Film: Taj: Divided by Blood
Director: Ron Scalpello
Cast: Dharmendra, Naseeruddin Shah, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sandhya Mridul, Rahul Bose, Zarina Wahab and Aashim Gulati
IT’S a show that boasts of a stellar cast, a British director and a story that is full of intrigue and drama. Alas, Taj: Divided by Blood appears less than sum of its glorious parts. Mughal history has always fascinated historians, filmmakers and common man. In the lanes of cinematic history, Mughal-e-Azam and Jodhaa Akbar have been befitting odes to its grandeur and glory.
But as the story of Mughals with dollops of fiction once again leaps on to the small screen, for one it does not cover the Mughals in glory. Why even Akbar the great is not quite the invincible emperor, at least not in his ageing avatar. Indeed, that could have been the series’ strength for humanising heroic characters with their vulnerabilities intact is how we need to view history and history-makers. Here, complexity of blue-blooded royalty is rarely fleshed out. On the paper Naseeruddin Shah with perfect Urdu diction may have seemed a perfect choice for King Akbar. But a brilliant actor like him is let down by a regular script.
Focusing on the succession war, surprisingly, in a series primarily about Mughals,
it is Rajput valour and dignity which comes out stronger. Man Singh is a man of integrity willing to sacrifice his son for the crown. Equally scrupulous is Maharana Pratap of Mewar, who refuses the bait offered by one
of Akbar’s wily courtiers. Certain characters, especially Man Singh’s son Durjan, and the famed Birbal, appear endearing. But the same can’t be said about Akbar’s sons; all three are flawed, some to the point of debauchery.
The script is relatively partial to Salim (Aashim Gulati). But even he is no saint, rather a womaniser and an un-empathetic husband and father. Thus, when he lectures his father on his treatment of women, it’s a misguided missive. Murad (Taaha Shah), Akbar’s second son, is merciless, almost barbaric and overtly religious Daniyal is gay. Daniyal’s character does have an arc; from a timid prince to vengeful one, Shubham Kumar Mehra playing him gets his nuances right. Women actors even talnted ones like Sandhya Mridul and Zarina Wahab don’t get to do much. Catfights abound and one can understand the angst of Rajput princess Manbai (Anushka Luhar), wife of Salim. But the dialogues given to her, especially the abuses, seem totally out of place, if not context.
As for the fabled tragic love story of Salim and Anarkali, well, it appears only an aside and fails to evoke the passion or emotion. The fictional twist to Anarkali’s character though interesting is too much of a flight of fancy to be palatable. Aditi Rao Hydari looks graceful and carries the soulful expression of pathos naturally. Yet if even today you can’t forget the beautiful Madhubala as Anarkali, Aditi’s isn’t a part that will stay with you for too long. In fact, more than the romantic angle, the series is on a strong footing when it plays up plotting and machinations of succession.
Despite obvious limitations, the 10-part series is not an outright bore. War scenes are well mounted and the series may not go all out to create a spectacle, yet has the requisite finesse and flourish of an era gone by. The climax opens the door for the second season and whets our appetite too for the ensuing game of thrones, which is likely to get bloodier. For now, the bloodbath of the first season may not be India’s answer to the magnum opus Game of Thrones, but has enough drama, if not insight, to keep you interested in palace intrigues.
(Streaming on Zee5)