation? I understand that the director had to work with his imagination here and, to be fair, whites, browns and blues are predominant – but still. To continue: Channi has to have some ritualistic bath on the night of the full moon. Why then, with a river in the vicinity, is she stepping into a swimming pool? Moreover, she is supposed to be the Chosen One and pretty much everybody goes in awe of her. So couldn’t the silly chit make up some oomba-joomba curse so the Maham wouldn’t be hellbent on braying for Sarman’s hide? Speaking of braying, the gibberish language the cast sometimes fell back into as a default mode – who authenticated it as something the IVC dudes would have spoken?
Just because we’re supposed to be seeing something that happened a gadzillion years ago, there are these halfhearted scenes of barter exchange in a bazaar that looks like an obvious film set. All the peasants/traders/guards also appear quite clean and tandarusth. Sarman’s fight scene with Bakar-Zokar had a set that looked like a Spanish bullfight ring. This scene, apart from being overly dramatised, showed unnecessary violence.
Hrithik Roshan has too much bronzer on. The songs have been bunged into Mohenjodaro only so that he gets a chance to show off his dance moves, pretty much like ‘Jodha Akbar’ before this. I meant it earlier when I said ‘simpering hero’; why in the name of all that’s unicorn must he talk in this breathless, super excited way? Pooja Hegde has a cute smile and long legs and not much else to contribute to this movie. Kabir Bedi is good in parts but has been over-the-top in some scenes. Suhasini Mulay as Laashi, Maham’s wife, is about okay. Manish Choudhary and Arunoday Singh have hammed it to the hilt. Whoever played Sarman’s kakimaa is a reel (sic!) disaster; she is clearly awed by the proximity to Roshan.
Music is by AR Rahman. He has sung ‘Tu hai’ well, however, the title song Mohenjodaro is farcical and an assault on the senses. Even though the songs are superfluous, Raju Khan has done a decent job with the choreography. Dialogues by Preeti Mamgain are average. Enough said about the story/screenplay (Gowarikar.) Editing by Sandeep Francis is loose and there are a couple of spots in the movie where you feel a scene-jump.
Where Ashutosh the storyteller and director has failed, Ashutosh the visionary has triumphed. In terms of Mohenjodaro as a visual magnum opus, he has done his homework; the citadel layout of sunbaked bricks is quite fantastic and seemingly authentic. Matching him effortlessly step by step is cinematographer CK Muraleedharan; there are some truly breathtaking aerial city shots and, as for the river in full spate, that is some superior cinematography at work, especially when a massive wave almost engulfs Sarman! This is the winning team of Mohenjodaro ; sadly, the only outstanding point of the movie.
*Review written exclusively for The Film Writers Association of India