'Mohenjo Daro': Film Review

Mohenjo Daro Still - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of UTV Motion Pictures

Mohenjo Daro Still - Publicity - H 2016

This Bollywood song-and-dance drama gets a D in history.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker sets his epic love story in 2016 BC.

Expectations were high for Mohenjo Daro, an ambitious historical spectacular from Indian director Ashutosh Gowariker.

Boasting a soundtrack by Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman and a star turn by ace dancer and top Bollywood talent Hrithik Roshan, the film puts a love story at the core of a tale set in 2016 BC — a love-struck village man woos a priest’s comely daughter as a villainous despot threatens to destroy the mighty ancient Indus Valley metropolis.

Something turned hinky when someone decided that boring old history wasn’t thrilling enough for millennial audiences — so out came the blonde dancing girls and the sick parkour. The result isn’t pretty.

Roundly ridiculed on social media and trailing behind Rustom, a patriotic drama starring Akshay Kumar vying for an audience on this Indian Independence Day weekend, Mohenjo Daro — the closing-night film of the Locarno Film Festival — seems fated to go down in history as an epic disaster of a movie from an aesthetic standpoint if not a financial one (thanks to some deft prerelease satellite and music sales).

Roshan plays Sarman, an Indus Valley indigo farmer with a secret royal pedigree who travels to the big city to seek his fortune. When he meets Chaani (Pooja Hegde), the daughter of an influential priest, it’s true love. But the two come up against a power-hungry city chief, Maham (Kabir Bedi), and his brutal son and successor (Arunoday Singh), who are threatened by the change that Sarman represents. A gigantic dam built by the greedy Maham proves to be his grand-scale undoing, but Sarman saves the day.

The technical aspects of Mohenjo Daro prove to be a major disappointment. The brilliant purple robes, rustic stitching and decoratively printed turbans seen in the film had historians up in arms when the pic’s trailer was released — not to mention the backlash against the sequined bra and feathered headdress sported by the movie’s female lead — are surprising gaffes, given the reputations of head costumers Neeta Lulla and Emmy winner April Ferry. The visual effects are sub-par throughout, in obviously false background matte paintings or in poorly executed CGI animals.

Read More: 'Game of Thrones' Season 6 Adds New Costume Designer  

Performances are uneven: Roshan manages to come away relatively unscathed, his trademark earnestness and physical grace managing to lift him above marginal material, but Bedi and Singh ludicrously overplay their roles and ingénue Pooja Hegde, a former beauty queen and model, brings a forgettable blandness to her sparsely sketched role.

The filmmaker, whose Lagaan (2001) was nominated for an Academy Award, lavished care on another costume spectacular, Jodhaa Akbar (2008), and put painstaking research into his most recent film, the Independence-era drama Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (2010). So the anachronisms here are that much more jarring.

Read More: 'Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey': Film Review 

Gowariker posts a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that his take on what happened in Mohenjo Daro is a creative reimagining of the era. But a disclaimer can only go so far.

Distributor: UTV Motion Pictures
company: Ashutosh Gowariker Productions
Cast: Hrithik Roshan, Pooja Hegde, Kabir Bedi, Arunoday Singh
Director-screenwriter: Ashutosh Gowariker
Producers: Siddharth Roy KapurSunita Gowariker
Executive producer: Lawrence D’Souza
Director of photography: C.K. Muraleedharan
Production designer: Sanjay Karole
Costume designers: Neeta Lulla, April Ferry
Editor: Sandeep Francis
Composer: A.R. Rahman
Casting director: Nalini Rathnam

In Hindi

Not rated, 155 minutes