The film chronicles the early part of the life of Emperor Asoka. It begins with his career as a General in Takshashila (modern-day Punjab) and ends with the bloody conquest of the Kalinga country (modern day Odisha State)Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, grandfather of Asoka, of the Maurya empire, has decided to embrace Jainism and abdicate the throne of the empire in favour of his son Bindusara. But his grandson, Prince Asoka, claims his sword. The old emperor explains that this sword is evil and the sword demands blood and destruction.A few years later, Prince Asoka Maurya (Shah Rukh Khan), now a brave youth, is battling the rebellious chief of Taxila for his Emperor and father.
He figures that his elder half-brother Susima Maurya (Ajith Kumar), who also has an eye on the throne of the empire, has deliberately withheld reinforcements from arriving, but defeats the enemy nevertheless. Asoka returns to the capital victorious and confronts Susima. Later, Susima tries to assassinate Asoka while he is bathing. The fight among the princes makes the Emperor unhappy and he orders Empress Dharma (Subhashini Ali) to control her son Asoka. She compels Asoka to temporarily leave the capital to lead the life of a common man.
The Prince is disappointed but leaves nonetheless.Asoka, alone and disguised as an ordinary traveller, rides to the south. In his travels, he meets a lovely maiden, Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor) and falls in love with her. He also develops a good relationship with her little brother Arya. They are on the run from the Kingdom of Kalinga along with their faithful protector Bheema (Rahul Dev) and are being chased by soldiers of the Kingdom.
After saving their lives, Asoka introduces himself as Pawan, hiding his true identity. Kaurwaki and Arya are the Princess and Prince of Kalinga, who fled from their kingdom when the Prime Minister assassinated their parents and took over power. Later, Asoka and Kaurwaki get secretly married.Soon, Asoka is summoned by Emperor Bindusara to the capital. The Emperor dispatches Asoka to quell a rebellion in Ujjaini.
Before marching to the west, Asoka travels to Kalinga to meet Kaurwaki. Unable to find her, and not knowing she has gone into hiding, he is informed by General Bheema that they were slaughtered. A heartbroken Asoka attempts suicide, but is saved by Virat (Danny Denzongpa), who later swears to protect him. Mad with grief and anger, Asoka leads a brutal crackdown in Ujjaini. The assassins sent by Susima injure Asoka in a battle and Virat saves him.
He is taken to a Buddhist monastery at Vidisa to recover.There, he meets a Buddhist maiden, Devi (Hrishita Bhatt), who cares for him. Asoka also survives another assassination attempt at Vidisa, this time with the help of Devi. Asoka marries Devi and returns in splendour to Pataliputra. Susima and his brothers are wild with anger from their futile attempts to eliminate Asoka.
Emperor Bindusara, who favoured Susima over Asoka, becomes ill and dies. In another vigilante attack, Queen Dharma is stabbed to death by assassins sent by Susima. Angered, Asoka kills Susima and is appointed emperor.A few months later, princess Kaurwaki and prince Arya return to Kalinga with Bheema and have the Prime Minister executed for treason. Asoka declares war on Kalinga, not knowing that Kaurwaki is alive.
Kaurwaki still does not know that Asoka is Pawan, and both sides prepare for war.A terrible war is fought in Kalinga. The Maurya army inflicts a crushing defeat on Kalinga. Not content with mere victory, Maurya soldiers butcher everyone in sight. General Bheema is slain and Kaurwaki is wounded.
Asoka later visits the battlefield, where he discovers his horse, who was supposed to be in Kaurwakis possession. With a surge of hope, he frantically searches for Kaurwaki and finds her. They have a heart-to-heart talk and he apologises deeply for his actions. He is interrupted by Arya, who is dying after being pierced with arrows. With Arya dying in his arms, Asoka suddenly realises that his enemies, his family, and even Arya, are all dead because of him.
His grandfathers warning about the sword had been correct.The film ends with Asoka throwing the sword into the water at the same spot as his grandfather, and embracing Buddhism. The final narrative describes how Asoka not only built a large empire but spread Buddhism and the winds of peace throughout the empire.The portrayal of Asoka in the film proved controversial in India. Shahrukhs Asoka is all bluster and mannerism, with no depth.
Except for the nosebleeds and the mudbaths, he is the same Shahrukh of every other movie that he has acted in. The film leaves its many complex moments unexplored and disjointed, choosing to pitch it as a love story instead of an epic tale of war and peace, an Indian reviewer wrote. Made for a western audience, Asoka has clearly alienated the Indian one, Indian magazine Outlook wrote after the failure of the film.Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called the film a big, brash and deeply enjoyable Bollywood epic. He stated This movies narrative gusto, its intricate, indirect eroticism â€“ no sex, or even kissing â€“ its lavish musical numbers and its sheer self-belief are a treat.
Christopher Tookey, the film critic of the Daily Mail, wrote here at last is a Bollywood movie that deserves to be seen by everyone. He called Asoka a majestic epic on the scale of Gladiator. The battle scenes are as impressive as anything in Braveheart, and were achieved for a tiny fraction of the budget. The Sunday Times said it is sexy without one kiss and savage without indulging in gore and deserves to be this years Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.Neil Smith described the film; with elements of both Gandhi and Braveheart, Asoka is a big, sprawling epic that looks every rupee it took to bring it to the screen.
However, BBCs Santosh Sinha noted, It is at this point in the film [when the prince go into hiding as per the request of the mother Queen] that Asoka is temporarily lost and Shahrukh Khan the actor takes over. He meets Princess Kaurwaki in the forest and then chases her around in a typically Bollywood way. He [Khan] is also less convincing when, grieved by the loss of life in Kalinga, he renounces violence and vows to spread the message of peace far and wide. This comes across as melodramatic. Bollywood style, Asoka finds Kaurwaki and the young Prince Arya of Kalinga on the battlefield.
Prince Arya manages a dying speech before he keels over and that breaks Asoka completely. Varietys David Rooney states, a sprawling widescreen historical epic laced with Bollywood musical numbers, melodramatic romance, spectacular locations and violent battle scenes. Coming on the heels of Ashutosh Gowarikers Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, Asoka provides further evidence that Bollywood is poised for wider commercial impact beyond its already substantial established niche. And while the ambling, uneconomical nature of popular Indian storytelling makes major crossover business unlikely in this case, some degree of general art-house attention appears indicated. Khan cuts a dashing figure as a soulful hunk in the traditional Bollywood mould, while Kapoor plays ornately tattooed Kaurwaki as a lively mix of flirtatious coquette and feisty warrior woman, kind of like Jennifer Lopez meets Michelle Yeoh.
Empire praised the movie gave it 4 out of 5 stars. It states,Santosh Sivan may just be the man who provide that elusive Indian crossover hit with this rip-roaring historical adventure. The fact that Asoka was such a bloody warrior is no more ably demonstrated than when the battle scenes kick in near the end, its like Akira Kurosawa goes Bollywood. Critics generally praised the cinematography of Santosh Sivan.
Shahrukh Khan, Ajith, Kareena Kapoor
Shah Rukh Khan
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