Ashutosh Gowarikar has taken his time to raise from the ruins of Mohenjo-Daro. Surely it has not been a Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se. After a hat trick of poor runs at the box office proceeded by a magical run, the film maker’s Panipath is at an important stage of his box office career and anything today calls for either lure or hate, not indifference. I shall for obvious reasons eschew compare with the other master of opulence Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his recent historic outings. This I do consciously because the compare is all over the place. So let us take the other route.
The story line hovers around the III Battle of Panipath with intrigues, plans, conspiracies and for the watchful observer parallels with the present. Yes history doesn’t repeat but it sure rhymes.
Nanasaheb Peshwa (Monish Behl) decides to award his talented cousin Sadashivrao Bhau (Arjun Kapoor) the privilege to lead his army to battle against the fierce Afghan King Ahmed Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt) whon thanks to the support of Najib- ud-Daula (Mantra), has already made parts of North India his own. The commandant may have a huge challenge ahead but that doesn’t deter him from taking with him his wife Parvati (Kriti Sanon) and the heir apparent of Peshwa Vishwas Rao (Abhishek Nigam). Also in company are his man Friday Ibrahim Khan Gardi (Nawab Khan) and his cousin Shamsher (Sahil Salakhia).
Even as the journey is on and the recruitment of friends, kings and ant fighters is on, the enemy comes knocking on the other side of Yamuna. After the initial celebs on the triumph over the Nizam, a sneak preview at the palace intrigue and intro into inhabitance therein with focus on beauty vaid (physician) Parvathi we move to along segment detailing the recruitment of armed forces on both sides – Sadasiv Bhau and Ahmed Abdali.
The typical profile dignity (Maratha) vs. Savage (Afghan) is in order and not surprising. The film has already a narrator lest you do not understand the march of history and loose it to the crawl of the script.
When Parvathi tells Sakina Begum (Zeenat Aman – historic Swiggy) that it is the common man who suffers the most in war, she forgets the audience watching the recreation of their martyrdom on celluloid.
Even as the Maha-cut-bandhan breaks up, the great betrayal works its way in the battle of Panipath. Is this history or a prephase of contemporary times? Perhaps Ashutosh Gowarikar spent 2 hours and 56 minutes to tell us: Yeh To Sirf Trailer Hai, Picture Abhi Baki Hai.
Our film maker’s capacity at falsification of history is amazing. They do so with consummate ease. The good-bad divide “they plunder we conquer, they attack we defend; they ambitious we honest; they greedy we patriotic” is tiring. The other problem with Ashutosh is that everyone in this war film is taking liberties with history. Everyone has a Bollywood hangover. Kirti Sanon may have worn all the Maratha jewelry and mouthed Marathi dialogues but at heart she could well be on the sets of Pagalpanti. While the rest of the cast are either lost in costumes (Neeta Lula) or are made to sound like chorus singers at the Emperor’s banquet. Those blank looks Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon make you scream on how he, like the film maker, is letting go of a good opportunity. Our hero frantically wages war of all kinds but falls prey to Pradeep’s famous lines: Dus Dus Ko Ek Ne Mara Phir Gir Gaya Woh Bechara. The problem with this historic fiction is you never know how much is imagination and how much history. The resultant blurring balance sheet (read script) is perfect for chest beating deshbhakti – which is any way the seasonal flavour though a farfetched reflection from Circa 1761.