'Taj: Divided by Blood' review: Insipid writing blurs out this closer look at royalty

Set 15 years after the first season, Taj: Reign of the Revenge still shows Akbar ruling the throne, as he plans to extend his kingdom across modern-day India and as far as the Deccan region

Published: 08th June 2023 07:41 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th June 2023 08:14 AM   |  A+A-

A still from the series.

A still from the series.

Express News Service

When the first season of the regally blood-soaked family drama of Mughals, Taj: Divided by Blood, was released, what outshone the negatives is the arcs of the characters, who are part of a royal yet dysfunctional family. Despite getting pulled down by diluted writing, the greyness in each character and an abject denial of glorifying heroism made the series worth watching. However, this time around, there is no place to hide as the weak writing lays bare the problems of the series leading to lousy and tedious stretches.

The second season traces the story of Akbar and his son Salim (also known as Jehangir). “I have a father with whom I share a relationship of hatred, a mother who thinks I am wrong, one of my brothers is dead, and another wants to kill me,” says Salim with a melancholic smile, as he dreams of his lost love Anarkal, and exposes the familial discord. But the show never takes off and falls way short of becoming a captivating tale of revenge featuring scheming royals of the palace courts, and power-hungry second-in-commands.

Set 15 years after the first season, Taj: Reign of the Revenge still shows Akbar ruling the throne, as he plans to extend his kingdom across modern-day India and as far as the Deccan region. The Mughal empire has widened in all four directions and sadly it is the only scope of expansion in the series. As much as Anarkali is used as a device of eidetic memory to humanise Salim and symbolise the trueness in their love, it is the very person who does not give second chances. After professing to be known as the ruler of humanity, Salim asks his son Khusrau, at knifepoint, if he sees an emperor in his father. The latter nods no for an answer before Salim blinds his son who already is wearing an eye patch. There is no room for argument about the dichotomy in characters, as there is seldom an arc that bridges the good and bad of the inner self.

The only character with a semblance of an arc is Mehr-un-Nissa. From being shown as the troubled and abused wife of Mughal courtier Sher Afghan to being asked by Jodha to take up the task of guiding Salim and later falling in love with Salim, she transforms into Nur Jahan, and is shown to be a woman of substance. She gets to be involved in political decisions too. But it isn’t that strong to leave a lingering impact once the show gets over. While the series does little justice to a few characters like her, others are relegated to the periphery.

Prince Daniyal, who gets an empathetic portrayal of being a meek, queer prince in the first season, is now only a blood-thirsty brother out for ruthless competition. Did the makers think a person’s queerness vanishes when ambition comes into the picture? Even Naseeruddin Shah’s Akbar is made to operate in the shadows of the palace walls, as Akbar never gets to be in the forefront of a scene.

Taj: Reign of Revenge hits and misses one thing simultaneously. As much as it gradually allows room for its incoming supporting characters, with how Khurram (Shah Jahan) and Mumtaj are introduced, the growth of Mehr-un-Nissa, the show abandons its previous characters like crumpled tissue paper. The residue is just a collection of emotions you have for a character, getting abandoned for no reason. Man Bhai, the first wife of Salim, is still relegated to a mentally unstable wife whose love for Salim and
Khusrau is limitless. Jodha is now a long-drawn-out royal who only guides women to sacrifice more, and after a point, there is no hope and drama when these characters come on screen.

There are also dreary stretches of royal courtroom drama, ministers ushering rulers about the kingdom’s safety, that takes the shine away from the battles that they have to fight within the walls of the Mughal fort.

The second season wants to be intricate and intimate to provoke the emotions of the royal family but comes off with few palatable stretches, weak screenplay writing, and rare moments that are worthy enough to savour. As the show still leaves some room for the third season, hope the makers can learn from the first two instalments and not let Shah Jahan’s reign get spoiled as much as Akbar or Salim’s.


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