Taj Divided By Blood review: Naseeruddin Shah series ends up as Mughal-e-Azam lite

Taj Divided By Blood review: Naseeruddin Shah series ends up as Mughal-e-Azam lite

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Taj Divided By Blood review: One of the chief reasons which inveigled me into watching Taj: Divided By Blood, a ten-episode series on the life and times of Emperor Akbar and the battle for his successor, has nothing to do with it. At a time when the Mughal ‘invaders’ have been relentlessly vilified and their historical presence sought to be erased, the mere existence of a series on this subject feels like a corrective. Or, let’s just say, it gives us an alternative, a viewing choice, and that is an automatic plus.

It helps, of course, that this desi Game of Thrones, directed by Ron Scalpello, refuses to be either in total thrall to one of the most liked Mughal badshahs, nor does it go about bashing him, and his doings. There’s welcome complexity in the way he is portrayed: a compassionate, tolerant man after he puts behind him the terrible violence of war, but one who is also fallible, his frailties and insecurities coming to the fore as often as his wisdom. And Naseeruddin Shah is a real casting coup: I can’t think of anyone better to play the ageing emperor, once the all-powerful ruler of all he surveys, sliding into a place where he cannot take the power he wields for granted.

Taj Divided By Blood review:

It’s also good to see Sandhya Mridul as Rani Jodhabai, and given scope to show her acting chops. The intrigue and the bloodshed that’s required to keep a medieval kingdom intact and growing is shown seeping into the harem, where an uneasy truce exists between Jodha and Akbar’s other main consorts Ruqaiya (Padma Damodaran, effective) and Salima (Zarina Wahab) to maintain a balance. A hidden room within the harem contains the beautiful ‘kaneez’ Anarkali (Aditi Rao Hydari), imprisoned since she was fourteen. This backstory is a bit of a surprise, as are the many flourishes, which feel clearly fictional, inserted into the series by writers Christopher Butera, William Brothwick, Simon Fantauzzo, but we all know what happens after Salim catches a glimpse of her, don’t we?

The series opens with the specific intention of showing us the difference between Akbar’s three grown sons: Salim (Aashim Gulati), Murad (Taha Shah Badussha) and Daniyal (Shubham Kumar Mehra) are variously engaged in their pursuits — the former adores ‘sharaab’ and ‘shabaab’ to the exclusion of all else, the second loves feeding his psychotic streak with bloody offerings, the third is a devout five-time ‘namaazi’. Who amongst this trio — the dissolute, the brutish, the effeminate — will ascend the famed peacock throne in the Agra ‘darbaar?

It all goes swimmingly till about the fourth episode, as we watch Akbar’s interactions with his ‘nau-ratans’, chiefly Man Singh (Digambar Prasad), Birbal (Subodh Bhave) and Badayuni (Aayam Mehta), the grand palaces and their heavily-decorated interiors, the battle-scenes in which body parts are severed with great relish, the thread involving Akbar’s step brother Hakim Mirza (Rahul Bose) and his open ‘bagaawat’, and, of course, the very Mughal-e-Azam-esque strand involving the ‘be-intehaa mohabbat’ between Salim and Anarkali.

From the fifth episode on, you can see the series lose steam. The writing, which had kept us engaged till then, starts getting repetitive, which leads to the flaws which we had managed to ignore demanding our attention. The body language and dialogue delivery of several characters is so contemporary, it’s hard to think of them living in medieval times: the worst sin is turning the undying passion between the doomed lovers, Salim and Anarkali, into a bloodless exchange of lines. After a blink-and-miss scene in the first episode Dharmendra (Shaikh Salim Chisti) vanishes; it’s also a crime to not give Zarina Wahab more to do.

Finally, you get to the point where you begin seeing the plush costumes wearing the characters, and not the other way round, and it all becomes Mughal-e-Azam lite.

Taj Divided By Blood Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Sandhya Mridul, Padma Damodaran, Aditi Rao Hydari, Taha Shah Badussha, Aashim Gulati, Zarina Wahab, Dharmendra
Taj Divided By Blood Director: Ron Scalpello

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