As first dates go, this is pretty awesome, especially for those of us who are fans of warrior princesses. Aśoka is a terribly ambitious film -- a historical story set in the 3rd century BCE, complete with thousands of extras and hundreds of elephants in the final battle scene. It was critically acclaimed, but a popular failure, overshadowed by Aamir Khan's own historical drama, Lagaan, which was released the same year (2001) and was the third Indian film nominated for an Oscar in the Best International Film category. (It is also a fabulous movie, with the added advantage of teaching newbies about cricket!) It is a fictionalized version of history, drawing on various accounts of the life of Emperor Aśoka the Great, who was transformed from a ruthless, ambitious warrior into a Buddhist who spread that peaceful faith across much of Asia.
Their story begins when the young Prince Aśoka (Shah Rukh Khan) is traveling incognito and Kareena Kapoor's character, Princess Kauraki, is also in hiding with her young brother. He happens upon her and watches her surreptitiously while she dances and bathes, and is immediately smitten. She really is striking in appearance, and holds her own in the film, which is only her second. Just 21 at the time, Kapoor had two major roles in 2001 that firmly established her as a major talent in Hindi film: Aśoka and as Kajol's sexy younger sister Pooja in the blockbuster Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. And yes, she is the real-life younger sister to Karisma Kapoor, who also more than one film with Shah Rukh Khan.
Some people hate this movie, and it inevitably gets compared to Lagaan. It was an ambitious and risky choice for SRK, and I am finding that when he does this, the results are always worth watching. The films themselves may be flawed, but he clearly loves a challenge, and dials up his energy and focus when the demands are high. Kareena matches him for energy, which is one reason Aśoka is so watchable.
Another reason the movie bombed might have been the lack of a happy romantic ending. It's sort of uplifting, but not what many SRK fans were expecting. The long hair he sports for much of the movie was also a turnoff for some of the audience, though compared with his mullet days, it was a real relief for me. The story is that he didn't want to go shirtless the whole time, which would have been historically accurate, so instead he ended up wear weird vests and poncho-like shirts. It's worth considering whether showing more of his chest might have helped at the box office. Someone needs to do a study and produce an infographic about that.
So, now the questions:
What is your first impression of Aśoka? Arrogant, ambitious, petulant, and even a little childish. His first interactions with Kaurwaki are rather smug and entitled. (I'm a prince! I'm irresistible!) But mid-thirties Shah Rukh Khan is finally outgrowing his baby face and looking like a man. I like!
What is Kaurwaki's first impression of Aśoka? She's a princess! And a warrior!! She doesn't have to put up with this impertinence from an itinerant nobody. Besides, she's in hiding because usurpers just murdered her parents and are pursuing her and her adorable little brother so they can kill them, too. So she is wary as well as aloof, until SRK proves he can be trusted by saving them, and proves he is loveable by befriending her little brother and acting like less of a brat himself.
How would you describe their chemistry over the course of the film? This pair sizzles whenever they are on screen, and the fire is lit in Aśoka. (Loved them in Don and in Ra.One.)
If you had a first date with Aśoka, would you go on a second? As is often the case with Shah Rukh Khan films, the man he is at the beginning of the film is physically attractive but emotionally and morally flawed. Do I think that after that first date I would think it might be worth trying to transform him? Honestly, probably not. But then, I am not a warrior princess.
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