Marissa Hank ’20
“Jodhaa Akbar,” directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, is a sixteenth-century love story about the political marriage of a Mughal emperor, Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar and a Rajput princess, Jodhaa.
This historical romance film from 2008 is based on true events, but as any major film it is riddled with some historical inaccuracies.
When the Mughal empire plans to attack Amer, King Bharmal offers his daughter’s hand in marriage to Akbar in order to avoid war. Akbar agrees to the marriage as it would bring forward a true strong alliance and long lasting peace between his empire and the Rajputs. Jodhaa becomes upset that she is being reduced to a mere political pawn, and acts reluctant with Akbar; they do not consummate their marriage.
Before the wedding, Jodaa gives Akbar an ultimatum: she will not marry him unless he allows her to have a temple and shrine to her Hindu gods. With Jodhaa’s strong female character, she is breaking the traditional role of Indian woman during this era. Akbar’s compliance to these marital terms is the first time the audience witnesses his belief of religious freedom transforming his actions.
By the end of the film, Akbar controls the rebellion and announces that every religion has its rights in his kingdom. Later in his life, he becomes the founder of a new religion called Din-i Ilahi, which combines both Hinduism and Islam.
The importance of religious tolerance is highlighted as the major theme of this film. The New York Times wrote when the movie originally came out that, “With so much attention focused on Islamic extremism, now seems an apt time for a movie about Akbar whose legacy is one of enlightened rule and almost radical religious tolerance.” This observation seems only so much more true in the current political climate.
Due to most of the film’s scenes taking place in a Muslim empire, the absence of mosques creates an interesting critique. Since religion is a major aspect of this movie, one would assume that mosques and a heavy focus on the Islamic religion would frequently appear throughout Akbar’s palace grounds.
However, there is only one scene when Emperor Jalaluddin prays to a saint’s shrine. This single scene portrays the Muslim influence in Akbar’s empire. Most of the religious focus throughout the rest of the film is on Hinduism. Akbar even creates a small temple for Krishna in Jodhaa’s bed chamber.
Even though aspects of the Muslim religion remain sparse, the majority of the art and architecture in this film has an Islamic influence. For example, in Princess Jodhaa’s bed chamber the walls are adorned with geometric and arabesque motifs that are characteristic of Islamic art. Additionally, the floor is decorated with floral ornamentation inside a geometric star form, portraying another example of the Islamic art tradition.
Throughout Akbar’s palace grounds are arched pathways crafted with a red stone material that is characteristic of building material popular in Islamic architecture.
The focus on Islamic art themes places the setting of this film in the Islamic world while being secular enough to allow for the movie to focus on the Hindu religion. The use of Islamic art and architecture and the incorporation of Hinduism into Akbar’s empire solidify Akbar’s argument that “respect for each other’s religion will enrich Hindustan.”