Aśoka (film)

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Asoka (2001 film).jpg
Directed bySantosh Sivan
Produced byGauri Khan
Juhi Chawla
Screenplay bySantosh Sivan
Saket Chaudhary
StarringShah Rukh Khan
Kareena Kapoor
Ajith Kumar
Hrishita Bhatt
Danny Denzongpa
Narrated bySuresh Oberoi
Music bySongs:
Anu Malik
Background Score:
Sandeep Chowta
CinematographySantosh Sivan
Edited byA. Sreekar Prasad
Distributed byDreamz Unlimited
Release date
  • 26 October 2001 (2001-10-26)
Running time
176 minutes (Extended cut)

171 minutes (India)

145 minutes (International)
Budget₹125 million[1]

Aśoka is a 2001 Indian Hindi-language epic historical drama film directed and co-written by Santosh Sivan. It is a dramatised version of the early life of emperor Asoka, of the Maurya dynasty, who ruled most of the Indian subcontinent in the 3rd century BCE.

The film stars Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Ajith Kumar (in his first and only Hindi film role), Hrishita Bhatt, and Danny Denzongpa. It was produced by Khan, Juhi Chawla and Radhika Sangoi. The screenplay was written by Santosh Sivan and Saket Chaudhary and the dialogue by Abbas Tyrewala. It was originally released as Ashoka The Great in India.

The film was widely screened across the United Kingdom and North America, and was also selected for screening at the Venice Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival, where it got positive response.[2]


The film chronicles the early part of the life of Emperor Asoka. It begins with his career as a General in Taxila (modern-day Pakistan) and ends with the bloody conquest of the Kalinga country (modern-day Odisha State)

Emperor Chandragupta Maurya, grandfather of Asoka, of the Maurya empire, has decided to embrace Jainism and abdicate the throne of the empire in favour of his son Bindusara. But his grandson, Prince Asoka, claims his sword. The old emperor explains that this sword is evil and the sword demands blood and destruction.

A few years later, Prince Asoka (Shah Rukh Khan), now a brave youth, is battling the rebellious chief of Taxila for his Emperor and father. He figures that his elder half-brother Susima Maurya (Ajith Kumar), who also has an eye on the throne of the empire, has deliberately withheld reinforcements from arriving, but defeats the enemy nevertheless. Asoka returns to the capital victorious and confronts Susima. Later, Susima tries to assassinate Asoka while he is bathing. The fight among the princes makes the Emperor unhappy and he orders Empress Dharma (Subhashini Ali) to control her son Asoka. She compels Asoka to temporarily leave the capital to lead the life of a common man. The Prince is disappointed but leaves nonetheless.

Asoka, alone and disguised as an ordinary traveller, rides to the south. In his travels, he meets a lovely maiden, Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor) and falls in love with her. He also develops a good relationship with her little brother Arya. They are on the run from the Kingdom of Kalinga along with their faithful protector Bheema (Rahul Dev) and are being chased by soldiers of the Kingdom. After saving their lives, Asoka introduces himself as Pawan, hiding his true identity. Kaurwaki and Arya are the Princess and Prince of Kalinga, who fled from their kingdom when the Prime Minister assassinated their parents and took over power. Later, Asoka and Kaurwaki get secretly married.

Soon, Asoka is summoned by his mother, who sent a messenger to tell him she has fallen ill and to come to the capital. The Emperor dispatches Asoka to quell a rebellion in Ujjaini. Before marching to the west, Asoka travels to Kalinga to meet Kaurwaki and Arya. Unable to find them, and not knowing they have gone into hiding, he is informed by General Bheema that they were slaughtered. A heartbroken Asoka attempts suicide but is saved by Virat (Danny Denzongpa), who later swears to protect him. Mad with grief and anger, Asoka leads a brutal crackdown in Ujjaini. The assassins sent by Susima injure Asoka in a battle and Virat saves him. He is taken to a Buddhist monastery at Vidisa to recover.

There, he meets a Buddhist maiden, Devi (Hrishita Bhatt), who cares for him. Asoka also survives another assassination attempt at Vidisa, this time with the help of Devi. Asoka marries Devi and returns in splendour to Pataliputra. Susima and his brothers are wild with anger from their futile attempts to eliminate Asoka. Emperor Bindusara, who favoured Susima over Asoka, becomes ill and dies. In another vigilante attack, Queen Dharma is stabbed to death by assassins sent by Susima. Angered, Asoka wants to kill Susima but has second thoughts and Susima is killed by Virat when he tries to kill Asoka behind his back and is appointed emperor.

A few months later, princess Kaurwaki and prince Arya return to Kalinga with Bheema and have the Prime Minister executed for treason. Asoka declares war on Kalinga, not knowing that Kaurwaki is alive. Kaurwaki still does not know that Asoka is Pawan, and both sides prepare for war.

