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‘Panipat’ movie review: Sticks to the tried-and-tested format, but falls short of its ambition

Arjun Kapoor and Kriti Sanon in ‘Panipat’

Arjun Kapoor and Kriti Sanon in ‘Panipat’  

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Ashutosh Gowariker's new period piece is a celebration of Maratha pride and valour, even in the face of defeat

The one interesting aspect about Ashutosh Gowariker’s Panipat is the sneaking in of the female perspective and gaze in the thick of the macho arena of a war. In a hark back to Jodhaa Akbar, one of the better period pieces that he made, Gowariker gives some primacy and agency to the woman. The retelling of the third battle of Panipat of 1761, between the Marathas, under the command of Sadashiv Rao Bhau (Arjun Kapoor) and the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt), is done by Parvati Bai (Kriti Sanon), the spunky and spirited wife of Sadashiv. Just like Jodhaa, Parvati here is crucial to the proceedings and Sanon does try to make the most of it, turning out to be a far more memorable presence than Kapoor, Dutt and co. Not only does her Parvati take charge in the romance with Sadashiv, she is also very much around in the battlefield. Headstrong, although on the margins, she is the one to pitch in, in the lead up to the battle, by recreating a home in the moveable army tents and then balancing out her domesticity by contributing in the alliances with other kingdoms.

 

In fact, it’s the political planning and strategies, joining forces with the Holkars, Shindes, Bundelas, Rohillas, Rajputs, Mughals and what have you against the bigger enemy — and the ensuing loyalty and betrayals — that form most of the film; the battle itself hardly amounts to much. The highs and lows of coalition politics is all and it turns out unwittingly resonant, relevant and contemporary given the recent turn of events, even though Gowariker may not have intended that way.

Panipat
  • Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
  • Starring: Kriti Sanon, Arjun Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Mohnish Behl, Padmini Kolhapure, Zeenat Aman, Kunal Kapoor
  • Run time: 173.22 minutes
  • Storyline: A retelling of the third battle of Panipat of 1761 in which the Marathas under the command of Sadashiv Rao Bhau took on the Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali who wanted to take over India

Just as in his previous forays, Gowariker takes ample liberties with history. Only the subject, thrust and dominant narrative seems to change with the times. Unlike the simplistic and a tad belaboured pop secularism of Jodhaa Akbar, where the protagonists, keeping religious differences aside, came together to build a unified nation, the “them” and “us” divide gets pretty pronounced here.

The film is a celebration of the Maratha pride and valour, even in defeat. On one hand is the enemy Abdali, the founder of modern Afghanistan, who, in the introductory scene itself, comes across as a brutal, savage and rapacious invader. Always dressed in frightening black, more a caricature than flesh and blood, he seems human only when he acknowledges the prowess of the Marathas.

On the other is the large-hearted, decent, dignified and inclusive Sadashiv. He recruits Ibrahim Khan Gardi (Nawab Khan), the general of the defeated Nizam of Hyderabad, in his own army, much against everyone’s wish, reminding them that Shivaji’s army also included Muslims. “Kis quam mein gaddar nahin hote (Which community doesn’t have traitors),” he thunders, taking the righteous upper hand as the saviour. The saviour tone continues even in the battlefield where he invokes Hindu-Muslim unity before launching “hamla”.

Gowariker may have taken liberties with history, but doesn’t play around with the form. He sticks to the tried and tested, the long and langourous and old-fashioned. However, he is unable to achieve the epic sweep despite the declamatory dialogue, opulent costumes and the big song-n-dance set-pieces. In fact the spectacle gets marred by tacky, cardboard sets, artificial looking battle scenes and poor CGI, specially when it comes to the peacocks in Shanivar Wada and the raging Yamuna. In an interesting casting move, he manages to get veterans like Zeenat Aman, Kunal Kapoor and Padmini Kolhapure on board, but disappointingly leaves them with very little to do in the minuscule parts. They certainly deserved to more than mere historical props.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 3:13:39 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/panipat-movie-review-sticks-to-the-tried-and-tested-format-but-falls-short-of-its-ambition/article30208566.ece

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