Dir. Ashutosh Gowariker
So I can't really call what follows a review; it's not entirely fair to the film to judge it on only half of what it offers. But I will say that were I watching this at home, on a DVD or streaming service, I would have pulled the plug much sooner. It's been a long time since I found a movie-watching experience so unenjoyable. Here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons why.
The costumes. I don't have expectations about historical accuracy in the costumes or anything else – it's not as if I would know what fashions prevailed among the Indus Valley peoples. But once freed from historicity, a film like this has an obligation to provide visual interest in its costume design. Mohenjo Daro disappoints. The men wear shirts that look like torn and roughly sewn t-shirts. Sarman (Hrithik Roshan) wears parachute pants. The one woman in the village, Sarman's aunt, wears a strange dress of the same inappropriate material, in a one-shouldered cut that reminds of Wilma Flintstone.
Even the grand costumes of the one woman in the story, Chaani (Pooja Hegde), are an ungepatchka* mess. Her headdress is a visual jumble, with feathers flying out at awkward angles and strings of parti-colored stones weighing down her poor head. Her gowns, rather than elegance, are patchwork randomness, with strategically-placed holes that look like undone buttons. These are neither breathtakingly over the top (as in, say, Bajirao Mastani), or amusingly over the top as in 70s costume classics like Dharam-Veer. They are simply uninteresting. Only the costumes of the visiting foreign delegations – loosely inspired by Mespotamian and Egyptian art – offer anything of interest, and even these lack sophistication of design. Kabir Bedi's longhorn headdress is a rare and ridiculous highlight.
The story. For a film that ought to have been epic, Mohenjo Daro lacks narrative complexity. A dreamy yokel heads to the big city and discovers he has a mysterious ancestral connection to it and its tyrannical ruler. He meets a girl who is already promised to the tyrant's son. And those hoary elements are pretty much it. Any potential for larger scope – and there is potential, with mention of warring cities, laborers on the edge of a tax revolt, and possible mystical elements – lies unexploited. To be fair, it's possible that more of these start to matter in the portion of the film I didn't get to.
The acting. I have been charitable toward Hrithik Roshan's earnestness in the past – look at the indulgent words I had for his work in Koi Mil Gaya years ago. But here, where a little sense of wonder might have been appropriate, Roshan gives a flat performance. He isn't overly earnest, but then he isn't overly anything. He renders Sarman mechanically, lifelessly. Likewise, Pooja Hegde is unfocused and generic, boring when she goes breathlessly girly and unconvincing when she attempts regal strength. As Sarman's sidekick Hojo, Umang Vyas is an uninteresting cliché, the sheltered young man who gapes like an idiot at the thought of girls. Alas, the men who render the villains, Kabir Bedi and Anurodhay Singh, seem the only members of the cast who understand what kind of movie they are in and how to play their parts, with scene-chewing relish.
The visuals. Mohenjo Daro has a lot in common with Baahubali, which also features a hunky country boy finding his way into the halls of power and discovering that he has regal ancestry and a savior's destiny. But Baahubali does all of it much more thrillingly, especially with respect to visuals. The waterfall sequence alone puts Mohenjo Daro's crocodile-wrestling to shame. Baahubali's CGI views of its city complex are not great, but Mohenjo Daro's are both antiseptic and cheesy. Indeed, the drab, and colorless, uninspired visuals are perhaps Mohenjo Daro's most egregious missed opportunity. One can forgive a lot of weaknesses in an epic film if it gives you a lot of dazzling things to look at. Gowariker should watch Bajirao Mastani and take a lesson from it. I say these things as a huge fan of neither Baahubali or Bhansali's films (except the superb Ram-Leela, also a thousand times more visually interesting than Mohenjo Daro).
That's not all that irritated as I squirmed through as much as I could manage of this unwatchable mess of a film. There are no women of consequence apart from the one who represents the mother goddess herself, and vast sequences in which not even a single woman is on screen. Couldn't one or two of the guild leaders, or someone in the market, or one of the foreign dignitaries, have been a woman? It's not as if Gowariker is aiming for historicity of any kind. And the soundtrack is a disappointment as well – even A.R. Rahman seems to have phoned it in this time. The sound is terrible too, with rerecorded dialogue as badly mixed as any 90s movie. It's just one more detail of Mohenjo Daro that comes across as lazily executed.
But the upshot is that it's hard for me to believe that the same director responsible for Lagaan – the film that brought sync sound to Hindi cinema, among its many other qualities – can generate such a dreary series of mistakes as Mohenjo Daro. I never thought I'd say I'd rather watch a Bhansali film than a Gowariker film, but when it comes to pseudo-historicals, it seems for now that Gowariker has lost his touch. I wish I'd gone into his film armed with a little Mohenjo Daaru.
* Yiddish, meaning ornate, overly decorated, and busy to the point of absurdity.