Panipat & Ashutosh Gowariker’s Grand, Eye-Opening Indian Historical Sagas

AGGPL’s Panipat trailer has finally released after much anticipation.

It is set in 1761 when the Maratha Empire had reached its zenith and their grip on India reigned supreme with no-one to challenge them.

This was until an invader set his eyes on the throne of Hindustan.

That is when Sadashiv Rao Bhau (Arjun Kapoor), the Commander-in-Chief of the Maratha army led a northern expedition in order to repel the invading forces of Ahmad Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt), the king of Afghanistan.

This Action-Drama entailing the events that led to the Third Battle of Panipat, also stars Kriti Sanon, Mohnish Bahl, Padmini Kolhapure and Zeenat Aman, amongst others.

Whilst this is another period film from Ashutosh Gowariker, it also marks another pivotal Indian historical chapter which shows India’s torturous past.

Since he has continuously presented such narratives, we reflect back on these works and the order of films is not based on the release dates, but on the historical backdrops/dates.

Mohenjo Daro

Regardless of what the box-office results or critics convey, Mohenjo Daro deserves appreciation for presenting an ancient India.

Set in the BC era, the story follows a farmer Sarman (Hrithik Roshan) who travels to the city of Mohenjo Daro and falls in love with a high-status woman (Hegde).

He subsequently must challenge the city’s elite Maham (Kabir Bedi), an evil dictator and fight against overwhelming odds to save their civilisation.

Besides a love-story angle, the movie creatively tries to explore the lifestyle during the height of the Indus Valley Civilization.

The viewer witnesses the simplicity of life during that era: Whether it was measuring the time via water falling through a vessel or even discovering what a horse is.

As such, a lot of research went into creating an ancient city which existed way beyond our time. 

Speaking on creating this world, producer Sunita Gowariker says in an interview:

“We had to have a grid. We started building the main city, the village square and the arena, and then there is the upper city, where the wealthy used to live.”

Despite not being a world not run by Mughals or the British Empire, the movie alludes how dictatorship might’ve existed back then too and how class disparity may have also been rampant.

Jodhaa Akbar 

The Jodhaa Akbar ‘love story’, on close examination, is far from endearing and amiable.

It really was a forced marriage of convenience which is more of a financial alliance rather than the union of two souls.

Recently, Padmaavat showed how Rajput Queens sacrificed themselves to avoid capture, enslavement and rape by any foreign conquerors when facing certain defeat during a war.

In this film, Jodhaa (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) is suggested by her mother to drink poison if she did not wish to marry the Mughal emperor Akbar (Hrithik Roshan). 

These examples exhibit how a group of humans suffer at the hands of another… Even amidst the most elite sections of society.

Although Jodhaa got married to the Muslim emperor Akbar, the queen maintains her dignity, culture and religion.

Jodhaa does not allow the marriage of convenience to impact or influence her whatsoever and at the same time, the king also respectfully allows her to practice her faith.

We even see him willingly participate in the rituals (i.e. Hindu wedding).

Gowariker presents a balanced, extravagant re-telling of this story and at no point does he antagonise one royalty over another. 

Lagaan

In this magnum-opusGowariker does the unimaginable by fusing colonialism with cricket.

A key and subtle expression of how much India (as a country) was reduced to enslavement.

It paints an image of tax freedom we wish that could’ve been true.

Hence, the tagline “once upon a time in India” gives a ‘fairy tale’ tone to the movie.

Similar to any other movie on the British empire, this too also exhibits how Indians (including the royals) were suppressed by invaders.

Scenes where Captain Andrew Russell (Paul Blackthorne) arrogantly belittles the villagers make one’s blood boil.

The Indian farmers rising up to the challenge of playing a predominantly British sport exhibits how the community can easily adapt and customise themselves to foreign activities.

Despite the team’s initial scepticism of including an ‘untouchable’ man, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) goes out of his way to keep him involved due to his unintentional craft as a bowler.

Thus, the impetus is on unity amidst Indians. Having said that, Ashutosh does not villainise the British as evil, per se.

Through generous characters like Elizabeth (Rachel Shelley), the director shows that the distinction between good and evil is what really divides the world.

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (KHJJS)

Comparatively to the epic and escapist Lagaan, KHJJS (set in Chittagong, Bengal) is a raw, realistic and bloody depiction of a forgotten chapter in India’s freedom struggle. 

In Lagaan, Bhuvan assembled a group of underdogs, unlikely cricket exponents, in a battle to omit taxation.

Here, a village school teacher ‘Masterda’ Surya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan) encourages a bunch of innocent students to rise above suppression.

This revolutionary sentiment is awoken after they’re ousted from playing football on an open field.

Seeing the group of juveniles being compelled to fight for their rights in which many other revolutionaries are also killed or commit suicide, is a heartwrenching sight.

In many other AGGPL films the female protagonists are strong, but they seem to be supporting characters to their male counterparts.

Here, however, we see activists like Kalpana Datta (Deepika Padukone) Pritilata Waddedar (Vishakha Singh) use their initiative and join the freedom movement.

Generally, this movie is Ashutosh Gowariker’s harsh reminder of how much lives have been lost and blood spilt for an independent India.

Swades

Aside from the aforementioned films, Swades is a realistic, modern-day representation of India as a post-colonial country.

Whilst we are living in 2019 and times have changed since the movie’s release, one cannot deny this was way ahead of its time and is Mr Gowariker’s most underrated works yet.

It is narrated through the lens of a non-resident countryman, who strives and perseveres to make his country a better place.

Rather than being a typical foreigner, Mohan (Shah Rukh Khan) observes the locals’ mindset and livelihood.

It is quite sad to see the detrimental aftermath of British tyranny… The suppression impacted Indian psyche to such an extent, that everyone was okay with being average and feared progress.

Mohan, like Bhuvan in Lagaan, is the underdog, who acts as the voice of reason.

Joining him is his childhood friend Geeta (Gayatri Joshi) who champions the right to education as well as gender equality and empowerment.

In spite of living in the 21st century, seeing visuals of casteism, racism and child marriages/labours are quite shocking.

As such, Mohan’s initiative of setting up the small hydroelectric power generation symbolises how the people also need to unite and ‘light up’ towards change.

Final Word

On the whole, Ashutosh Gowariker is a key pioneer in making Bollywood films raising awareness of key historical events.

But the most admirable aspect of his ventures is that he strives to present a balanced account – whether it Lagaan or Jodhaa Akbar on a grand scale.

However, in realistic movies such as Swades and Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey, he does not shy away from authenticity and rawness. 

Gowariker has managed to strike that perfect balance in both larger-than-life splendorous films and the down-to-earth style of cinema.

Therefore, one keenly awaits Panipat, as this is considered to be one of the largest and most eventful wars fought in the 18th century.

According to historians and sources, it has perhaps the largest number of fatalities in a single day reported in a classic formation battle between two armies.

Panipat is produced by Sunita Gowariker under their banner of AGPPL along with Rohit Shelatkar’s company – Vision World and is Directed by Ashutosh Gowariker.

The film releases worldwide on 6th December 2019.

Watch the Panipat trailer here:

 

About Anuj Radia 867 Articles
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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