Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

A three-hour epic from India about a legendary Mauryan warrior emperor in the second century BC turns into a lavish singing/dancing Bollywood spectacle, with dream sequences galore and an attack of slow motion that proves almost fatal. The battle scenes are more bloody than Braveheart and the brutality is endemic. Politics is Shakespearean in its reliance on murder and treachery. Only love, a white horse and a pretty girl in a monastery are pure.

Prince Asoka (Shah Rukh Kham) leaves his brothers to squabble over the throne and goes on walkabout, pretending to be an itinerant soldier of no rank. He meets a princess, called Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor), who has escaped from a coup in her kingdom with the eight-year-old heir. Naturally, they fall in love, but it takes ages, after running through the trees and swimming and having mock swordfights. Later, he leaves her to go back and see mum. Another skirmish starts. He hears that she's been killed, which turns him into the most vicious warlord before Ghengis Khan.

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Asoka is remembered in history as the man who conquered the whole of India and most of Afghanistan, but even more as a visionary who spread the word of Buddhism across the land. The film doesn't go into that. The first part is pure romance, with musical interludes. The second part is boys' stuff, with massive battles and rivers of blood.

The acting is not realistic. The stars are beautiful and the supporting cast ugly. For a Western audience, weaned on Charlton Heston, it spends too long staring into the eyes of passion and then dreaming of a dance routine, rather than getting on with the story. When it does, and good guy Asoka turns into evil Asoka, the killing fields can't erase the memory of Kaurwaki, with her dubbed singing voice and Angelina Jolie lips.

Reviewed on: 25 Oct 2001
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Prince Asoka falls in love, sings songs, dances and kills hordes of people in second century BC.
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Director: Santosh Sivan

Writer: Saket Chaudhary, Santosh Sivan

Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Danny Denzongpa, Rahul Dev, Hrishita Bhatt, Suraj Balaje, Ajit

Year: 2001

Runtime: 173 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: India


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