Top positive review
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A truly wonderful swashbuckling romance of epic proportions
on 11 January 2002
Asoka, the story of the first all-India emperor who introduced Buddhism to the country, is a cinematic treat for anyone who has even a remote acquaintance with Bollywood films. It stars devilishly lovable rogue Shah Rukh Khan at his most naturalistic and commanding best as the emperor Asoka, and haughtily gorgeous Kareena Kapoor, Bollywood's latest superstar actress, as the Kalingan princess he falls in love with. The plot manages to combine typical Bollywood love-story-with-a-tragic-twist with a genuine - though liberally inventive - exploration and dramatisation of historical events. Asoka is the first real character of Indian history and as such, is seen as a nation-builder. The film certainly gives the impression of both the epic sweep of history and of the sophistication and breadth of 1st millenia BC Indian civilisation, and is lavishly photographed, designed, costumed and shot in every scene. The battle scenes - some of the best I've seen - are vast and not computer generated, with elephants fighting alongside footsoldiers, and the audience is not spared from grisliness of war. This is a film with a message: one learnt by the real Asoka and disseminated across his nation. War brings no benefits. Violence is evil. The violence in the film is given an ultra-realism and morality that Hollywood doesn't match, while you can thrill, at the same time, to the sight of a spear point within millimetres of Shah Rukh Khan's eyeball, or the sight of Kareena wielding a sword on the battlefield in defence of her people.
If you are prepared to settle in for the epic length, this film is a treat. It has fewer songs than the standard Bollywood fare, is more naturalistic, has marvellous cinematography including time-shift shots, two of the greatest modern Bollywood stars, and effortlessly sweeps you through its full three hours leaving you breathless and almost overwhelmed at the end.
I only don't give it five stars because if you don't like Bollywood, you might find its traditional Bollywood conventions a bit distracting at first. Otherwise it is cinema at its best from beginning to end.