Yesterday I watched the Hindi movie "Asoka" directed by Santhosh Sivan. It is supposed to be about the great Mouryan emperor, who ruled the Indian subcontinent 2300 years ago. Ashoka is regarded as one of the greatest rulers in world history. He fought wars and extended his kingdom from Afghanistan to Burma and from Nepal to Karnataka. (I think there is no historical evidence regarding whether his empire included the southernmost part of current India, which probably might have been ruled by the Chozhas that time?). After watching the bloodshed in a war against the Kalinga kingdom, he renounced war and converted to Buddhism. HG Wells wrote about Ashoka: "In the history of the world there have been thousands of kings and emperors who called themselves 'Their Highnesses', 'Their majesties' and 'Their Exalted Majesties' and so on. They shone for a brief movement and disappeared. But Ashoka shines and shines brightly like a bright star even today." (as I read at http://www.freeindia.org/biographies/greatlkings/ashoka/ ).
As per Santhosh Sivan's movie, Asoka's wars as well as renouncement of war is directly or indirectly attributed to his love affair with the Kalinga princess. I don't know whether historians have found any such story so far. Anyway, telling that the emperor stopped war mainly because of a personal tragedy would not be a complement to him, I feel. In India, anybody can write a story or make a movie depicting Mahathma Gandhi as a negative character and Godse as a great man. I feel this is the highest level of freedom of expression, and it should be like that. But at the same time, I feel it is the responsibility of the artists not to misuse this freedom. For e.g., it would have been no harm even if Santhosh Sivan had named this movie as something like "Samrat Samsher Singh" or something, about a fictitious king. Why drag Ashoka into it?
While I was watching the movie, I was constantly comparing it with the image of Ashoka in my mind, created by reading the history books and other sources. So I was highly disappointed. But if I forget about the history element in it, and also excuse for those vulgar song sequences, then I feel it was not a bad movie after all. It is definitely far above the normal Hindi movie standards. Santhosh Sivan has always been a great technician and it is evident in this movie also. Shahrukh Khan, who acted as Ashoka, is a talented and sincere actor; but as most of the so called film stars of Hindi cinema, he could never come out of his mannerisms. In this movie, looks like he tried hard and has at least partially succeeded. Kareena Kapoor is convincing as the princess, and the war sequences are at least better than those shown in Ramanand Sagar's television serials.