Radha and Suraj have been friends since childhood. Gopal has been in love with Radha ever since they spent a few years together as kids. Years later, Gopal's guardian proposes to Radha a ... See full summary »
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Prince Ashoke (Shahrukh Khan), heir to the Magadha Kingdom, bowing to his mother's (Shilpa Mehta) demand forsakes his princely status and goes to live in the wild for awhile. There he meets and falls in love with Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor). He identifies himself as Pawan, not wanting to disclose his identity yet. Ashoke has to return to Magadha, but when he returns to find and wed Kaurwaki, he is told by Bheema (Rahul Dev) that Kaurwaki and her brother Arya have been killed. Devastated Ashoke returns home. On the way home he is attacked and Devi (Hrishitaa Bhatt), of the Buddhist faith rescues him and tends to him till he gets well. As a result, Devi's marriage to her groom is cancelled. Ashoke weds her and brings her to Magadha, only to be told by his father that since Devi is not of the same race as he, she cannot be welcomed. Ashoke leaves with Devi and lives in Ujjaini. Soon Devi gets pregnant, and this arouses jealously and hatred amongst Ashoke's step-brothers. As a result they ... Written by
Asoka is a movie by acclaimed cinematographer and director Santosh Sivan, and it is clearly evident from his latest venture that he is about to change the celluloid world forever. The movie is an epic and the first example of International Indian cinema on a wide scale, bigger canvas and projected through the eye of a master filmmaker.
The film begins with the young Prince Asoka (Shah Rukh Khan) as a boy who watches his father accept Jainism, a peaceful religion that encourages him to toss aside his sword, which has caused much bloodshed. The young boy is intrigued by the weapon and picks up the new toy, masters it and soon learns that with the power of yielding this sword comes a great price. A warrior is born who fights many battles yet it is quickly established that this young man is very much fighting human wars, quenching a thirst for power and balancing this with his love for his family, particularly his mother. His mother renounces her son's violent ways and requests him to undergo the greatest education any person can: a journey.
On his journey as an ordinary traveller, the prince encounters friends and learns to eat peasant food with his trusty horse Pawan, who mirroring an opposite reflection to Asoka's seemingly black heart, is pure white with eyes that steal the heart of anyone who gazes into them. While exploring through a forest he meets the Princess Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor), whose eyes mesmerise one moment and warn off invaders in a blink. She is the embodiment of beauty and the prince introduces himself as Pawan to her, only to find there is a price on her head and she, accompanied by General Bheema (Rahul Dev) and young Prince Arya (Suraj Balaji), are on their own journey to make it alive to Kalinga where their destiny awaits them.
The journey of Asoka continues with trials and love, jealousy and betrayal, all making up cornerstones of what Prince Asoka experiences along the way. He falls flawlessly in love with Kaurwaki, and she becomes his soul and purpose of living, but destiny strikes a blow only to begin a mission born in rage and spread by blood. To reveal the rest of the movie would be taking too much from the audiences' viewing pleasure but the journey for Asoka is far from over.
A story of a traveller's travels, his education that is the journey, the loves and losses and wars and redemption all encompass this 173 minute epic that grips the viewer from the moment the camera pans down onto Asoka, as if indicating it is descending onto a mountain full of riches within, up until the deeply disturbing ending, which leaves the viewer with a ray of hope before the credits flash to announce not the end of the story but the beginning.
Santosh Sivan's camerawork and direction are par excellence, as his unique flash-technique and use of many shots to accentuate a minor detail in a scene all add together to create a cleverly woven story immortalised on film. In some sequences the camera cuts like a sword with flashes of residue left lingering both on screen and in the viewer's mind, yet in others following, he uses less shots and still manages to maintain rhythm. A film such as Asoka cannot be appreciated on a single viewing alone as upon initial contact one is simply bombarded with an onslaught of visual delights, spellbinding sounds and a story that emerges from our past but still reaches into the depths of every man's soul.
Performance wise Shah Rukh Khan is the life of the movie. His acting prowess is detailed to the fullest in emotional gut-wrenching scenes, that portray innocence, rage, peace and longing all through his demeanour and eye-language. Asoka's arrogance and clarity of his every action, coupled with the consistent river of flowing energy is evident through the actor's performance which to his credit leaves one finding the line which ends with the character and turns into actor. Asoka could not only be Shah Rukh's greatest screen incarnation, but also a clear message to international cinema of his screen presence, dedication and mastery of his art.
Kareena Kapoor, as the warrior princess who acts as sister and mother figure to Arya, a cautious then enduring lover to Asoka and emerges as someone on her own personal journey, in search of her identity and sense of belonging while juggling her duties, heart and mind in a three ring circus, Kareena gives what is by far her finest performance to date. After her innocent and natural debut in Refugee, she is finally allowed to once more realise her potential and play a character that only she could do justice to. Her look sans make up, except a few lines accentuating her eyes as the window to her soul, is as pure as the princess herself and the image of her going to get milk, fully wrapped except for her eyes is of sheer cinematic delight. Kareena has mastered the art of acting with her whole body in a short span of time and her performance in Asoka proves this. One hopes her potential is continually unlocked and her future holds many more performances and films of this calibre.
It is ironical that a film inspired by history is destined to make history itself by being the first Indian masterpiece to be shown at so many festivals, in so many countries and shown nationwide breaking into mainstream British cinema. It is certainly one of Indian cinema's finest offerings and deserves the attention it is bound to receive, missing out on this homage to true cinematic form would be like missing history. Go see it.
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