Naseeruddin Shah show tries to be Mughal Game of Thrones but ends up being a soap opera

Taj: Divided By Blood

Director: Ron Scalpello

Creator: Naseeruddin Shah, Aditi Rao Hydari, Zarina Wahab, Aashim Gulati, Taaha Shah, Shubham Kumar Mehra, Sandhya Mridul, Rahul Bose, and Dharmendra

Where to watch: Zee5

Rating: 2.5 stars

The legend of Salim and Anarkali is one of most oft-told stories in Indian entertainment. Countless films, shows, and plays have been done on it, including arguably the greatest Hindi film of all time – Mughal-e-Azam. So the makers of Taj: Divided by Blood take the mart route by differentiating their show from the familiar story. They weave into it succession politics, scheming courtiers, some blood, gore, and sex, and a grittier narrative. On paper, it’s a fruit ripe to be plucked, But alas, the makers jus let it overripe and rot for no reason.

Taj: Divided by Blood is the story of the reign of Emperor Akbar (a sublime Naseeruddin Shah), when he announced that his successor will be selected on merit, not by brthright. Now, here’s en emperor who is cleary against nepotism, at least partially. This announcement means his three sons – princes Salim (Aashim Gulati), Murad (Taha Shah), and Daniyal (Shubham Kumar Mehra) begin to wonder how they may end up on the throne, aided by ambitious courtiers. Salim, however, is more interested in wine and concubines, and Anarkali (Aditi Rao Hydari) has particularly caught his fancy. The emperor must now deal with this infighting while also navigating the threats of his half-brother Mirza Hakim (Rahul Bose) and the Rajput king Maharana Pratap (Deep Raj Rana).

The show focusses more on the court’s politics and schemes than the large-scale battles, which are also present but largely in the background. This Game of Thrones-like approach distinguishes the show from previous Indian retellings of historical fictions. The show pits brother against brother and highlights the game of wits in a more Sopranos approach to drama than Mughal-e-Azam. That, and a more grittier, bloodier approach to the story is enough to make the show stand out on its own, rather than look like a Mughal-e-Azam remake.

Taj’s USP is its performers and painstaking research. Any history buff would be able to see how the show brings together many historically-accurate details and weaves them into the narrative with some creative liberties of course. And then you have actors of the calibre of Naseeruddin Shah leading from the front. His Akbar is more menacing and colder than the previous depictions of the monarch. Zarina Wahab and Sandhya Mridul as two of his queens also give competent support. But where the show falters are with the three princes. The young actors fail to give anything with stereotypical characters and choppy dialogue.

Aditi Rao Hydari as Anarkali is restrained but manages to pull off a difficult role in limited screen time. Her interactions with Akbar are great but the non-existent Salim-Anarkali chemistry hurts her. We never see why they fall in love and how is this supposed to be the romance that shakes the foundations of an empire. The two highlights, in terms of performance, for me were the actors playing the Rajput kings. Deep Raj Rana’s Maharana Pratap is imposing, intimidating, and dazzling, exactly how one would imagine the medieval warrior to be. He shines in every sequence. Then there is Digambar Prasad as Raja Man Singh, Akbar’s trusted general. He brings a rare combination of strength, loyalty, and fraility on to the screen quite well. Also, Dharmendra gets top billing in his ‘OTT debut’ but only has five minutes of screentime? Strange indeed!

Taj squanders a promising premise and great actors simply because the story lacks depth and the characters feel unidemensional, almost fake. Why approaches like this have worked internationally in Kingdom of Heaven and Game of Thrones is because they married history with a modern approach to dramatic storytelling in a way that the outcome looked modern but the setting remained medieval. Taj doesn’t quite get that balance right. It always looks off and feels off, almost out of time. Then the dialogue, which should be the strength for such a show, does it great disservice with hammy lines and amateurish delivery.

Taj: Divided by Blood could have been a trendsetter for Indian OTT had it delivered what it promised. It had everything from great actors to a rich story and high production values. But in the end, it falls quite short of the mark, leaving it entertaining in parts and infurirating in others but never engaging. After Hotstar’s The Empire and this, I’d have to say the Mughals deserve better representation on our screens.

Originally published at

Recent Articles

Leave A Reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here