Too Much Love, Not Enough Peace

asoka001I’ve actually been putting off watching Asoka (2001) for a while now… purely because it’s a subtitled film with a running time of 169 minutes (or 2 hours and 50 minutes, if you prefer), and it’s hard to find the time/enthusiasm to sit down and watch something like that. On the other hand, the blurb on the back of the DVD box made it sound very intriguing indeed: Asoka traces the life of Emperor Asoka, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya who ascended the throne of Magadha in the 3rd B.C. To extend the borders of his empire, Asoka waged one of the bloodiest battles in history with the neighbouring kingdom of Kalinga, leaving it ravaged and devastated. Confronted by the aftermath of his conquest in which hundreds of thousands lost their lives, Asoka is overcome with remorse and renounces the path of war to dedicate his life to spreading the teachings of Buddhism across the world.” Sounds like a ripping yarn, right? Well, yeah… except that this description only really covers the final twenty minutes of the film… and we never actually get to see Asoka convert to Buddhism, or wrestle with its teachings. That part of his life… the part I was most interested in… is relegated to a few paragraphs of rolling text at the end of the film. Tch!

Instead, the majority of the film is devoted to an ill-fated romance between Asoka and a princess from Kalinga named ‘Kaurwaki’, which eventually provides the catalyst for his conversion, in the most predictable and implausible way possible. According to Wikipedia, the prominence given to Kaurwaki over Asoka’s bona fide Buddhist wife ‘Devi’ is historically inaccurate, but the film-makers are quite upfront about playing fast and loose with the facts, to serve the drama… and I can’t deny that I did get a bit weepy towards the end, despite my cynicism. Still, I think I would rather have seen this story presented as a more straight-faced and philosophical biopic, than as a commercial “Bollywood” rom-com. Yes, I laughed at the broad, cheesy gags… yes, I swooned whenever the super-cute Kareena Kapoor was on-screen… yes, I dug the brilliantly choreographed dance sequences… but I still want to see the enlightening, inspiring “epic” that I was led to expect by the advertising, dammit! Incidentally, fans of Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga might enjoy the opening scene, where the young Asoka takes possession of a demonic sword which thirsts for blood… any blood… and even appears to be sentient as it flies through the air towards its prey! But that’s the last time the sword shows any signs of life, so don’t get your hopes up…

Asoka002T’other night BBC4 were showing Iron Maiden: Flight 666 (2009), a documentary charting the band’s epic around-the-world tour, via a private plane piloted by lead singer Bruce Dickinson! Their first gig was in Mumbai and it was incredibly heart-warming to see so many Indian metalheads turning out to support them and throw Devil Horn salutes at the camera. Since we’re only really exposed to the most mainstream Indian pop-culture here in Britain, it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that the whole country is Bollywood-crazy, when in fact there are a significant number of headbangers rocking out on the subcontinent. I only mention it because a film featuring “one of the bloodiest battles in history” really deserves a much heavier soundtrack than the one this flick has. The story would probably make for an awesome concept album, actually…

Ah well, since I’m still bound to this material plane by my earthly desires, I may as well go and watch Kapoor cavort around the waterfall again… hurrah for the “song selection” feature!

About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action. He/him.
This entry was posted in Rants about Films and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.