Asoka (2001)

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Released 21-Jul-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of
Featurette-Making Of-The Big Fight
Music Highlights-Song Selection
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Armaan, Monsoon Wedding, Kaante, Munna Bhai
Trailer-Chalte Chalte, Kuch Naa Kaho
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2001
Running Time 169:00 (Case: 176)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (114:48) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Santosh Sivan
Studio
Distributor
Arclightz
Madman Entertainment
Starring Shahrukh Khan
Kareena Kapoor
Danny Denzongpa
Ajith
Hrishitaa Bhatt
Rahul Dev
Suraj Balaje
Umesh Mehra
Subhashini Ali
Gerson Da Cunha
Shilpa Mehta
Rajlaxmi K. Roy
Johnny Lever
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Sandeep Chowta
Anu Malik


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Hindi Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Tamil Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

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Plot Synopsis

    For a western audience who is unlikely to be familiar with this film, this is best described as a Hindi-language action epic in the vein of Braveheart or Gladiator, with no less than five large scale Bollywood musical numbers thrown in for good measure. I accepted this disc for review on the strength of some positive reactions to this picture at foreign film festivals around the world, and although it is rather long, it manages to be consistently entertaining, so I wasn't disappointed. The scope of the production is literally huge and the tale itself apparently has a rough basis in historical legend. A disclaimer at the beginning of the film clarifies this issue early on, stating that places and characters have been added to make the story more dramatic and exciting. All the same, this is movie-land and we can live with a little historical embellishment for the sake of entertainment!

    Asoka traces the rise of India's greatest emperor from his early childhood as a prince of Magadha through to his self imposed exile and whirlwind marriage to Princess Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor) of neighbouring province Kalinga. His turbulent family relationships are fraught with friction and lead to a questionable ascension to the throne as supreme ruler; climaxing in the great battle of Kalinga in 260 BC. After fighting his neighbours in Kalinga and witnessing first hand the gritty and ultimately futile reality of war, the emperor changes his war-mongering ways and embraces the teachings of Buddha. It's this change in his character that enamoured him to Indians as a heroic figure, because he is cited as the man responsible for spreading Buddhism across continents and cultures, delivering enlightenment south to Sri Lanka, across the world to Egypt and even as far as Macedonia. Also interesting from a geographical point of view, the province of Kalinga where the film's climactic battle takes place is now known as the Indian state of Orissa, the residents of which are thanked as inspiration for this film.

    While the pace and structure of Asoka may not be entirely palatable to western audiences, Director Santosh Sivan has certainly done his best to make a film that will go some way to crossing cultures and borders. The direction and cinematography is genuinely breathtaking in parts and succeeds in drawing the viewer into this almost mythical landscape. The film's most prevalent themes of romance, destiny, betrayal and regret strike a universal chord that is certain to resonate with viewers regardless of their religion or upbringing. It is on this level that the film succeeds without question.

    The ambitious action sequences are impressive viewing, and are no doubt the source of the many Braveheart and Gladiator comparisons. The Director uses intimate angles that confront the viewer with violence, but restrains at other moments when we desire more detail. It's an amazing technique. This, coupled with alternate frame rates and erratic editing makes it hard to turn away from the screen for fear that you may miss something. A great amount of detail has been achieved with the costuming of extras and elaborate sets, so the drawing of parallels between such renowned western films is warranted in my opinion.

    I should reiterate that yes, this is a Bollywood production, which means on several occasions during the film the cast break into an elaborate song and dance routine for no apparent reason. The dancing is a little raunchy, but nothing worse than what you'll find on your average music channel. If you have a problem with this, or if you haven't seen an Indian film before, it is likely to feel a little alien at first - the best thing you can do is just laugh and remind yourself that you're watching a Bollywood film and everything will make sense.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is true to the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and includes 16x9 enhancement.

    The picture is sharp and film-like, with plenty of visible detail. Shadow detail is acceptable, but could be better. I noted several dark interior scenes in which foreground objects were difficult to distinguish from their background. There was no low level noise evident in the transfer.

    Colours are bold and strong, with no oversaturation or inconsistencies to speak of. Forest scenes include beautifully bold greens, contrasted by the realistic dry yellows of the desert. The rich colours of the Indian culture are transferred vividly.

    MPEG compression artefacts are a consistent issue, but rarely extend beyond minor grain and noise. Film artefacts of all kinds are rife, ranging from specks of dirt to large scratches and watermarks. Telecine wobble is another dominant issue and can be most clearly seen in the film's opening and closing credits. For such a recent production this is a pretty disappointing effort.

    An English subtitle stream is activated by default. The font is yellow with a black outline and sometimes lags behind the dialogue a little. The translation includes song lyrics, which is nice. I noticed a couple of small grammar errors in the text, but the stream is otherwise easy to read.

