Mohenjo Daro

The last problem Mohenjo Daro should have is being dull. So much is brought up in this movie—political intrigue in two generations, corruption, tragic childhoods, religious practice topped off by a Chosen One, the barter system, the indigo harvest, the domestication of animals, the arrival of horses in South Asia, crocodile hunting, international trade gatherings, civic taxes, the back story of an entirely separate city, environmental disaster, a love story (plus another that got sidelined)—yet almost none of it is interesting or adds up to much. I wish Ashutosh Gowariker, as both writer and director, had chosen a few of these and then really developed them with care.

Instead there's a weird mishmash of History 101 (No Previous Study of the Indus Valley Civilization Required) and Plot Points That Often Happen in Fillums (Orphan, Love at First Sight, Outsider Saves the Village). At the same time, that latter category is underused stylistically: Hrithik does get in some great face-quaking and nostril-flaring, but the overall tone of performance is on a different scale than the setting. Why Gowariker did set the story in such a specific culture but then choose to ignore history and archaeology and make it such a yawn of a place to visit? I'm not saying every film set in ancient times has to be the level of batsh*t spectacle of Gods of Egypt, but do something with it—otherwise why bother?

The dullness unfortunately extends to the hero too. Hrithik's Sarman is a goody-goody with no texture or depth beyond his unicorn dreams. He never has any questions about what doing the right thing should look like or how he can accomplish it, even when it involves politics of which he knows nothing—or full-on murder, for that matter. Several people have commented that the city of Mohenjo Daro itself looks too tidy and blank (especially in the aerial views, which seem to have been put into the film without bothering to render any people and the byproducts of their daily lives), and I think this applies to Sarman's personality. There's nothing magnetic or magic about either, which doesn't help you want to spend so much time with them or care about their fate. Granted, I'm pleased that Sarman seems to be an actual grown-up instead of a man-child, but I wish there had been a way to let him, and us, have more fun.

As with Gowariker's other surprisingly dull historical film, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, Mohenjo Daro is not a complete waste of time for me. There are surface features and idea content that I really like.
• Most importantly, this version of the past seems far less romanticized than we humans tend to do and instead reads pretty well as a canvas of things we still do badly millennia later. Education is given no attention, social strata are fiercely guarded, laborers are overtaxed and undervalued, different ethnicities are dehumanized as freaks, blood sports and execution qualify as entertainment, speaking out against tyranny is dangerous, and we disastrously mishandle natural resources. Most strikingly to me, even in a primarily made-up world, there is still little room for women in Gowariker's imagination. The senate, guards, citizens who speak out against wrongs in public, and people brainstorming how to save their city from a natural disaster are all only men.
• Kabir Bedi is bang-on as an egotistical villain with scary voice and piercing eyes, and he's also perfectly cast, visually, to be Arunoday Singh's dad (and would be good as Hrithik's dad, should anyone wish to make that film).
• Textiles. This is not the textile fancier's dream that Jodhaa Akbar is, but I think they're employed well without being distractingly luxe, and nice use was made of the madder, turmeric, and indigo look. From what I've read, we know very little about the clothing of the Harappan civilization, and whoever designed these had fun with them without going overboard, making distinctions between the rich and poor wardrobes while still visually uniting them in shape and material. While not the prettiest, my favorite single piece is the priest's cloak clearly modeled on this famous artifact.
• Probably the most gleeful element of this whole film is the headwear, closely followed by the lapidarical* jewelry; Sukanya Verma calls the films a 155-minute-long fancy dress competition. I'm grateful for it. Somehow crazy accessories are fun where overly ornate clothes would be silly. The glaring exception is Chaani's much-discussed headdress of feathers, sequins, flowers, and slices of agate, but I love that too. Why shouldn't the girl given by the Sindhu River to the city have a fancy hat?
• The shift in focus at the end from personal revenge to political engineering. I won't spoil it, but I really thought the film was going to be over about 20 minutes before it was and appreciate the final detour. In fact, I'd call the post-interval part better than the pre-, despite the good dancing being in the first half.

I know it's unfair to ask for a movie that has nothing to do with what the makers seemed to be doing, but since the film is named after a famous city, I can't help wishing for ancient noir, playing with ur-urban mysteries and dangers. There are hints towards that at the beginning (warnings to Sarman that the city is full of greed), but soon enough the city is just full of people who do whatever Sarman tells them to. I have no idea what the point of the film is; it's not entertaining, it's not visually striking, it's not provocative, and it doesn't seem to have any particular message. I had been looking forward to Mohenjo Daro, certain it would offer several flavors of cheese that I really enjoy, but now that I've seen it, all I can do is wonder what Gowariker was trying to accomplish.

* Probably not a real word.


Unknown said…
This movie is really bad. The fictional storyline is awful and the historical background is poor.
Unknown said…
Mahanjadharo is a dumb movie.

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