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Tipu, through a different lens

Jabir Mushthari
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Tipu Sultan’s name is synonymous with valour and statecraft in the history of pre-independent India. The ‘Tiger of Mysore’ was a formidable force against the British till his death in 1799. His name is mired in controversies, the veracity of which is being still debated.

‘Misery of History,’ a 30-minute documentary film directed by Abbas Panakkal, a Kozhikode-based freelance writer and mediaperson, is an attempt to revisit the legacy of the warrior while also looking into the present status of his descendants.  

Not many know that the descendants of Tipu, the last ruler of India strong enough to dictate terms to the British East India Company, is still alive in Kolkata. The ‘Misery of History’ is a journey the director takes up with a few historians of repute such as B. Sheik Ali and K.K.N. Kurup to the historical sites, museums, and monuments related to the ruler as well as to the places where his descendants live now. 

The film opens in a street of Kolkata, where a thin, famished middle-aged man struggles to ride a cycle-rickshaw with a couple of travellers. His name is Sanvar Shah, a 7{+t}{+h}generation descendent of Tipu who lives in penury with his family. He is well aware of what his illustrious ancestor once possessed as he rides on the rickshaw, narrating his misery, through one of the lanes named after Tipu.

The film then takes the viewers to historical sites including the one where the famous Tipu Fort of Srirangapatanam once stood. It shows how badly the important sites related to the Mysore Sultan are maintained, posing a question whether he deserved only this considering the contributions he made in the field of education, technology, diplomacy, and statecraft.

‘Not a fanatic’

It also wants viewers take a re-look at the largely “British propaganda” that he was a religious fanatic. Citing historical evidence, the documentary states that majority of Tipu’s key officers were non-Muslims and even his chief spokesperson and treasurer were Hindus. The film urges the viewers not to overlook the myriad instances of Tipu giving land and grants to Hindu temples in south India besides helping renovate the Shringeri Mutt of Sankaracharya when it was destroyed by the Marattas in a raid.

Dr. Kurup says it will be hard to see a ruler misunderstood as grossly as Tipu Sultan in Indian history. It is largely in the interests of British rulers that Tipu was portrayed as a religious bigot by some historians, adds Dr. Sheik Ali.

The documentary, produced by the Malabar Institute for Research and Development, is part of its initiative to promote secularism and inter-faith harmony, said Mr. Panakkal. The team, comprising the historians and cameramen Ajeeb Komachi and Akhil Komachi, had travelled to all relevant sites, including Kolkata and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, to shoot the film.

‘Misery of History’ was screened at the Crown theatre in the city on Sunday before an invited gathering.

‘Misery of History,’ a 30-minute documentary, revisits the legacy of the illustrious warrior and traces his descendents.

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