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Tuesday, 30 October, 2001, 14:13 GMT
Epic Asoka loses its way
Period films are all the rage in Bollywood
Shahrukh Khan is the warrior king
By the BBC's Santosh Sinha

You could call this the popcorn version of the life and times of Asoka, the great Indian warrior king.

Shahrukh Khan plays the protagonist in Asoka, not because he has produced the film but because director Santosh Sivan says he was the only man who could portray the many transitions that the warrior king went through.

"He was a brave prince, an obedient son, a lover, a husband, a father, an ambitious king and more importantly, a man who won everything only to lose it in his search for eternal peace," Santosh told the BBC.

The problem though, is Shahrukh's inability to go beyond his real life hero persona and become the character he is playing.

Asoka's reign is considered a golden era
The film is well shot
The film begins nicely. Asoka is a skilled and brave warrior, who dreams of becoming a great king one day. He evokes fear in his enemies and jealousy among his step-brothers.

They scheme to get him killed, but he survives each time.

Forced by the rising tension in the family, Asoka's mother pleads with him to leave the kingdom of Magadha and go into hiding.

It is at this point that Asoka is temporarily lost and Shahrukh Khan the actor takes over.

He meets Princess Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor) in the forest and then chases her around in a typically Bollywood way. There are songs, fight sequences and emotive scenes before Princess Kaurwaki relents and gets married to Asoka.

Misunderstandings later forces Asoka to forget Kaurwaki and marry a Buddhist girl.

Shahrukh Khan performs the best in the sequence where he sets about realising his dream of becoming a great king.

He kills his brothers, his good friend and refuses to listen to his wife or his brother.

The actor began his career in films playing negative characters, so he is good at portraying the darker side of the personality.

Melodramatic

He is less convincing when, grieved by the loss of life in Kalinga, he renounces violence and vows to spread the message of peace far and wide.

This comes across as melodramatic. In typical Bollywood style, Asoka finds Kaurwaki and the young Prince Arya of Kalinga on the battlefield. Prince Arya manages a dying speech before he keels over and that breaks Asoka completely.

Santosh Sivan is a cinematographer by profession, so most of the film has been shot well. But there are times when the cinematographer takes over from the director. During the songs, the actors seem to jump into a situation, without the viewer being ready for them.

More disturbing is the limited scope for talented actors like Raghubir Yadav and Johnny Lever. They have scenes that seem to be added as afterthoughts.

Perhaps that is the risk a director takes, casting big stars like Shahrukh Khan and Kareena Kapoor. You either do justice to them alone or to the plot and the other characters. Santosh Sivan preferred the first alternative.

Asoka is now showing in cinemas across the UK

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