Taj-Divided By Blood Review: Naseeruddin Shah, Aashim Gulati & Aditi Rao Hydari's series is a done and dusted daily soap set in Mughal era

Web Show: Taj-Divided By Blood

Director: Ron Scalpello

Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Aashim Gulati, Taha Shah Badussha, Shubham Kumar Mehra, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sandhya Mridul, Zareena Wahab, Padma Damodaran, Rahul Bose, Subodh Bhave & ensemble


Rating: 2.5 Moons

The Mughal dynasty has been a fascinating subject for filmmakers ever since mankind learnt the art of filmmaking. One of the most remarkable retellings of their world was Mughal-E-Azam which continues to serve as an inspiration to actors and directors. The latest one is Taj-Divided By Blood. This time around, the Mughal emperor Akbar's sons become the centre of the story and dark secrets from their palace are exposed. Does the 10-episode show on ZEE5 succeed in getting it right? Let's figure it out.

Taj-Divided By Blood, directed by Ron Scalpello, is no Mughal-E-Azam. In fact, it doesn't even come remotely close to the masterpiece. With a stellar ensemble cast of Naseeruddin Shah, Aashim Gulati, Taha Shah Badussha, Shubham Kumar Mehra, Aditi Rao Hydari, Sandhya Mridul, Zareena Wahab, Rahul Bose, Subodh Bhave, and many others on board, the show is heavily inclined towards the aspect of family drama over emotions and love. What attracted people to the story of Akbar, Anarkali and Salim is clearly missing in the show. 

Packaged as a show that explores the dynamics between Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah), his wives Salima (Zareena Wahab), Ruqaiya (Padma Damodaran) and Jodha (Sandhya Mridul) and the emperor's three sons Salim (Aashim Gulati), Murad (Taha Shah Badussha) and Daniyal (Shubham Kumar Mehra), the story is dragged extensively to make it a dull and stale 10 episodes watch. You're going to spend at least 8 hours watching the show but at the end of it, there's no satisfaction. The core reason for the absence of interest could be the lack of emotional depth, strong character graphs and a justified screenplay. While nobody can call the events shown in the show right or wrong, compromising on entertainment is certainly a sin. 

Taj-Divided By Blood introduces us to lesser-known historical figures like Murad and Daniyal who never found adequate attention coming to them in history books. Salim, a relatively popular name, is the eldest child of Akbar and the potential successor of the Mughal throne. While he is known for his bravery, kindness and honesty, the prince is a philanderer. The second son is Murad, a ruthless warrior who is struggling to prove himself to be a better heir to the throne than Salim. Daniyal is a God-fearing, gentle son of Akbar who cannot even kill a fly. Murad is the warring brother whereas Salim is fond of Daniyal and like-wise. The question posed in the series is whether the brothers will turn against each other to conquer the throne. 

The premise of Taj-Divided By Blood is wafer-thin and dragging it for 10 episodes certainly brings multiple cracks to it. The central idea of the show was supposed to be politics, betrayal, war, blood-shed, romance, lust and drama. Sadly, what remains in limelight is lust. Salim, regarded as a fine warrior, in the show is only romancing Anarkali, sleeping around with multiple kaneez and consuming alcohol. The brave warrior side is a rare, underwhelming sight. Akbar is also reduced to a chaste Urdu-speaking emperor who is apparently troubled by the family politics but it never reflects rightfully on screen. Though Taj-Divided By Blood is blessed with a stellar ensemble cast, it is a colossal waste of effort. In the initial few episodes, at least till episodes 6 & 7, the series displays no interest in moving forward. Were Mughal princes so naive that they would be brainwashed almost instantly? That's a questionable aspect. 

In order to pack the series with drama, director Ron Scalpello fills it with predictable twists. After a certain point, Ekta Kapoor's saas-bahu dramas begin to make more sense as there's something to admire about them. There's a stereotype in abundance. For example, Akbar's begums are always found gossiping, bitching and taunting each other. The servants and other aides of the family are found brainwashing the princes who appear to know nothing about each other and their kin. 

Taj-Divided By Blood takes no effort to justify the actions of the princes, Akbar and other members shown in the show. To an extent, it begins favouring only one narrative and character, Salim. The audience will have no clue as to why Murad and then Daniyal are shown to be extremely black characters when there was room to display the grey areas each of the princes possess. Due to the unexciting proceedings, the pace of every episode feels slow and boring. Yes, no doubt that the show has its moments, especially the big reveal related to Daniyal's mother, but that's not enough to pump up the energy. 

Making things worse for themselves, the writers put the least life into the characters that are supposed to be vibrant and the soul of the series. When a legend like Dharmendra gets a 2 minutes role, you smell it as a waste of talent. His glimpse in the first episode keeps you waiting for more but it never comes. Naseeruddin Shah gives his best to the character of Akbar. His dialogue delivery is done with utmost honesty and effortlessness and he is one of the finest performers of the show. 

Aashim Gulati looks deliciously hot and a perfect fit for the role of the charming Salim. As the central character, he has to do the major weightlifting despite getting a typical character graph with nothing extraordinary. If his acting skills are to be assessed while keeping the flaws aside, he has done a fantastic job of embodying Salim's mannerisms and all the aspects that are required to make him a larger-than-life hero.  

Despite having a one-toned character, Taha Shah Badussha leaves behind a mark as an actor with the portrayal of Murad. The character's ruthlessness and angst ain't an easy task to pull off but he did it well. Shubham Kumar Mehra is a talent to look forward to. He gets the best character with an incredible and notable graph. Be it Daniyal's innocent God-fearing side or his transformation into a merciless killer, he does a fantastic job. 

What's disappointing is Aditi Rao Hydari's Anarkali. As noticed above, there's barely anything to write about her. The actress, blessed with talent and good looks, is underutilised and this is alarming. She barely has a handful of scenes that clearly lack emotional depth. Her conversations with Naseeruddin Shah and Aashim Gulati fall flat without evoking interest. Aditi's eyes often strike a communication with the audience but that's not the case in Taj-Divided By Blood. Her chemistry with Aashim falls short of believability. The character of Man Bai has more prominence and value than that of Anarkali. Subodh Bhave, a veteran Marathi actor, is wasted painfully as Tansen. Sandhya Mridul, Zareena Wahab, Padma Damodaran and Rahul Bose are still cast in decent roles. 

The Mughal dynasty and palaces were beautiful. However, Taj-Divided By Blood doesn't completely justify it. The cinematography is decent whereas the cherry on the cake is stolen by the stellar production design. The editing could have been tighter. The music perfectly matches the setting. 

Taj-Divided By Blood is just another daily soap-like series with the only difference being that it is set in the Mughal era. Powered by some memorable performances, the show is bearable only if you have the patience to go beyond the 6th episode. That's when the real show begins. There's a hint at a sequel coming up. Hopefully, that should be rich in content and context. gives Taj-Divided By Blood 2.5 Moons