A terrible war is fought in Kalinga. The Maurya army inflicts a crushing defeat on Kalinga. Not content with mere victory, Maurya soldiers butcher everyone in sight. General Bheema is killed after failing to assassinate Asoka realizing that he is Pawan and Kaurwaki is wounded. Asoka later visits the battlefield, where he discovers his horse, who was supposed to be in Kaurwaki's possession. With a surge of hope, he frantically searches for Kaurwaki and finds her. They have a heart-to-heart talk and he apologises deeply for his actions. He is interrupted by Arya, who is dying after being pierced with arrows. With Arya dying in his arms, Asoka suddenly realises that his enemies, his family, and even Arya, are all dead because of him. His grandfather's warning about the sword had been correct.

The film ends with Asoka throwing the sword into the water at the same spot as his grandfather, and embracing Buddhism. The final narrative describes how Asoka not only built a large empire but spread Buddhism and the winds of peace throughout the empire.


Differences from history[edit]

All the characters in the film (from the Maurya empire and Kalinga) speak modern Hindi opposed to the ancient Prakrit dialects spoken in the 3rd century BCE. The names of the historical figures in the film are also changed in accordance with modern Hindi.

"And yet, as far as historical accuracy is concerned, there's a surprising result: though the whole Pawan/Kaurwaki episode is fantasy, the film mostly avoids messing around with the known facts", wrote historian Alex von Tunzelmann.[3][4] There is also no historical evidence of a queen ruling Kalinga at the time of Asoka's invasion. The film also does not depict Ashoka's love for Devi.[3] The film also explicitly suggests Kalinga as a democracy.[3]


"I was dancing in a train for a song in a movie (Chaiya Chaiya on the sets of Mani Ratnam's Dil Se..) that Santosh Sivan was lensing, and he came up to me between shots and told me about Asoka," says Shah Rukh Khan. "I could only understand half of what he said but I could see the determination in his eyes, and that, somehow or other, he would make it with or without me. That's 80% of the battle won. I was hooked."[5][6]

The director, along with principal costume designer Anu Vardhan, started working on the project two years before they started the actual shooting of the film. Though Anu agrees that there was no concept of wearing vests during that era, certain cinematic liberties have been taken because Shahrukh did not wanted to shoot shirtless throughout the film. "After all, it is a mainstream commercial film. During Shah Rukh's forest sequences, he wears square pieces of a blanket-like-material, folded into two and cut in between, to pass around the neck. Another piece of cloth was tried around his waist, acting as a belt. There was no stitching involved." Anu explains "While researching for the film, we discovered that Body Art was a prominent part of that time. For the character of Kaurwaki, (Kareena) we used different designs of tattoos." The armours and shields worn by the artistes also form an important part of the costume for the final war sequences. Metal jackets composed of special fibre glass were made for around 4000 members of the cast. "These metal jackets are extremely light and comfortable and were made in Madras by more than 50 workers," she explains.[7]

"I also tried to give the different parts of the film different looks: for example when the viewer is taken to Magadha (Bihar), the temples and houses have been made using black granite while when we are in Kalinga (Orissa) I have used brown sandstone and earth tones to generate a different feel. Also I worked with only six pillars in the film, it is hard to imagine that once you see the film", says Sabu Cyril.[8]

The film was locations such as Panchmarhi (bulk of the romance between Asoka and the princess), Maheshwar (the palace intrigues of Pataliputra), Madhya Pradesh, Jaipur (battle scenes), Igatpuri and Bhubaneswar (the Kalinga portions). More than half the film was shot indoors on the studio floors of Film City and Filmistan[4] The elaborate final battle scene (the battle fought against the Kalingas) employed over six thousand extras and hundreds of elephants. Some of the actors portraying warriors in the film were masters of Kalari, who used their expertise. They were the only ones to use real weapons in the filming. The song "Raat Ka Nasha" was picturised at Bhedaghat and Panchmarhi in Madhya Pradesh amidst the Narmada River.[2][8][9]

The film is also known for using minimal special effects.[4] While Lagaan was made at considerable expense, Asoka had only a moderate budget. Sivan says he didn't want any special effects, and no digitally augmented crowds.[5] Priyanka Chopra turned down the offer to appear in a song in the film.[10]


The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Studio album by
World Music
LabelSony Music
ProducerAnu Malik

The songs of the movie have been created by Anu Malik. Initially, A. R. Rahman was signed in to compose the film's music,[11] but for reasons unknown, he opted out. Malik stepped in to compose the songs, while Sandeep Chowta was brought on board to for the background score. Gulzar wrote the lyrics for five songs while one song was written by Anand Bakshi("San Sanana"). The soundtrack was very successful and according to the Indian trade website Box Office India, with around 15,00,000 units sold, the album was the year's one of the highest-selling.[12]

