Ashutosh Gowarikar has taken his time to rise from the ruins of ‘Mohenjodaro’. Surely it has not been a ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Se’. After a hattrick of poor runs at the box office proceeded by a magical run, the film maker’s Panipat is at an important stage of his box office career and anything today calls for either lure or hate, not indifference.
The storyline hovers around the Third Battle of Panipat 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 the fierce Afghan King Ahmed Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt) who 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 the 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 lose it to the crawl of the script. When Parvathi tells Sakina Begum (Zeenat Aman) 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 Panipat. 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 filmmaker’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 jewellery 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 or are made to sound like chorus singers at the Emperor’s banquet. Those blank looks of 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.