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October 27, 2001

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Asoka stirs up the historians

Imran Khan in Bhubaneswar

Shah Rukh and Kariena in Asoka Historians in Orissa -- formerly known as Kalinga -- were unanimous in criticising actor-producer Shah Rukh Khan's Friday (October 26) release Asoka.

"Asoka is a vulgar film. Calling it historical is an insult to the term historical film, because it portrays a story at variance with the reality of those days," says eminent historian M N Das.

Das, an internationally renowned expert on Emperor Ashoka and his conquest of Kalinga, said that a figure of such historical importance should not have been distorted in a bid to make easy money.

The film has Shah Rukh Khan playing the title role while Kariena Kapoor portrays Kalinga princess Kaurwaki.

Director Santosh Sivan, say experts, has ignored history and, instead, concocted a romantic story which is a distortion of the actual history of that period.

"There is enough evidence to show that Kaurwaki was never a Kalinga princess," says Das. "Rather, she was a fisherman's daughter who converted to Buddhism. She became a sanyasin. Following Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism, he married her and made her his queen."

Kariena in Asoka Kaurwaki, points out Das, has, in fact, been immortalised in the Queen Edict (one of Ashoka's many edicts carved on pillars throughout his kingdom), wherein the Mauryan emperor clearly states that he was changing his lifestyle "on the advise of my queen Kaurwaki." Ashoka further states, says Das, that on her advise, he was embarking on a series of welfare measures for the people.

Blasting the filmmakers for not doing adequate research and for trivialising the history of the period, Das said that the objective of a historical film should be to educate even as it entertains. "Look at the historical films from Hollywood, which while dramatising the events, makes it a point to stick to the facts," the historian says.

Das points out that Ashoka is no ordinary historical figure, but one whose relevance to India today is pronounced, not merely in the message of non-violence that typefies his life, but also in the fact that his symbol, the wheel, has a permanent place on the national flag while his lion seal is the national emblem.

Thus, argues the historian, taking liberties with his story should be condemned strongly.

Das, who is a Congress member of the Rajya Sabha, says he is surprised that the Censor Board approved the film. "I would like to know from Prime Minister (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee, from Home Minister (Lal Kishinchand) Advani and from Information Minister Sushma Swaraj how this film was passed by the censors."

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