Track listing[edit]

Track Listing
1."San Sanana"Alka Yagnik, Hema Sardesai5:54
2."Raat Ka Nasha"K. S. Chithra & Chorus5:12
3."Roshini Se"Alka Yagnik, Abhijeet Bhattacharya6:40
4."O Re Kaanchi"Shaan, Suneeta Rao, Alka Yagnik5:47
5."Raat Ka Nasha (Duet)"K. S. Chithra, Abhijeet Bhattacharya & Chorus5:14
6."Aa Tyaar Hoja"Sunidhi Chauhan6:09
7."Asoka Theme"Instrumental4:01


Box office[edit]


It opened on 26 October 2001, across 235 screens, and earned 1 crore (US$140,000) nett on its opening day. It grossed 2.87 crore (US$400,000) nett in its opening weekend, and had a first week of 5.26 crore (US$740,000) nett. The film earned a total of 11.54 crore (US$1.6 million) nett.[1] It is the 13th-highest-grossing film of 2001 in India.[13]


It had an opening weekend of $800,000 (3.84 crore) and went on to gross $1.07 million (5.13 crore) in its first week. The film earned a total of $1.8 million (8.64 crore) at the end of its theatrical run.[1] Overseas, It is the 4th-highest-grossing film of 2001.[14]

'Aśoka' worldwide collections breakdown
Territory Territory wise Collections break-up
India Nett Gross:
11.54 crore (US$1.6 million)
Distributor share:
5.94 crore (US$830,000)
Total Gross:
19.39 crore (US$2.7 million)
(Outside India)
$1.8 million (8.64 crore)
Worldwide 28.03 crore (US$3.9 million)

Critical reception[edit]

Aśoka was critically acclaimed.[15] On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 100% based on 10 fresh reviews, with an average rating of 7.6/10.[16] Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called the film "a big, brash and deeply enjoyable Bollywood epic". He stated "This movie's narrative gusto, its intricate, indirect eroticism – no sex, or even kissing – its lavish musical numbers and its sheer self-belief are a treat."[17] Christopher Tookey, the film critic of the Daily Mail, wrote "here at last is a Bollywood movie that deserves to be seen by everyone." He called Asoka "a majestic epic on the scale of Gladiator. The battle scenes are as impressive as anything in Braveheart, and were achieved for a tiny fraction of the budget."[18] The Sunday Times said "it is sexy without one kiss and savage without indulging in gore and deserves to be this year's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".

Neil Smith described the film; "with elements of both Gandhi and Braveheart, Asoka is a big, sprawling epic that looks every rupee it took to bring it to the screen."[19] However, BBC's Santosh Sinha noted, "It is at this point in the film [when the prince go into hiding as per the request of the mother Queen] that Asoka is temporarily lost and Shahrukh Khan the actor takes over. He meets Princess Kaurwaki in the forest and then chases her around in a typically Bollywood way. He [Khan] is also less convincing when, grieved by the loss of life in Kalinga, he renounces violence and vows to spread the message of peace far and wide. This comes across as melodramatic. Bollywood style, Asoka finds Kaurwaki and the young Prince Arya of Kalinga on the battlefield. Prince Arya manages a dying speech before he keels over and that breaks Asoka completely."[20] Taran Adarsh the famous Indian Film critic, journalist, editor and film trade analyst wrote that "Director Santosh Sivan has chosen a historical subject, but added his spice and come up with a fairytale kind of a flick." As a cinematographer, Santosh Sivan's work is flawless.[21]

The portrayal of Asoka in the film proved controversial in India.[22] "Shahrukh's Asoka is all bluster and mannerism, with no depth. Except for the nosebleeds and the mudbaths, he is the same Shahrukh of every other movie that he has acted in. The film leaves its many complex moments unexplored and disjointed, choosing to pitch it as a love story instead of an epic tale of war and peace," an Indian reviewer wrote.[23]

Variety's David Rooney states, "a sprawling widescreen historical epic laced with Bollywood musical numbers, melodramatic romance, spectacular locations and violent battle scenes. Coming on the heels of Ashutosh Gowariker's Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India, "Asoka" provides further evidence that Bollywood is poised for wider commercial impact beyond its already substantial established niche. And while the ambling, uneconomical nature of popular Indian storytelling makes major crossover business unlikely in this case, some degree of general art-house attention appears indicated. Khan cuts a dashing figure as a soulful hunk in the traditional Bollywood mould, while Kapoor plays ornately tattooed Kaurwaki as a lively mix of flirtatious coquette and feisty warrior woman, kind of like Jennifer Lopez meets Michelle Yeoh."[24] Empire praised the movie gave it 4 out of 5 stars. It states,"Santosh Sivan may just be the man who provides that elusive Indian crossover hit with this rip-roaring historical adventure. The fact that Asoka was such a bloody warrior is no more ably demonstrated than when the battle scenes kick in near the end, it's like Akira Kurosawa goes Bollywood."[25]

