Ashok: 20 years later, it’s still one of Shah Rukh Khan’s bravest and most engaging roles

In terms of Shah Rukh Khan’s filmography, from capable extra to national icon, the late 90s and the first few years of the new millennium will always be considered seminal, when the actor chose to be a superstar rather than a superstar. The audaciously good actor he could have been. But in the midst of all his K-titled romances, which have etched Khan as the ‘Badshah’ of our hearts, there came the wondrous and beguiling Ashoka. Directed by Santosh Sivan, who by then had become a trusted cinematographer in the Telugu and Malayalam film industries, Ashoka was somewhat Shakespearean in his subjects, and foreign in the template he chose to deal with. Though post-Kargil India may have lost its ideological base, Ashok is one of Khan’s bravest and most engaging roles, 20 years after its release, despite many flaws.

The nationwide success of Baahubali has of late established the idea that language and behavior are no barrier to a cinematic who wants to look beyond the tertiary boundaries of the vernacular. To that effect, Ashok can be considered one of the first cinematic vehicles that wanted to bridge that barrier and do something that would have been elusive and impossible in the backdrop of Hindi cinema. Despite Mughal-e-Azam, Indian cinema has hardly attempted period films of that scale. Ashok, unbelievably, was not made on a lucrative budget nor was it embellished to look like a sketch of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali production. Instead the film has an earthy tone, relying on its characters and rural environment to testify to what it can do. [ingenious] Lack of design and means, production.

The film certainly tells the story of Ashoka, the violent and magnetic descendant of the Maurya Empire, who abdicated his title and vengeful manner after the bloody battle of Kalinga. While straight on its face, Ashoka has elements of biblical relationships, internal battles and betrayals, which roughly translate to epic scale. The earthy ambience gives the film a humble realism that is often missing from films of the Indian period. Furthermore, Ashoka, a neighbor India had fought with after the great Kargil war, asks the difficult question – what does conflict gain? “What did I find?” Khan asks himself in the climax. While you can see that extreme crisis from afar, it is Raja’s descent into insanity, how he becomes intoxicated at the idea of ​​violent revenge, which the film portrays faithfully. Khan had done negative characters in the past – Darr, Anjaam and Baazigar – but this late chapter in Ashok brings in the role with Kohli in his eyes, and hair, long and glued to the back of the head.

Of course Ashok has his problems. Because Bollywood was what it was at the time, there are unnecessary item numbers, some horribly misogynistic comic relief and some all-round obsession towards the period that the film seeks to represent. Kareena Kapoor’s role as Kauravaki will be panned today for its hyper-sexualization, but true to its sensuous tone, both Khan and Kapoor light up the screen whenever they are together. There’s a raw, sexual energy about their wanderings around the jungles that feels like exotic, unknown territory in a deeply industrialized India. Beyond Khan’s brutal personality, which overshadows his romantic side for a change, the film had the potential to portray war as a source of suffering rather than just victory. The sight of a young prince Aryan, shot in the back with several arrows, uttering his last words in Ashoka’s arms, is a brave note to strike at an industry that treats children as anything other than silly appendages. I was hesitant to use.

Ashok came close on the heels of Lagaan, a big but philosophically straight-forward Dalit film. Judging by the frequency with which jingoistic movies now hit our screens, Ashok has positioned himself as an outlier with his unique vision of masculinity and the nature of war. Yes, it was merely trying to recreate history – with many convenient narrative liberties – but in doing so, too, it wanted to build against the current of national sentiment. After a great, difficult war that you claim to have won, it would be hard for anyone to consider the philosophical urge of a movie that asks you to abandon the fantasy of victory first, the struggle to deal with it. Idea. It is ironic that Khan today finds himself surrounded by an aggressive, aggressive political outlook. One that he has quietly countered, throughout his lifetime and career. Which is why even for some of his star wattage, Ashok remains a curious but fascinating affair.

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