I liked Mohenjo Daro better than Rustom! Surprise! I went in all set to be bored, since Rustom got the better reviews and the better box office, and then I ended up really like Mohenjo Daro! Much better than Rustom, which felt kind of old hat once you removed the period clothes and titillating connection to “real life”.
I think the big problem with Mohenjo Daro is that it can’t decide what kind of a movie it wants to be. So there is a romance, a political intrigue, and a big action movie all stuffed together. And they each have clear beginnings and endings, you can mark down to the second when one ends and one begins. Which I guess is better than if they were all mixed up scene by scene, but it is still odd.
The big advantage of Mohenjo Daro is that each of those movies is really really good! I totally believed the romance, I got all caught up in the politics, and then the action sequences were just phenomenal! Truly world class.
Although I could wish that they were a little less world class and some of that money had been spent on actors instead. The number of extras in this movie was just pitiful. It’s supposed to be presenting the massive Mohenjo Daro city, and it felt like a town of maybe 2 thousand people. Just in case I am over-estimating the population, I checked the wiki entry, and estimates place the population, at its peak, at about 40,000. That’s what some parts of the film feel like, when they talk about the “lower” and “upper” city, or taxes, or the indications of a large barter economy, stuff like that. But then you actually see the upper city, and the market going on, and there just aren’t enough people!
They could also have spent some of that money on sets. There was clear CGI used for most of the big crane shots, but even some of the more close up shots, it was obviously fake. Still better than it looked in the trailers, but fake.
Let’s go back to those trailers for a moment. With every trailer, my comments boiled down to “has big problems, but maybe it will play better in context”. And oh man, it really really did! All those moments and random lines that didn’t make any sense in the trailer, totally worked as “shiver down your spine” moments in the film (yes, even the stupid headdresses). The songs, that looked kind of random and cheap in trailers, really popped on the big screen and were carefully established before they began, so they made total sense in context.
I’m wondering, maybe this is the cause of the flipped box office? Rustom taking off, against all odds? That Rustom just had much much better trailers? Mohenjo, beyond the general “watch Hrithik in a big period action movie” appeal, never really sold itself for what it was in the trailers. They didn’t have the big action moments, or the big romantic lines, or the triumphal Hero’s Arrival moments. It was just a bunch of quick flashes that make no sense out of context, and a few lines of dialogue that make no sense out of context. They put together this fabulous film, and then spent no time editing the trailer.
That lack of sort of little picture thinking would fit with the other problems with the film. I mentioned the lack of extras and sets, but really, they could have worked around those problems with a little imagination and a little forethought. There were so many sets that were only used once, for instance. Take some of the money spent on them, and make the regularly used sets a little more interesting. Which would solve the reverse problem, so many sets that were used over and over again, until you got bored with them. A few throw pillows, some wall hangings, and those places could have really popped off the screen. Heck, just vary the camera angles in interesting ways, and they could look all new again!
In the same way, if you don’t have enough extras to fill out your street scene, don’t light it as brightly! And don’t give us an establishing shot, just plunge right into walking with your characters. If you don’t have enough extras for your “crowd overwhelms the enemy” scene, then keep your camera right and tight in the middle of the action. It’s more visceral that way anyway. Just think a little, and you could make it all so much grander feeling!
And what kills me is, Ashutosh should know this! It’s what he did in Jodha-Akbar! Think about that fabulous opening battle scene. That time, he had the men and the money, but he still kept the camera right in the middle of the action most of the time. Or, and again he had plenty of money that time anyway, but think about how Aish’s rooms were decorated. We were spending a lot of time in them, so there were plenty of wall hangings and little nooks and places of interest, and the camera was always showing us different angles. And even with a limited number of extras to play palace servants and so on, he still managed to convey the sense of a huge number of people just outside the walls. And somehow he forgot how to do any of that, when he came to make this film.
(Gorgeous set, used in loads of scenes in the film, and yet Ashutosh makes it look entirely new in this song)
But man, he still really knows how to make a great finale! And a great romance (against all odds, the actress is only so-so and Hrithik is literally playing half his age). And a great world, built in huge broad strokes. Just like in Swades we really got to feel we knew the village, and in Jodha-Akbar all the palace intrigue came after we understood the location and the motivations and the people, in this there was so much time spent on understanding the various forces at play in the city, the problems it faced, and its importance in the region. That part was great, and I’m guessing it was all based on the “real” Mohenjo Daro! Little things, like clay markers for merchants to prove they paid the trade tax, or an upper and a lower city, that feels like the sort of things archeologists would be able to figure out. And it was fascinating! I would have been happy spending the entire 2.5 hours just learning more about ancient tax laws and market economy.
But, we didn’t get to do that. We didn’t get to spend 2.5 hours learning about anything, we spent it learning it about a whole variety of disconnected things that never really gelled together. But the ambition of it all! The ambition, and those few moments of brilliance that just made me shiver, that still makes it, even with all its flaws, a better movie than Rustom.