Ashutosh Gowariker's most popular films tend to be those that are situated in history - whether it's the 16th century Hindustan empire (Jodhaa Akbar), 1893 Gujarat during the British Raj (Lagaan), or on a more personal level with a modern-day NRI returning to India to rediscover his roots (Swades).
This year Gowariker ventures back more than 4,000 years to early civilization with Mohenjo Daro: In 2016 BC, Sarman (Hrithik Roshan) - an indigo farmer in the Indus Valley - travels to a city and ends up saving the life of the priest's daughter Chaani (Pooja Hegde) while discovering a personal connection to city he never knew.
Not quite an epic, but definitely an entertainer, this Hrithik Roshan-starrer is a cinematic treat that just may get you interested in learning about the ancient history of the Indus valley.
Moenjodaro: The City
Established during the Bronze Age, this was the largest city that flourished between 2600 and 1900 BCE in the Indus valley.
Unfortunately, when the Indus valley civilization declined in 1800 BCE, the city was lost and by the 2nd century BC it was buried. A Buddhist stupa containing the remains of a monk was built on the same site. This may be why the location has been named Moenjodaro or "Mound of the Dead".
For nearly 3,000 years the city remained hidden until archeologist Sir Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay discovered its ruins in the 1920s.
The first planned urban area in the world, Moenjodaro's ruins boast of sophisticated water and sewage systems, well organized streets, and unbaked brick homes that featured second story apartments - architecture that was unmatched until the Roman empire nearly 2,000 years later. The city accommodated between 30,000-40,000 people.
According to the National Geographic, the city leaves only a handful of clues about the daily life of its people:
The city lacks ostentatious palaces, temples, or monuments. There's no obvious central seat of government or evidence of a king or queen. Modesty, order, and cleanliness were apparently preferred. Pottery and tools of copper and stone were standardized. Seals and weights suggest a system of tightly controlled trade.
One of the main features of the city is the "Great Bath" which may have served as a purification pool. Sir John Marshall, who helped lead major excavations of the site in the years following its discovery, described this extraordinary structure:
"Its plan is simple: in the centre, an open quadrangle with verandahs on its four sides, and at the back of three of the verandahs various galleries and rooms; on the south, a long gallery with a small chamber in each corner; on the east, a single range of small chambers, including one with a well; on the north a group of several halls and fair-sized room. In the midst of the open quadrangle is a large swimming-bath, some 39 feet long by 23 feet broad and sunk about 8 feet below the paving of the court, with a flight of steps at either end, and at the foot of each a low platform for the convenience of bathers, who might otherwise have found the water too deep. The bath was filled from the well…, and the wastewater was carried off through a covered drain…The Great Bath had a least one upper storey as evidenced by a stairway. A large amount of timber, possibly richly carved, must have gone to the building of the upper storey, judging from the quantities of charcoal and ashes found in the course of excavation."
Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the archeological ruins at Moenjodaro has been under attack from looters and exposure to the elements.
Mohenjo Daro: The Film
From the beginning, Mohenjo Daro has all the appeal that you would expect from an action-adventure. Director Ashutosh Gowariker masterfully leverages his leading man. In the opening sequence he reminds you why Hrithik Roshan bears the "greek god" moniker. Our hero is introduced with an opening sequence that pits man against nature. Spoiler alert: Roshan wins.
It may offer a somewhat predictable plotline, but Mohenjo Daro maintains your interest throughout. While the story could have taken place in any ancient civilization, by placing it in the historical context of Moenjodaro, there is an attempt to unite modern audiences with a civilization long gone. For western audiences who know about Pompeii, ancient Egypt, and Mesopotamia, this may serve as an introduction to a lesser-known but equally important civilization.
While archaeologists know little about the life and times of the people of Moenjodaro, the film imaginatively weaves the city's known artifacts into the day-to-day life of its citizens: The unicorn seal and clay bird whistles are particularly prominent plot devices. Even the famous dancing girl bronze statuette makes an appearance.
What the film lacks in depth, it makes up for in style. From the costume design to the set design to the action sequences, the elements are woven together to create a mythic story of love, loss, and salvation. There is even an attempt to incorporate ancient languages into the story. The use of CGI for establishing the cityscape is a bit too noticeable, but with such elaborate detail to all the other elements, this can be overlooked.
Master composer A.R. Rahman once again creates a satisfying soundtrack which incorporates big production numbers that allow Hrithik Roshan to showcase his incredible and seemingly effortless dancing skills. The songs "Mohenjo Mohenjo" and "Tu Hai" are particularly memorable for their melodies and performances. "Whispers of the Mind" and "Whispers of the Heart" offer beautiful haunting refrains that echo through time. "Shimmer of Sindhu" intimately reflects the love story of Sarman and Chaani.
Criticism about the authenticity of the life and times of the people depicted in the film is understood; however, this isn't meant to be a documentary. It is a straight-up Bollywood film that seeks to entertain while inviting exploration of a time and place long forgotten. In an Indian Express article, Ashutosh Gowariker explained:
"Mohenjo Daro is not just another historical; it’s pretty much even before history begins. It’s literally going back in the womb of time. It’s a world that I am most fascinated with –- who were the people, how did they live, what was the society like, are some of the questions which always intrigued me. I am thankful that I got this opportunity to explore that world through cinema."
Gowariker contributes to cinematic history with this offering because Mohenjo Daro dares to be another film from Bollywood that proves it can match any action-adventure Hollywood dishes out.
Unfortunately, the trailers for the film are no longer available online. The following playlist features the "Mohenjo Daro" title song along with documentaries about the archaeological site of Moenjodaro.
If you like this, share, leave a comment and check out our other posts.