Named after one of the largest settlements in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization, Ashutosh Gowariker’s film Mohenjo Daro is an antiquated love story-cum-revenge drama that never rises above its clichés. Borrowing plot points from both The Lion King and Gladiator, the film tells the oldest story in the book: Downtrodden hero goes google-eyed over upper-caste girl, then avenges his father’s death while rebelling against an evil overlord. The city of Mohenjo-daro is believed to have been destroyed when the raging Indus river flooded over, but the film drowns under sheer tediousness and predictability.
It all goes ominously downhill from its very opening set piece in which our hero Sarman (Hrithik Roshan) wrestles a rubber crocodile. Sarman, who has been raised by his uncle and aunt, is an indigo farmer in Amri village, but longs to go to Mohenjo-daro after he repeatedly dreams of a unicorn. Small town boy with big city dreams in 2016 BC! Once there, Sarman realizes his destiny – falling in love with the priest’s daughter Channi (Pooja Hegde), then going up against evil chieftain Maham (Kabir Bedi), and his bulky son Munja (Arunoday Singh) who is engaged to the girl.
Gowariker, the director of Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa-Akbar, once had the knack of weaving compelling drama around unusual stories, but the new film is devoid of both. Frankly, it’s puzzling why this film is set in the Indus Valley Civilization, given the alarming lack of attention to detail. Characters seem to have found razors to trim their designer stubbles and sideburns, and some of the costumes and headgear are completely outlandish. There is little that this film tells us about the times than what we already knew from our history books. For what it’s worth, the film could’ve been titled Elephanta Caves and it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.
Sarman and Channi’s love story is sleep-inducing, but there’s more drudgery to come once Sarman discovers the extent of Maham’s treachery. None of this feels even mildly interesting. Even the sight of Hrithik dueling with two hulking Neanderthals can’t nudge you out of your coma.
Much of this is because of the flat writing and lazy casting. Kabir Bedi and Arunoday Singh are stock villains with bulging eyes and standard issue complexes. Debutante Pooja Hegde is attractive, but barely makes an impression. Perhaps one can put Hrithik’s bronzed frame down to the fact that Sarman spends way too much time in the sun, but the golden highlights are baffling. Hrithik, all quivering lips and nostrils flared, attacks the material with all he’s got, but you can’t help feeling like you’ve seen this performance before. Hardly his fault though, the film barely challenges his talent.
I’m going with two out of five for Mohenjo Daro. AR Rahman’s score, and the sincerity that Hrithik brings to the film are its only strengths. Let’s face it, this tale was best left in the ruins.