February 26th, 2008

Jodhaa Akbar

On Thursday night, February 21st, we went out to see the new film from India, “Jodhaa Akbar.” This historical romance is set in the reign of Jalaluddin Muhammad, Emperor of the Mughals, (called “Akbar” or “The Great”) and starts shortly after his accession to the throne following the death of his father, Nasiruddin Mohammed Humayun. In real life, Jalaluddin was thirteen when he inherited, but, as the movie announces at the very beginning, this is one of a number of “possible stories”—meaning that they are blithely taking liberties. Not a new thing for us westerners who have seen how many versions of King Arthur? (Or, perhaps more closely, Queen Elizabeth I—see review of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”--). So the young Jalal seems to be more about ten years old when he first challenges his advisors’ ideas of the right way to run an empire. Actually, that being said, the film uses facts as a framework, and the depictions of the Second Battle of Panipat, which secured his throne, the later dismissal of the General and Regent Bairam Khan, the intrigues perpetrated by Jalal’s nurse, Maham Anga, and events surrounding the death of his foster-brother, Adham Khan, are basically in line with known history, although, of course “dramatized.”

When Jalal (played as an adult by Hrithik Roshan) becomes old enough to assert control, he does so, moderating his kingdom’s aggressive expansionist stance to start co-opting the notoriously stiff-necked and warlike Hindu Rajput kings who stand in his way instead of conquering and killing them. In the movie, the Rajput King of Amer (now Jaipur) tries to maneuver his way out of both a troublesome dynastic struggle and what he sees as ruinous war with the Mughals by offering his daughter, Jodhaa (Aishwarya Rai, “Bride and Prejudice”) in marriage to Jalal. This is a controversial move since the other Rajput kings view it as cowardice and because the Mughals are Muslims. (The movie implies that this was a “first” although in fact there had been prior royal marriages between Hindu and Muslim rulers, and, indeed, Jalal eventually took several Hindu wives from Rajput princesses.) However, both in film and in fact, this alliance was a pivotal point in increasing the greatness of the Mughal Empire under Jalal.

The romantic portion of the film comes in depicting the somewhat stormy nature of the post-wedding courtship of Jalal and Jodhaa (they do not see or speak to one another until the wedding) as complicated by the jealousy of Maham Anga (Ila Arun), and the scheming of both Jodhaa’s well-meaning but hapless brother Sujamal (Sonu Sood), and Jalal’s ruthless and power-hungry brother-in-law. It is in the course of winning Jodhaa over that Jalal gets the idea that eventually earns him the love of all his people and the sobriquet “Akbar”.

Overall, this is one of the most visually beautiful movies we have seen in a long while: the clothing and fabrics, and the jewels are gorgeous. The photography of the fortresses, especially the Red Fort at Agra and Jaipur, is the best I have ever seen. And, it must be said, the principals are both beautiful as well--. There is also some good swordfighting, and an interesting artillery duel.

Highly recommended as a lovely movie, a good old-fashioned swashbuckling love story, and a (romanticized) insight into a place and period most Americans are ignorant of.

Read more on the fascinating Jalaluddin Muhammad here:

Body Worlds I

On Friday, February 22nd, Georgie and I had the day off and took the morning to see the "Body Worlds 1" exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum, or, as Georgie put it, "getting in touch with your Inner." We both found the exhibit fascinating and well worth seeing.


My position is that there is nothing sacred about a human body once the animating force has left it. I find the concept of a "sky burial" quite pleasing, and, were it possible over here, would be glad to have my dead self left somewhere to feed the vultures and the kites. However, short of moving to Tibet and becoming a monk, that's not going to happen, so I have opted for a 'direct cremation', which, so far, is the cheapest and tidiest way of disposing of a body. Now, coercing a greiving family that can usually ill afford it to lay out $10,000.00 PLUS for a burial plot, monument, casket, vault, etc.--THAT I find indecent.

I am aware that there are those who will be reading this who find the "Body Worlds" display repugnant on religious grounds. I respect that. There are those who find it inesthetic or just too "gross". I respect that also. However, in my opinion, Dr. Von Hagens, the inventor of the "plastination" process, has been unfairly tarred with the innuendo that some of the cadavers used in his exhibits may be of questionable provenance.

ABC's 20/20 coincidentally did an "expose" on the body exhibit business this same week (which may be viewed at their web site). This is in no way a piece of balanced journalism. Bias is evident in the narrator's continual use of descriptive words such as "grisly" and "ghoulish". Nevertheless, the focus of the piece falls not on Von Hagens, but on his purely commercial competitor, Premier Exhibitions, (which also runs the "RMS Titanic" touring show) and does business as "Bodies--The Exhibition." This company is the one that gets its prepared specimens from China. Von Hagens actually appears in the story, and relates that he had at one time received some cadavers from China himself that showed wounds indicating possible execution: he cremated them and cut all ties with China. There could not be a greater contrast between Von Hagen's clean, well lighted, and ultramodern facility (still referred to by the reporter as "ghoulish") which he obligingly gave a tour of, and the so-called "Denjheng Medical University Plastination Laboratory" which is a dark and dingy rundown warehouse with the furtive air of an auto "chop shop" and from which the reporters were politely but firmly ejected. Pressed as to whether or not condemmned prisoners were used, the chairman of Premier denied it, but admitted that the Chinese specimins were "unclaimed" bodies.

This, to me, is even more reprehensible than using the bodies of condemned felons. This means they are using the bodies of paupers, the unidentified, and the familyless, and that there is almost certainly no informed consent. (Von Hagens has extensive documentation which allows donors to set limits on how the bodies may be used.) Although I am against the death penalty in general, on principle, I don't mind the idea of criminals being used for research. If the person was such a waste of space in life that society deems it's better of with him dead, then I can see the conclusion that they might as well serve a purpose dead when they did none alive. As long as, that is, the process does not become a money mill for the state. (Judge thinks: "if we shoot this guy, it costs us fifty cents for the bullet, and we get back a couple of grand selling him for parts, as opposed to having to pay to feed, clothe and house him for twenty years. . ." No one wants that kind of analysis being made--.)

As for dignity, I did not find anything undignified in the sometimes playful exhibit poses. Most are posed to show the body in normal actions: dance, sports, everyday action, which I agree is more engaging and interesting than just standing at 'attention' or reposing would be. Besides, it's a great old tradition. Want to spend eternity as a chandelier? You could have had your bones interred someplace like the Sedlec Ossuary--


For those who find it distasteful, the detailed review of what we saw is behind the cut--.

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A Clockwork Cake

OK, Gearheads--how would you like to get this for your birthday? Georgie made this for me for a party last Saturday. The design is based upon a repeater pocket watch movement.

But, no, Burgess fans, it is not a Clockwork ORANGE Cake, although that would have been good, too: it was a Clockwork Chocolate-Cherry Cake, which was thouroughly delicious. (Sorry, it's all gone now--.)

I thought of telling our guests that whomever got the mainspring would be the King, but didn't want to temper their enjoyment of it in any fashion--.

The next question is, now that we have seen a Clockwork Cake, what would a Cakework Clock consist of? Now THAT would be Mad Science. (or would it be Mad Cooking?)