Aŝoka is a 2001 Bollywood epic historical drama film. It is a largely fictional version of the life of the Indian emperor Ashoka the Great, of the Maurya dynasty, who ruled most of southern Asia from 273 BCE to 232 BCE. The film was directed by Santosh Sivan and stars Shahrukh Khan as Ashoka and Kareena Kapoor as Kaurwaki, a princess of Kalinga. Ajith Kumar made a special appearance as Susima, elder brother of Asoka.
The screenplay was written by Santosh Sivan and Saket Chaudhary, the music was created by Anu Malik and the dialogue by Abbas Tyrewala. It was originally released as Ashoka The Great in India. The Tamil release title is Samrat Ashoka. Asoka is the maiden venture of Arclight & Films, established by Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla. 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.
However, the film failed to please both critics and the audience alike and flopped at the box-office.
Emperor Chandragupta Maurya is taking a sanyasa. His grandson, prince Asoka, claims his grandfather’s sword. The Emperor explains that the sword is in fact a demon that, whenever unsheathed, craves blood. A few years later, Prince Asoka (Shahrukh Khan), now a brave youth, is battling the chief of Takshila. He figures that his half-brother Susima (Ajith Kumar) has deliberately withheld reinforcements from arriving, but defeats the enemy nevertheless.
Asoka’s mother, Queen Dharma, compels the prince to leave the kingdom to lead the life of a common man. The prince is disappointed, but leaves. In his travels, he meets a lovely maiden Kaurwaki (Kareena Kapoor) and falls in love with her. Soldiers from the kingdom of Kalinga are chasing her and her little brother Arya. They are on the run along with their faithful general Bheema (Rahul Dev). 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.
Asoka and Kaurwaki get married but Asoka receives word that his mother is unwell. He rushes back only to find that his mother is perfectly fine and is in a conspiracy to remove him from power. The King dispatches Asoka to quell a rebellion in Ujjain. Asoka obeys but first returns to find Kaurwaki. Unable to find her, and not knowing she has gone into hiding, he is informed by Bheema that they were slaughtered. A heartbroken Asoka attempts suicide, but is saved by Viraat (Danny Denzongpa), who swears to protect him.
Mad with grief and anger, Asoka embarks on a violent campaign of conquest to seek death. Susima sends soldiers to assassinate him but Asoka is saved by Viraat and taken to a Buddhist monastery to recover. There, he meets a Buddhist maiden, Devi (Hrishita Bhatt), who cares for him. Asoka marries Devi and returns in splendor to Magadha. Susima and his brothers are wild with anger from their futile attempts to eliminate Asoka. In their last political move, Queen Dharma is killed instead. Angered, Asoka kills Susima and is anointed 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 the kingdom; Kaurwaki still does not know that Asoka is Pawan, and they prepare for war.
rn A terrible war is fought in Kalinga. The Magadha army inflicts a cruel defeat on Kalinga. Not content with mere victory, Asoka’s warriors butcher everyone in sight. Bheema is slain 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 apologizes deeply for his actions. He is interrupted by Arya, who is dying after being inflicted with arrows. With Arya dying in his arms, Asoka suddenly realizes that his enemies, his family, and even Arya, are all dead, because of him. His grandfather’s advice about the sword had been right.
The film ends with Asoka throwing the sword at the same spot his grandfather had thrown it and embracing Buddhism. The final narrative describes how Asoka not only built a large empire, but spread Buddhism and the winds of peace through it.