The Third Battle of Panipat, fought in 1761, is testimony as much to the might of Ahmad Shah Abdali as the valour of his adversary the Maratha Empire. What for many of us might be a one-line note in history books transforms into a full-fledged story replete with background and detail. Ashutosh Gowariker, who has a penchant for translating history onto silver screen, brings to us this fascinating battle.
Though history, it is often said, is written from the victor’s point of view, he glorifies the vanquished. The hero here is Sadashiv Rao Bhahu, a Peshwa (Arjun Kapoor) who decides to take on Ahmad Shah Abdali after he is invited by disgruntled elements in India.
Sure India was not India back in the 18th century but the idea of Hindostan both Gowariker and his protagonist uphold and float with the secular fabric intact. Though Marathas chant Har Har Mahadev with gusto, Gowariker does not make this a Hindu-Muslim battle and certainly does not feed Islamophobia. Early on in the film, he establishes how traitors are born in every community. Clearly treachery is a thread that runs through the film but Marathas are let down not just by Shuja–ud–Daulah (Kunal Kapoor) but also by Hindu rulers, a few of them on the battleground itself.
Indeed, no one can take issues with Gowariker’s intentions or his ambition to take us back into the lanes of history. But, it is in trying to strike a balance between historical veracity and the commerce of cinema that he fails. Much of the film as expected is spent in building up the romance between Sadhashiv and Parvati (Kriti Sanon). No doubt, Kriti looks beautiful and has a meaty part too. The film also boasts of two heroines of yesteryear, Padmini Kolhapure and Zeenat Aman. Zeenat, in a small but significant part of Sakina Begum, retains the grace of her youth but doesn't quite stand up to be counted. Padmini shows the same spark that distinguished her in her heydays but is hemmed in by the archetype that her role demands.
Much here follows the hackneyed. Marathas breaking into a song every now and then doesn’t help except introduce us to the scale of those times and the opulence of the sets. The treatment of the film is rich and the grandeur of those times comes across though not in the same fashion as a Bhansali film. With a smattering of Marathi, the language just about passes muster. Words like gathbandhan shatbhandhan stand out like a sore thumb. Even Abdali (Sanjay Dutt) is introduced with a rather insipid one-liner. Unlike Khilji played to menacing perfection by Ranveer Singh in Padamavaat, Abdali is not so demonised. But then despite looming large on the screen, Sanjay Dutt fails to create a solid impact. And that is the biggest problem of the film. For a film that recreates an epic battle, it doesn’t create a powerful impression. Even on the battle ground, everything is spelt out thus diluting the otherwise formidable battle scene formations. Since it all finally boils down to eulogising the bravery of one man Sadashiv, the bloodbath leaves you more cold than emotive.
Making a historical, we all know, requires tremendous hard work, research and money. If only Gowariker had added astute skills to his armoury we would not have been forced to say love’s labour lost. For, while history stands as witness to Maratha’s loss, despite their peerless courage, we hate to see Gowariker lose a cinematic battle. More so for alongside goes the earnest endeavour of Arjun Kapoor who looks the part but can’t rise above the film.
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