    This disc is dual layered, with the transition suitably placed during a scene change in the feature at 114:48. The break was transparent on my system, so I had to find it using other means.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two soundtracks included. The default soundtrack is the film's original Hindi language, presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s). An alternate soundtrack in the Tamil language is available in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo (224Kb/s). Note that the DVD cover slick incorrectly lists an English soundtrack and a Hindi stereo option, neither of which are present on the disc. I listened to the Hindi soundtrack in its entirety and briefly sampled the Tamil alternative now and then. I was interested to discover that this film was presented with dts audio in some theatres. Given the depth of the score and breadth of the surround mix, this would be quite an experience with a higher bitrate dts soundtrack.

    The dialogue suffers from a little distortion at times, but is always dominant in the overall mix. The soundtrack is comprised entirely of ADR, which comes across realistically most of the time. Many effects are applied to the vocal performances to reflect the character's surroundings, and these tools are sometimes overused to the point where the performance feels unnatural in my opinion. The ADR sync is good, but certainly not perfect.

    I was honestly surprised by the use of the surround channels in the Hindi soundtrack. The first element of the mix to emerge from the rear channels is the bombastic score, enveloping the viewer with thumping percussion and strings. Surround usage also extends to subtle effects such as wind and thunder, and dedicated effects like crowd cheers and battle noise. Distinct cries can be heard in the rear left at 7:01 during the opening battle scenes, putting the viewer right amidst the sword-wielding action. It's a shame that a higher bitrate couldn't be afforded for this soundtrack, but the effects and score still retain good depth all the same.

    Although the Tamil and Hindi languages sound virtually identical to my western ear, the Tamil alternative is vastly different as far as quality is concerned. The stereo Tamil soundtrack contains very little depth and an uncomfortable amount of distortion. The vocals are heavily distorted at 26:20 and any other point I chose to sample this soundtrack it made me cringe. I really don't recommend the stereo soundtrack at all.

    The score is surprisingly modern for an historical piece, utilising quite a bit of electronica and backbeat for the dance numbers. My knowledge of Indian instruments was tested as well; I noted appearances by the Sitar, Sarangi and Sarod, however I believe a lot of the Tabla backing is programmed. Still, it is certainly an entertaining experience even though the music seems a little out of place. Now that I think about it, I guess it is possible that a more traditional Hindustani score might have reduced the film's accessibility overseas.

    The subwoofer is used extensively and effectively throughout to augment the bass-heavy score and give that extra crunch to the battle scenes. I noted great subwoofer presence at 21:50 for the film's score and without this degree of LFE usage I'm sure the dance numbers would be much less interesting.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Note that the cover slick lists cast biographies and a director's filmography, but neither are actually included in Region 4.

Menu

    The main menu page is static and preceded by a short animated introduction. The menu system is 16x9 enhanced and some pages are accompanied by music clips from the score.

Featurette- Making of Asoka (20:46)

    This Making Of covers most aspects of the production. Interviews with the cast and crew are conducted in English. Director Santosh Sivan discusses the challenges involved in writing the screenplay when there is little documentation of Asoka in existence. We learn a bit about the scoring process, the casting and the film's impressive art direction. Although it is brief, this is generally informative and covers many bases in its runtime. Both featurettes are presented in 1.33:1, full frame. Excerpts from the film are shown in letterboxed 2.35:1, but are strangely not English subtitled at all.

Featurette- Making of Asoka: The Big Fight (20:38)

    Picking up where the previous making of left off, this featurette focuses more on the climactic battle scene and the challenges involved. Unfortunately, several lengthy contributions from action director Shyam Kaushal are presented in Hindi and not English subtitled. Some aspects of this piece overlap with the previous featurette, but it is worthwhile viewing nonetheless.

Song Selection Menu

    A simple menu screen that allows the viewer to skip directly to any of the five main musical moments in the film.

Trailer (1:43)

    The film's international trailer is presented in 2.35:1 with 16x9 enhancement.

More Trailers (6)

    Trailers for other Bollywood Masala titles courtesy of Madman include: Armaan, Monsoon Wedding, Kaante, Munna Bhai, Chalte Chalte and Kuch Naa Kaho.

Censorship

    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 2 disc includes an additional French subtitle stream, a gallery and cast & crew biographies. The Region 1 disc seems to be identical, aside from an NTSC transfer. All versions contain the featurettes, so I don't see any compelling reason to import this title.

Summary

    Asoka is an entertaining and emotional depiction of the futility of war, and the journey of India's greatest Emperor from war monger to pacifist. If you enjoy Bollywood films, this is a must. If you like action epics, this may also be of interest. I recommend it.

    The video transfer shows a bit of excessive wear and tear inherent in the source material, but is otherwise good.

    The audio transfer is surprisingly deep and active.

    The extras are not exceedingly in-depth, but are pertinent to the feature.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Friday, May 20, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

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