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Only the dead have seen the end of war. 

Year: 2001 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 12A Cert – Under 12s admitted only with an adult 
Subtitles: The level of subtitling in this film is unknown to WSC 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  

This Bollywood biopic explores the younger days of the ancient Indian king, Asoka the Great. Most contemporary Indians perceive Asoka as the benevolent Buddhist king, dedicated to spreading the message of peace and harmony throughout India. However, Sivan chooses an alternative take upon Asoka: he explores the metamorphosis from an evil tyrant into the figure that we know and remember today. Sivan commented that he was especially interested in exploring the moments where Asoka became remorseful and realised the extent of the suffering his actions had caused.

Asoka (Shah-Rukh Khan) leaves his kingdom, Magadha, following attempts made upon his life by his stepbrother, Susim (Ajit Kumar). During his travels, he encounters Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor) and her brother, Arya (Suraj Balaje). Asoka is instantly smitten and woos Kaurmauki. However, upon learning of his father's death, he reluctantly leaves her; nonetheless, he promises to wed Kaurwaki upon his return. Unfortunately, Kaurwaki and Arya have disappeared when he returns; their guardian, Bheem (Rahul Dev) reveals that Kaurwaki and Arya were themselves hiding, Arya being the heir to the throne of Kalinga. They have been killed during a massacre. Asoka's grief and despair mushrooms into a violent fury. His subsequent marriage to a Buddhist girl, Devi (Hrishita Bhatt) does little to subdue the storm within. He goes upon a rampage, fighting battles and conquering kingdoms. Asoka eventually realises that he is fighting a battle that he can never win - when he encounters his beloved Kaurwaki at the battleground itself.

Sivan embellishes the film with a Hollywood dress-sense, accentuating the Bollywood language and vocabulary. All the actors do justice to their roles, Khan being particularly impressive as the king himself. In particular, Bhatt and child-actor, perform admirably in their debut performances. Asoka's production values are outstanding, whether it is the cinematography or the art-direction or the costume designing. The painstaking attempts to capture the ethos of the period are worth applauding; the great battle-scene is noteworthy for its presentation. The altered, fictionalised representation of history does bring up questions of implausibility in the plotline. At times, you might find yourself thinking, this could only happen in a Bollywood film! However, Sivan succeeds in providing a panoramic, rather than probing, vision of the period and its characters. Finally, the length of the film as well as its songs may bemuse, if not amuse, the Western viewers. Most Bollywood films are three hours long, hence the songs function as sources of relief and entertainment throughout the film. Critics may argue about the superfluity of songs, yet they provide links and add texture to the narrative. Asoka provides an interesting and unusual introduction to Bollywood cinema.


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Screenings of this film:

2002/2003 Spring Term (35mm)