For Arjun Kapoor, historicals and period films have always held a special place in his heart. As a kid, he would hang the poster of Gladiator on the wall of his room. “As a child, Border was one film that really haunted me. I hadn’t seen anything like it. When I saw Mughal-e-Azam in colour, it was pure joy. My grandfather had worked as an assistant on that film. By the end of the shooting, he had become a production manager. Even today to imagine mounting a film like Mughal-e-Azam is scary,” says Arjun, as he awaits the response to his first historical, Panipat.
Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, it is based on the Third Battle of Panipat and stars Arjun in the pivotal roles of Sadashivrao Bhau, the commander-in-chief of the Maratha army who took on the might of Ahmad Shah Abdali, played by Sanjay Dutt in the film. Reflecting on how he got the part, Arjun says, he received an invitation from Gowariker, whom he knew socially, to come to his office for a cup of coffee. “Little did I know that he had an idea in mind. So we spoke about it briefly for half-an-hour. He spoke about a couple of ideas he was trying to develop and then we all moved on with our lives. About 3-4 months later he called and offered me a film. And it was none of the stories that we had discussed. That’s when he narrated the entire story of Panipat . I was really shocked to learn that I had no idea that this battle was so relevant and important because our history books, maybe, have given it a little less importance than it deserves. For hundred years, the Marathas ruled over a large part of India and took care of the country between the Mughal and the British rule,” says Arjun.
Against the odds
At first, Arjun got a little intimidated on learning that his character Sadashivrao’s nemesis Ahmad Shah Abdali would be played by none other than Sanjay Dutt. “This is not a film that I am sharing camaraderie with him. On the poster, it’s me against him. I have to stand in front of him and be the part. I have to be a man against a man and not a boy standing against a man. So I asked Ashu Sir if I were really the right choice. It was then he told me that I was the only choice because of my physicality and that I would look amazing. Thinking of the odds, I got excited, scared, and nervous at the same time. But Ashu Sir was there with me throughout.” The most important preparation, he says, was psyching himself up for nine months.
“I had to keep my head shaven as I was playing a Peshwa. So I was wearing a cap for the entire duration. Also learning horse-riding was very important as we ride the horse like walking in the film! For two months, I had to wake up at 6 in the morning every day because horses are at their best in the morning! I also had to learn to throw the javelin because the spear is the weapon of choice. So it’s important to learn the footing of the javelin. Also, I had to learn sword fighting as well as the dialect, among other things,” recollects Arjun.
For the actor, period films are glorious because they are cinematic. “You need to go to the theatres to watch them. I just can’t watch the trailer of Panipat on the smartphone and feel the same joy that I would feel if I watch it in a theatre And for me that is the beauty of period films. It is pure escapism like the way Hollywood has superhero films. Our history is so rich in tradition that we feel enamoured when we see it unfold on the cinematic canvas,” sums up Arjun.
Not an easy ride
Preparing for the part of Parvati Bai was no cinch for Kriti Sanon. “The first thing that I realised was that I had to speak Marathi. I am from Delhi and I am a Punjabi. I had no idea about Marathi. So that was the first homework that I had to do because I wanted to sound very authentic. I took dialect classes in order to get it right. Then there was horse riding and sword fighting that my part required. I had learnt a little bit of both for Raabta. So, I had to brush up my skills. And the two days of action that I had, was actually my high point in the film. As physically exerting as it was, I enjoyed it thoroughly,” asserts Kriti.
Among the recent period films, Arjun finds Bajirao Mastani “amazing”. “We all know Mr. Bhansali’s craftsmanship but I think Bajirao Mastani is the most balanced film that he has made in terms of performances, craft, music, and cinematic storytelling at large,” says Arjun, before passionately enacting Russell Crowe’s famous lines from Gladiator (2000): “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius… Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next,” to express his passion for the genre.