Taj: Divided by Blood Series Review: Dreary writing lets down this historical drama with interesting characters
The focus on the dysfunctional family gets diluted by the extra emphasis on battle, reign, and power
There is a certain charisma that is brought onto the screens inherently when we talk about royalty, history, and larger-than-life stories. Getting to witness the lives of kings and queens, who we have only read about, is enough to pique our enthusiasm and interest. Our investment only gets doubled when the story is about what happened beyond the fort’s bastions and is told in the form of a long-form series instead of a two-hour film. Taj: Divided by Blood is one such series set against the backdrop of the Mughal empire.
True to its name, the series happens during the reign of Mughal emperor Akbar (Naseeruddin Shah) who is well past his prime and debating on which of the three sons should take over the taj/crown, after him. The battle is among Salim/Jahangir (Aashin Gulati), Murad (Taha Shah Badussha), and Daniyal (Shubham Kumar Mehta), who exhibit an interesting choice of personalities. While we are introduced to Salim who likes to drown himself in lust, intoxication and lethargy, there is fierce, unabashedly wicked, and hyper-masculine Murad whose strength lies in massacring and at the battlegrounds. The third is Daniyal, a meek, queer and youngest son of Akbar who has support from the clergy of the court.
Director: Ronald Scalpello
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Dharmendra, Aditi Rao Hydari, Aashim Gulati, Taha Shah Badussha, Shubham Kumar Mehra, Sandhya Mridul and others
One of the strengths of Taj: Divided by Blood is how the series takes a considerable amount of time to build its characters. More than its primary characters, certain secondary and arbitrary ones get extra attention to detail. For example, Man Bai (Salim’s first wife) suffers from mental trauma due to the negligence of her husband and possibly postpartum depression, the trustworthy right-hand and minister Birbal, Jodha Bai (Sandhya Mridul) who exhibits a mix of control as well as empathy, add to the experience of watching a humane drama rich with raw emotions. But those who steal the show are Anarkali (Aditi Rao Hydari) and Akbar, who at various points have opportunities to flaunt their characters’ vulnerability, poise, and disturbed feelings. It is what makes Taj: Divided by Blood more of a family drama set within a royal premise. The portions that concentrate on the characters' vulnerabilities and shortcomings and exploration of dysfunctional families are interestingly mounted. But on the downside comes the battle, reign, and power, that deviates or dilutes our concentration on the series.
When Taj: Divided by Blood steps outside the boundaries of a dysfunctional family, it becomes bland. Having said this, the positives of the season only limit itself to be overweighed by its flaws. The famous tragic death of Anarkali especially needed a better depiction than what is on offer. While Aditi carries the role with an aura, the series gets derailed because of the lesser writing surrounding her character, especially her demise.
We also don't get moved by one of the iconic romantic pairs Salim and Anarkali, because of the lack of effort in penning the former's character. This is particularly odd because even the secondary characters get well-etched writing. It is always nice to have a grey-shaded protagonist, but here the layers aren't adequate as the character gets majorly superficial attributes. The only portion where we root for him is his romance with Anarkali, where the effort in the writing shows.
The series would have ended up as a drag, had the interpersonal drama been cut down from it. After seeing fictional takes on royal kingdoms and the hunger for power angle in series like The Crown and Game of Thrones, Taj: Divided by Blood feels like a subdued and weaker version of the above titles, despite having immense potential. The screenplay derails after a point and a chunk of runtime which could have made Taj one of the best Indian historical series is wasted by tracks that add little value like the one that involves Mirza Hakim, who proves to be notoriety to the Mughal Empire. His capture only wades away time and it doesn't contribute much.
Taj: Divided by Blood also makes you impatient towards its final stretch of episodes. Concepts of power and manipulation are repeated so much that it becomes tiresome after a point. The series, which also shows possibilities of a second season, leaves you dissatisfied with the lack of closure and under usage of powerhouses like Naseeruddin.