Panipat | Bollywood Movie Review by Anupama Chopra | Arjun Kapoor | Kriti Sanon | Film Companion

Panipat | Bollywood Movie Review by Anupama Chopra | Arjun Kapoor | Kriti Sanon | Film Companion

December 6, 2019 100 By Kailee Schamberger


If Ashutosh Gowariker was your history teacher
in college, you’d always be wondering whether to go for his class or skip it. Because sometimes, he creates
a masterpiece like the Oscar-nominated Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India. Other times, his ability to merge
spectacle with intimacy and emotion fails him and
he delivers the unwatchable Mohenjodaro. But in both cases, you have to admire his earnestness,
passion and the studious gaze that he turns on Indian history. In Panipat, he recreates the
third battle of Panipat. The 18th century battle is considered to be one of the biggest clashes of two armies
– the Afghans led by Ahmad Shah Abdali and the Marathas led
by Sadashivrao Bhau. It’s estimated that
more than a 100,000 Marathas died during and after the battle. The Marathas lost because
they were outnumbered and betrayed. Do not scream spoiler. This film is called
Panipat: The Great Betrayal. But Abdali never
invaded India again. It’s a rousing story filled with noble warriors,
feisty wives, power struggles and selfless courage. With its emphasis
on masculinity and motherland, it’s also a story that speaks directly
to our hyper-nationalistic cultural climate. There are enough opportunities for
impassioned speeches on deshbhakti, defending our country and
the glory of the mard maratha. At one point, a character says:
Ishwar kare kesariya dhvaj ko nayi unchai mile. The ultimate goal is to
keep the saffron flag flying high. The enemy is Muslim which makes the fit with
the current polarized political narrative, perfect. It’s revealing that Sadashivrao is portrayed as an enlightened warrior who,
despite being warned by his own army men, includes a Muslim as head of the artillery.
But Abdali, like Khilji in Padmaavat, is a barbarian – in one scene, he bludgeons a
man to death using his crown. This film should have been
the 18th century version of Uri because the josh of Sadashivrao
and his men is always high. Instead we get a labored history
lesson, which stretches for an interminable
two-hours and fifty-one-minutes. The biggest hurdle is the writing– Ashutosh,
Ranjeet Bahadur, Chandrashekhar Dhavalikar and Aditya Rawal are credited with screenplay
and Ashok Chakradhar for dialogue. I always get a little worried when I see
too many writers because a film needs a unified vision. This is writing by committee
and it shows on screen. Instead of an organic story,
we get a fractured, leaden structure that moves from one scene to another
with the help of a voice over and animated maps. The road to the battle is long, literally
– the army travelled 1300 kms from Pune to Panipat and it seems like the writers decided
to document every twist and turn along the way. On screen, this translates into a series of conversations
with smaller kingdoms to align with them, dwindling supplies, the battle strategies
and of course the continuing romance between Sadashivrao and his wife Parvati who enters
key meetings to provide ready solutions. The screenplay is essentially a check-list of
events that are being ticked off. The characters have more layers
in their clothing than their personalities. Sadashivrao is heroic
and Abdali, vicious. The writing doesn’t flesh them out
so there isn’t much that Arjun Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt can do except
inhabit the characters in the most superficial way Like standing erect to appear noble,
delivering long dialogues without blinking. The physicality might be a fit – we are told that Sadashivrao does 1500 surya namaskars. But underneath the posturing,
there isn’t a beating heart. We get a hint of complexity in
a few scenes with Sadashivrao and Parvati. In one, Sadashivrao explains to Parvati
that he is made for battle, not for politics. But there isn’t enough
of this vulnerability and fear. Kriti Sanon’s demeanor is too contemporary
but she adds color and emotion to the story, which often becomes repetitive.
Arjun veers between sincerity and monotony. Meanwhile, Sanjay plays Abadali
as a one-note Afghan who speaks Hindi without
a trace of an accent. But yes, his eyes are rimmed with Kohl. Sadashivrao and Parvati are Maharashtrian
in the same cosmetic sense. Every few lines, there is a sprinkling of
Marathi to remind us. Nitin Chandrakant Desai’s production design, Neeta Lulla’s costume design and the cinematography by
C. K. Muraleedharan are strong but I wonder if after so many
historical films, a certain fatigue has set in. It feels like we’ve seen it all before –
the beautiful costumes, the staggering jewelry, the grand sets.
I still remember how dazzling it was when we first saw it in Jodhaa Akbar but now
Ashutosh seems to be cannibalizing his own work Like the memorably erotic sword play between
Jodha and Akbar in that film, here also, you get a scene in which
husband and wife wield weapons romantically but it pales in comparison.
The beats of the genre are also becoming familiar. Padmini Kolhapure who plays
the scheming Gopika Bai will remind you of Tanvi Azmi’s
Radha Bai in Bajirao Mastani. The events of this film
take place 20 years after that one. Bajirao and Mastani’s son
is a key player in Panipat. We are in the same world
except this one is less enticing. Some of the key scenes like Abdali crossing the Yamuna river
or Parvati watching the final battle from a hill are clumsily staged.
And the digital effects are sloppy. Panipat finds its footing in the last hour
when we finally get into the ferocious battle Ashutosh succeeds in creating
palpable horror and valor here. The other plus point
is Ajay-Atul’s music. From the testosterone-filled Mard Maratha
to the exuberant Mere Man Main Shiva. I wish the energy and tempo of these
songs had seeped into the rest of the film.