Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Aditi Rao Hydari, Aashim Gulati, Taha Shah Badussha, Shubham Kumar Mehra, and ensemble.
Creator: Abhimanyu Singh and William Borthwick.
Director: Ron Scalpello.
Streaming On: Zee5.
Language: Hindi (with subtitles).
Runtime: 10 Episodes Around 45 Minutes Each.
Taj: Divided by Blood Review : What’s It About:
In a fictional world, Anarkali is caged by Jalaluddin Akbar with a secret that is better kept hidden. His three sons are now of the age that he chooses an heir amongst them. But the elder one Salim falls in love with the mystic Anarkali and the politics of Hindustan unravels parallel only to add complexities.
Taj: Divided by Blood Review : What Works:
The troop of adding imagination to historic characters some of which actually existed comes with its own set of risks and loopholes. While history was always written by and for men at large, women were rarely allowed to take the front row. The result is the fact that we continue to argue the existence of mystic characters like Jodha or Anarkali or Queen Padmaavati for that matter. Making visual content about them imagining their time and place in the system is not a very easy task. Legends like K. Asif, Kamal Amrohi, and most recently the maverick Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ashutosh Gowarikar.
Taj: Divided By Blood picks two of the most iconic doomed lovers of the Indian Love Realm Salim and Anarkali to reimagine their story that led to an end so tragic. It somewhere tries to be the distant cousin of K. Asif’s cult classic Mughal-e-Azam. The story is very much before and after that cult movie and the beginning and the continuation of it. Directed by Ron Scalpello, written by William Borthwick, and Simon Fantauzzo, story by Christopher Butera, and dialogues by Ajay Singh, the show tries to make a map of the times it is set in. It tries to weave multiple side narratives only to bind them into one.
As shown in the beginning Taj lays a map so lucrative that one has to be hooked to what it has to offer in terms of its content. Of course, the execution is weak but you can see some very distinct points through it. There is a mention of Maharana Pratap and his valour, the secrets of Akbar’s court, a fictional plot where Anarkali was imprisoned behind decorated walls even before she met Salim. It all does promise something if not nothing. It seems like it has all the right ingredients but with a chef who doesn’t know how to cook this cuisine.
Taj: Divided by Blood Review : Star Performance:
Aashim Gulati thinks of this as a once in lifetime opportunity and gives it his all. The actor as Salim does try and show a range as per his calibre and does a decent job too. He gets to perform some complex scenes and he does them quite well, with of course scope for betterment but there is an actor waiting for a good chance in him.
Aditi Rao Hydari as Anarkali looks dreamy and mystical, and that comes to her very naturally. While she is true to her part, the script just never takes any effort to establish her as a tragic mystery. It heavily relies on her looks and that gaze that she looks into the camera with. For a character that is a dancer, there is very less flair around her. I am waiting for Heeramandi.
Taha Shah Badussha takes cues from Ranveer Singh from Padmaavat. The actor has some very good scenes where he is expected to be evil, but it is the writing that defeats him. Murad is written with a very daily soap opera lens and that is visible. Shubham Kumar Mehra gets to showcase a transition and is good at it. The actor looks promising in this one.
Naseeruddin Shah can make the dullest characters work in his favour but this time around he seems least bothered half of the time. While he might have seemed to be an ideal choice, the way he is presented does make him look like a misfit in parts. I cannot believe I am saying this about a Naseeruddin Shah performance, but what is true is true.
Taj: Divided by Blood Review : What Doesn’t Work:
As said Taj has all the right ingredients but the fact that all the people involved in the core team of making the show are not from the landscape the story is set in, gives it a very wide, looking inside from the outside vision. There is no sense of continuity in terms of how this world looks or feels. For example even the costumes at points don’t look era-appropriate. They are beautiful but not apt almost inconsistent.
The entire from-the-top gaze without going into the characters does not let any connection between the show and the audience to build. There are so many lucrative storylines, a woman imprisoned for decades, a gay man contending to be the king, a doomed love story that is budding right inside the decorated prison, a wife who is gradually embracing madness due to the situation around her. But the show doesn’t closely focus on even one of those complex storylines.
For a story that brings Salim to the centre and makes him fall in love with Anarkali making it the driving force of the screenplay, there is bare minimum of them in the first 6 episodes of the show. By the time Salim goes mad in love with her, you as an audience have not even absorbed their tender love to be rooting for the hardship they are about to go through.
For a show with so much music and rhythm, the poetry is entirely missing. By the end there is a glimpse of it when Anarkali talks to Akbar in the prison, but that is just one instance in an show that spans 10 episodes. Even the sets look like they were designed for the scene and not look lived in at all.
Also, whoever was the dialect coach and cared least about maintaining continuity in the way each character spoke should be called out. Bating Naseeruddin Shah, everyone keeps forgetting their accents and end up sounding like people living in Andheri. Rahul Bose makes this very obvious with his Urdu being overshadowed by his real life accent.
Taj: Divided by Blood Review : Last Words:
Taj: Divided By Blood is a foreign gaze into an alien landscape and that bothers the most. Wish it had some substance to support the story it set out to tell.
For more recommendations, read our Farzi Review here.
Must Read: The Romantics Review: Chandni’s Chiffon Saree Flies Again, Shah Rukh Khan’s Raj Sprinkles His Charm One More Time; An Emotional Return To The Love Yash Chopra Taught Us!
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