Let me start this review with a warning: If you're after the history of
Asoka, the 300 BC Indian emperor who unified the Indian peninsula and ruled
it according to the teachings of Buddha, then you better read a history
book. If on the other hand you're after a gorgeous epic film, with stunning
scenery, great music and dancing, love, drama, intrigue, betrayal, epic
battles, a gorgeous protagonist and a stunning warrior princess, then this
is the film you're after.
Asoka is a bright and intelligent young prince with one "disability": he's
not his father's favourite to inherit the throne. Obeying his mother's
wish, Asoka travels through the land as a commoner, using the name "Pawan".
On his journeys he meets Kaurwaki, an exiled princess who's now too poor to
even afford some extra clothing. Chemistry is immediate between them
and as it gets hotter Asoka (still "Pawan") decides to return home, claim
the throne, and marry Kaurwaki (I think my mum would describe that as "he
grew up"). While "Pawan" is away Kaurwaki narrowly escapes an attempt on
her and her brother's lives, but the news are distorted when they reach
Asoka who's led to believe that his love is dead. Heartbroken and
devastated Asoka leaves his home again. But his brother wants him dead and
arranges for his assassination. Asoka is saved by Devi, a local Buddhist
girl, who he marries out of sense of duty. Then he returns home where he
survives another attempt, in which his mother is killed. Asoka manages to
handle the situation, but he's been through a lot and has lost the sense of
"measure". He turns into a monster who makes war for the sake of war
itself. Terror and destruction trace Asoka's path, who in the process
destroys himself, as those close to him abandon him the one after the
other. Eventually his steps bring him to the kingdom of Kalinga, where
Kaurwaki has restored her rule. A massive battle follows, without either of
the two lovers knowing that they fight against each other...
This film is simply great. It's both artistic and commercial, incorporating
the strengths of both. We watch how life events change Asoka from a
carefree youth to a sincere lover, a "grown up", a monster... The director
gives a credible picture of the life and customs in ancient India,
carefully abstaining from the oddities that we often see in Hollywood
films. On the other end, the battle of Kalinga is stunning and the fighting
scenes are actually real and not animated as in most recent films. The love
story is charming and you don't really care when it occasionally gets too
naïve. Finally, the director leaves the end open without imposing the one
or the other ending upon the viewer; the film is great and there's no need
to spoil the high emotions built up through it.
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