Critics generally praised the cinematography of Santosh Sivan.[22]


Star Plus launched an extended miniseries version of the film, split into five episodes from 28 May 2002 to 25 June 2002.[26][27]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Award Category Recipients and Nominees Results
International Indian Film Academy Awards Best Cinematography Santosh Sivan Won
Filmfare Awards Best Cinematography Santosh Sivan Won
Best Film Santosh Sivan Nominated
Best Director Santosh Sivan
Best Actress Kareena Kapoor
Best Female Playback Singer Alka Yagnik for "San Sanana"
Screen Weekly Awards 2002 Best Background Score Sandeep Chowta Nominated
Best Female Playback Singer Alka Yagnik for "San Sanana"
Best Lyricist Anand Bakshi for "San Sanana"
Best Cinematography Santosh Sivan
Best Action Shyam Kaushal
Most Promising Female Newcomer Hrishitaa Bhatt
Zee Cine Awards Best Film Juhi Chawla, Shahrukh Khan Nominated
Best Female Debut Hrishitaa Bhatt
Best Villain Ajith Kumar
Best Music Director Anu Malik
Best Lyricist Gulzar for "Roshini Se"
Best Male Playback Singer Abhijeet Bhattacharya for "Roshini Se"
Best Female Playback Singer K.S. Chitra for "Raat Ka Nasha"
Sansui Awards Best Actor Shahrukh Khan Won

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Aśoka Budget". Box Office India. 22 July 2015. Archived from the original on 15 August 2015. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  2. ^ a b Chhabra, Aseem (24 October 2001). "Hype 'n' Hoopla". Rediff.com. Retrieved 31 December 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Historian Alex von Tunzelmann on the accuracy of Asoka | Film. theguardian.com. Retrieved on 20 February 2016.
  4. ^ a b c The myth. The truth. Unveiling Asoka. rediff.com. Retrieved on 20 February 2016.
  5. ^ a b A song and a dance | Film. The Guardian. Retrieved on 20 February 2016.
  6. ^ "Bollywood Turns Hollywood's page". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India.
  7. ^ rediff.com, Movies: The Myth. The Truth. Unveiling Asoka. Rediff.com. Retrieved on 20 February 2016.
  8. ^ a b rediff.com, Movies: The Myth. The Truth. Unveiling Asoka. Rediff.com. Retrieved on 20 February 2016.
  9. ^ Pollard, Mark (7 November 2007). "Review: Asoka (2001) « Kung Fu Cinema". Kungfucinema.com. Archived from the original on 27 April 2010. Retrieved 22 December 2011.
  10. ^ Iyer, Rohini (10 January 2003). "Controversy's child". Rediff.com. Retrieved 15 March 2020.
  11. ^ "Rahman, MJ create Ekam Satyam". The Times of India. Bennett, Coleman & Co. Ltd. 10 September 2001. Retrieved 19 June 2017.
  12. ^ "Music Hits 2000–2009 (Figures in Units)". Box Office India. Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  13. ^ "Top India Total Nett Gross 2001". Box Office India. 22 July 2015. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  14. ^ "Top Overseas Gross 2001". Box Office India. 22 July 2015. Retrieved 22 July 2015.
  15. ^ "Padmavati box office collection: Deepika Padukone starrer to beat all, be the highest earning period drama ever?". 17 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Aśoka on Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes.
  17. ^ Peter Bradshaw (26 October 2001). "Asoka | Film". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  18. ^ "Asoka Wows British critics, Asian audience". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India.
  19. ^ Neil Smith Updated 2 (22 October 2001). "Films – review – Asoka". BBC. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  20. ^ "Reviews | Epic Asoka loses its way". BBC News. 30 October 2001. Retrieved 13 August 2012.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ "Taran Adarsh".
  22. ^ a b "rediff.com, Movies: Women on Top".. Rediff.com (2 June 2002). Retrieved on 2016-02-20.
  23. ^ "The Emperor's new clothes". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 25 November 2001.
  24. ^ Rooney, David (23 September 2001). "Variety Reviews – Asoka – Film Reviews – – Review by David Rooney". Variety.com. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  25. ^ "Empire's Asoka Movie Review". Empireonline.com. 5 December 2006. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  26. ^ "The Hindu : Keep date with Asoka". www.thehindu.com.
  27. ^ "indya.com - Asoka". Archived from the original on 14 April 2003. Retrieved 6 July 2019.

External links[edit]