Ashoka the Great (2001) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • The epic tale of King Asoka's life is recounted here.

  • 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 plot to kill Devi, however, their plans are foiled by Ashoke's mother, who is killed. Ashoke swears to avenge his mother's death by killing his step-brothers one by one, except for one, who has led to Kalinga. Ashoke asks the ruler of Kalings to turn over his step-brother to him, and they refuse. Ashoke swears to raze Kalinga to the ground. Ashoke is unstoppable. Even his close friend, Virat (Danny Denzongpa), too, is unable to stop Ashoke. Ashoke proceeds to war, little knowing that the queen of Kalinga is none other than Kaurwaki, who is still alive.

  • In India, about 260 BC in the Empire of Magadhi, Prince Asoka (Shah Rukh Khan) survives to many betrayals of his brothers, lead by the evil Susima (Ajit Kumar), who wants to kill him to inherit the throne. His mother orders Asoka to leave Magadha, and while traveling, he meets Princess Kaurwaki (Karriena Kapoor) and her brother, Prince Aryan (Sooraj Balaji) from Kalinga, who are undercover and protected by General Bheema (Rahul Dev). Asoka and Kaurwaki falls in love for each other, but Asoka's mother calls him back to Magadha. When he returns, he does not find Kaurwaki, who was attacked by traitors of Kalinga. When Asoka's mother is killed by a man of Susima, Asoka becomes mad and in order to avenge his mother's death, he kills all his evil brothers but Sugatra, who escapes to Kalinga. Asoka decides to conquer Kalinga, but in the end, he concludes that he has not built an empire, but conquered only corpses and destroyed everything, and he decides to spread love and preaches Buddhism.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The movie begins with an opening crawl, giving the viewer some context. Asoka is a child when his grandfather, Chandragupta Maurya, decides to renounce the throne to become a Jainist monk. Before his departure, Asoka's grandfather finds out that Asoka stole his sword and he confronts him. Chandragupta tells Asoka that his sword is cursed to taste blood whenever it is drawn, and he throws it into a creek. After he leaves, Asoka finds the sword and keeps it. The throne goes to Asoka's father, Bindusara, and the movie skips to Asokas adulthood. Bindusara is about to renounce the throne to his successor. He names his son Susima, who has the support of all his brothers except Asoka. When the movie picks up, Asoka is leading his troops in battle against the Takshila army, who have an advantage in numbers. Asoka prevails and kills the leader of the Takshilas. He comes home alive and unharmed, which angers Susima. Susima had ordered General Shivrath to make Asoka conquer Takshila with half an army, expecting Asoka to die in the struggle. Susima orders Shivrath dead and hires an assassin to kill Asoka while he is bathing. Asoka kills the assassin with ease and goes to visit his mother. His mother expresses concern and tells Asoka to leave the city, threatening to take a vow of silence if he does not. Not wanting his mother to never speak to anyone again, Asoka reluctantly leaves. Asoka wanders around, going under the name Pawan, and encounters a beautiful woman. He is immediately stricken with love, and he follows her. After hearing a request for the capture of Princess Kaurwaki and Prince Arya of Kalinga, Asoka saves the woman from attackers who wanted to collect the reward. He discovers that the woman is Princess Kaurwaki and she is escaping from the capital after the prime minister assassinated their parents. After getting to know Kaurwaki and Arya, Kaurwaki's bodyguard decides to go, leaving Asoka alone. The next day, Kaurwaki and Arya are assaulted by bounty hunters. The bodyguard fends off some but leaves to fnish them off. While waiting for him to come back, Kaurwaki and Arya encounter more enemies and try to defend themselves when Asoka comes out and defeats them all. Asoka continues to accompany Kaurwaki in her travels, training her to defend herself while trying to earn her love. At the same time, Kaurwaki develops feelings for Asoka. Bheema, the bodyguard, objects to these feelings, and after a heated argument with Kaurwaki, reveals that Kaurwaki is an adopted child, which shocks her. He tells Asoka, who decides that they should get married. After the marriage, a servant of Asokas mother tells him she is ill. He travels home alone to find his mother in full health. She is ecstatic to see him, and surprised but pleased to find that he has gotten married. However, the king tells Asoka that he must attack Kalinga to prevent an uprising. He goes to find Kaurwaki, who are hiding in the home of a loyal peasant. Their village is attacked by men trying to find Kaurwaki and Arya, and the daughter and grandson of the peasant take the place of Kaurwaki and Arya to protect them. Asoka returns to the burnt remains of the village. He finds Bheema, who is injured. Asoka believes Kaurwaki and Arya are dead and loses his will to live. He begins a devastating campaign and wins battle after battle until he is wounded and taken to a Buddhist monastery. There, he meets a woman named Devi, who, in a struggle, kills a man trying to assassinate Asoka. Because she committed murder, her marriage to another Buddhist is cancelled, so Asoka decides to marry her instead. He remains aching after the loss of Kaurwaki but loyal to Devi. Kaurwaki and Arya return to Kalinga and remove the prime minister from power. Asokas wife is pregnant, and Asoka believes it must be a son and shows intent to train him in the art of murder, which is against the will of Devi. Susima, desperate to stop Asoka from getting the throne, hires an assassin to kill Asokas child. In the attempt, Asokas mother dies, driving Asoka into a murderous rampage culminating in the death of Susima. Asoka kills all but one of Susimas brothers and takes the throne. Asoka leads a massive assault into Kalinga, who is holding the last brother. As he fights into Kalinga, he gains a reputation as a tyrant. Bheema tries to assassinate him but fails and dies in the attempt. Kaurwaki decides to fight in honor of Bheemas sacrifice. The battle commences and Kaurwaki is struck down. Asoka wins the battle. After the battle, he hears that Devi gave birth to twin, a girl and a boy, but she does not recognize Asoka as the father because of the evil he has commited. Asoka wanders the battlefield, heartbroken, when he overhears two soldiers discussing Kaurwaki and how they took her horse. Asoka takes the horse back and searches for Kaurwaki. While witnessing the horrors of his actions in the battlefield, Asoka finally finds Kaurwaki. She tries to attack him, but gives up and embraces him. As they hug, Arya calls out to Asoka. He comes closer and falls; he had been hit by three arrows to the back. After the battle, Asoka reminisces about the tragedies he caused. He returns to his home and throws his sword into the same creek he found it before. The movies ends with a closing crawl telling Asoka's spread of Buddhism.

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