Panipat Movie Review: Ashutosh Gowariker's ambitious saga could've been a lot more rousing

Updated: Dec 05, 2019, 15:40 IST | Vinamra Mathur | Mumbai

Arjun Kapoor and Kriti Sanon veer into unexplored territory with Panipat and the result is part-satisfying, part-underwhelming.

Arjun Kapoor in Panipat
Arjun Kapoor in Panipat

Panipat
U/A; Action, Drama, History
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Cast: Arjun Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Kriti Sanon, Mohnish Bahl, Padmini Kolhapure, Suhasini Mulay, Zeenat Aman
Rating: Rating

The Hindi film audience recognises Sanjay Leela Bhansali as the master of period dramas, especially after his fascination and finesse for the genre by mounting sagas like Devdas, Bajirao Mastani, and Padmaavat. But a year before Devdas, it was Ashutosh Gowariker who gave Hindi cinema one of its greatest and revered films of all time, Lagaan.

Since Gowariker explored the territory first, the comparisons with Bhansali seem gratuitous. The filmmaker got the flavour and ferociousness of historical dramas right with the aforementioned classic and even Jodhaa Akbar, but lost ground by miles with his last outing, Mohenjo Daro. The failure of his last film hasn't deterred his spirit one bit and he has chosen to narrate another astonishing story of the third battle of Panipat.

For all those who have studied the battle between the Marathas and the Afghans, this is one story that couldn't have ended heroically, but the filmmaker surely understands how to immortalise the valour of his protagonist. This Maratha warrior, Sadashivrao Bhau Peshwa, is played by Arjun Kapoor. When we first see him, he wages war to recapture the fort that belongs to their empire. There's palpable thirst, both in the actor and the character, but for the first few reels, his effort to slip into such a glorious character is noticeable.

A similar effort is displayed by Kriti Sanon, essaying the role of Parvati Bai; the actor looks gorgeous, and Gowariker shoots her with care and caution. But akin to Kapoor, we take time to connect with her unrequited love and pathos, and the playfulness between Kapoor and Sanon is likely to be compared with Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra in Bajirao Mastani. Singh and Chopra are unquestionably superior performers, but as Panipat progresses, we sense belongingness to their passion.

The confrontations, the hugely mounted songs, and the impressively staged and shot war scenes, all give Kapoor a triumphant opportunity to deliver a rousing performance, but the result is hit-and-miss. The actor gives the character his all, but with a far more evolved and layered actor, this warrior would have enveloped us into his battle with Ahmad Shah Abdali.

Watch the trailer of Panipat below:

Sanjay Dutt's Kaancha Cheena in 2012's Agneepath is hard to forget. The hideousness and unkemptness only added to his man-mountain aura that gave his psychotic character the fear and dread it needed. Here too, it has helped that his towering physicality helps in creating an intimidating antagonist. His introduction scene is exactly the opposite of Kapoor's.

There's an attempt to eliminate him by his own blood, but he overpowers him and remorselessly kills the man, with blood smeared all over his face. It seems it's hard to elicit horror out of a character unless he's given a creepy laugh or a violently staged scene that ends with an ugly bloodbath. But Dutt is far better than what he has been ever since he has begun acting in films again.

And so is Gowariker; Panipat scores much higher than his last two directorials in terms of its craftsmanship and cinematography. CK Muraleedharan shoots the filmmaker's ambition with audacity and aplomb. Long shots and glimpses of Abdali and Sadashivrao's army marching towards one another to wage war give a high, if not goosebumps. Panipat ultimately is a cinematic experience that leaves you with mixed emotions.

As much as you want to admire the craft, you cannot deny this could have been a far more rousing portrayal of one of history's most fascinating and frightening chapters, had it been with better performers. It may do well, but has slim chances to become as memorable as the filmmaker's previous films.

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