‘Samrat Prithviraj’ movie review: Disappointing Akshay Kumar stars in dreary period piece

Director Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s film seeks to revive cultural nationalism, but doesn’t serve the purpose of those who wish to reap the past for a political harvest

June 03, 2022 04:45 pm | Updated 04:52 pm IST

Akshay Kumar in ‘Samrat Prithviraj’

Akshay Kumar in ‘Samrat Prithviraj’

For all the political surround sound around Samrat Prithviraj, the film comes across as a harmless, but dreary period piece that neither does justice to its source nor its subject. The Chandraprakash Dwivedi film seeks to revive cultural nationalism, but doesn’t serve the purpose of those who wish to reap the past for a political harvest.

Dwivedi has refrained from underlining Prithviraj Chauhan’s (Akshay Kumar) battles with Mohammad Ghori (Manav Vij) as a war of civilisations. Instead, the director has focused on the fact that when personal becomes political, it has far-reaching consequences.

The soldiers of Prithviraj repeatedly invoke Mahadev, but there are no religious war cries from the Mohammad Ghori camp. There is a reference to Mahmud Ghazni’s destruction of Somnath Temple, but Prithviraj quickly separates an individual plunderer from a religious community. There is liberal use of the word “dharma,” but both Prithviraj and the treacherous Jaichand get to present their idea about it.

The well-meaning approach notwithstanding, the big-budget enterprise fails to provide any real insight into the minds of Prithviraj and Ghori, nor does it succeed in recreating the spectacular poetry of war and valour on the big screen.

The disclaimer says that the film is based on “Prithviraj Raso”, the epic poem composed by Chand Bardai (Sonu Sood), the bard in the court of Prithviraj. The poem presents an exaggerated account of Prithviraj’s rule and, over the years, has been more relevant for students of literature than as a piece of historical evidence.

Interestingly, Dwivedi’s script is a recension of the text that has inspired him. So, there are no references to 22 battles or skirmishes with Mohammad Ghori, or the climactic verse that worked as a hint for Prithviraj. Curiously, instead of exploring the political motives and maneuvering of Jaichand (Ashutosh Rana), Dwivedi spends a lot of time building a case for gender equality in the 12th century, perhaps to offset the Sati / Jauhar episode in the story.

For those seeking traces of history in the screenplay, there is no mention of the last Hindu king’s (the title being used for Prithviraj in posters) battles with the Chalukyas in Gujarat and Chandelas in Bundelkhand.

After a point, Dwivedi, who is known for doing painstaking research, seems to be lost between balancing history, legends, and the current political narrative. He keeps invoking the Hindustani sentiment in a story set in the 12th century when the country was divided into kingdoms for whom their self-interest was paramount. Then, in an interesting conversation, Ghori asks his slave-turned-commander Qutubuddin Aibak whether four Indians can stand together; Aibak says only when they have to carry the fifth on their shoulder.

However, Dwivedi’s eye for detail comes across in costumes and production design of forts and palaces, but in the war scenes, there is hardly anything that we haven’t seen before in the battlegrounds of Bollywood. There is hardly any insight into the strategy and motivations of the Ghurids, apart from a line that meant Hindustanis love their motherland too much so they have to cheat to win.

The Chanakya director’s pragmatic approach comes in the way of the timeless love story between Prithviraj and Samyukta that has been an important part of the oral history of North India. With little help from the music department, it fails to grow on you. Debutante Manushi Chillar is not bad, but doesn’t have the charisma that the role demands.

The lilt of Braj, the dialect in which Chand Bardai wrote, is missing in the music, dialogues, and accent, and the liberal use of Urdu in conversations sounds jarring.

Akshay Kumar disappoints in the lead role. In order to tone down his body language and Punjabi accent, Kumar has lost much of his trademark energy and could not develop the gravitas required to play the celebrated ruler. He growls like a lion who has lost his bite and despite all the air-brushing, doesn’t look like the boy who became a Samrat in his 20s. The presence of seasoned supporting actors such as Rajendra Gupta, Manoj Joshi, Lalit Tiwari, and Ashutosh Rana around him make his limitations all the more apparent.

If Akshay is too conscious, Sanjay Dutt, playing a blindfolded regent of Prithviraj, remains oblivious to the period and keeps doing his own thing, creating a jarring effect in court scenes. In between, Sonu Sood as the balladeer tries hard to say his lines with a straight face and continues to sing for the hero. In the beginning, Manav brings alive the aura of Ghori, but as the film progresses he is also reduced to an over-dressed cardboard.

No Chand Bardai can save this Prithvirajl he will require political bandmasters to extol its mediocrity for some time.

Samrat Prithviraj is currently running in theatres

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