And I don’t mean this in terms of movements and colour, or extracting the sheer joy and magic of the big screen, where even Kamathipura can look inviting
A still from 'Samrat Prithviraj'
U/A: Action, Drama
Dir: Chandraprakash Dwivedi
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Manushi Chhillar
Yeah, you do kinda pity Prithviraj. Or Samrat Prithviraj, as the film’s title got changed, last-minute — owing to perennially offended pressure groups. No knock on Akshay Kumar — surely I love him as much you do.
But there’s something about this eternal entertainer, in a terribly fake moustache. As the serious warrior-king with the seat of his Rajput power in Ajmer, when I first hear him go, “Kaka”, directed at his blindfolded uncle (Sanjay Dutt), I almost think he’s gonna break into the hook steps, ‘Bala, Bala, Bala… Shaitan ka saala’ (from Housefull 4!).
Kumar, of course, redeems himself only in the climax — the gladiator scene, shown to be Ghazni, the dust bowl of Afghanistan — with the hero in a reality show of sorts, the visuals really opening up, looking grandiose enough to suit a period such as this. That sequence should have been the palette/template of the whole pic, in fact.
What is, instead? An attempt at a film — with late 1100s Rajasthan in the foreground, plus background — that absolutely no one stages better than Sanjay Leela Bhansali. And who, in turn, makes all others look pale.
And I don’t mean this in terms of movements and colour, or extracting the sheer joy and magic of the big screen, where even Kamathipura can look inviting. I mean it purely by way of drawing out characters and literally staging scenes, mindful of the big moments.
A marauding savage for a foreign invader (Manav Vij), opposite a pious local ruler for a desi period drama, is anyway a tiring Bollywood trope — much like biopics itself.
But even with this intention, I find not one moment in the movie, where you feel anything at all — let alone for the king, or his enemy. Forget whatever its politics, this pic just got no feels, dost. The rhetoric rarely matches the scenery. I can barely sense the scale, or see a hook to latch on to.
The film is based on Prithviraj Raso, an epic poem, that was reportedly written hundreds of years after Prithviraj’s reign. In the same way that Padmaavat was based on an equally epic poem, mixing history with legend.
What’s similarly most perplexing therefore is a story that sort of glorifies ‘sati’ — a socially sanctioned suicide over a dead husband — and spends minutes after minutes posing as flag-bearer of modern feminism.
Revealing at length how the Rajput king positioned his wife (Manushi Chhillar) as a political equal, despite the sexist-conservative spirit of his times. Surely this is coming from the source material?
As is, of course, the main villain. Incidentally, to my eyes, that’s not so much the Muslim/foreign invader, Muhammed Ghori, who Prithviraj had even once defeated, captured, and then let go. As much as it is the king’s own father-in-law, from a neighbouring Rajput kingdom, named Jaichand.
By the way, Arnab type TV news anchors often go around calling their guests they disagree with on supposedly nationalist issues, ‘Jaichands’!
As I can see, he was a ruler, like any other, who also wanted a piece of Samrat Prithviraj’s pie — like all greedy kings with conquering armies did, in times when expansionism was a legit political goal. That Prithviraj also eloped with Jaichand’s daughter must’ve hurt him bad. Ethics be damned.
Good to know. What do I really learn about Prithviraj’s own life and times? Frankly, between Ghori and Jaichand, precious little for personal focus, or precious insight. There is much grand, garam talk about Hinduism, mythology, and dharam, etc. Except, with zero context, it just feels hollow. Rather than add life to a hero’s journey, even if in an Amar Chitra Katha kinda way.
I’m just impressed in general by the ‘Urdu-ised’ Hindi that the characters from the Rajput kingdom speak in general — ‘mubarak’, ‘napaak irade’, ‘fariyad’, ‘barkhast’ — given the original source, I’m told, was written in Braj Bhasha. But then again, why quibble over this, when, say, nobody cares as much for Brad Pitt’s American accent in a Trojan War film, Troy (2004) either!
So yeah, the quibble is really with the general dullness of it all. It’s unforgivable for a picture with elaborate battle scenes for the sizzle, and a period setting to transport you someplace else in time. And it’s not only the actor’s job alone to lend a majestic touch to a film so huge. The fault lies at the writer-director’s doorstep, always.
Not that he was a poor choice, to begin with. Chandraprakash Dwivedi is best known to ’90s TV viewers as the creator of Doordarshan’s Chanakya. I haven’t watched that series since, to test if it’s aged well. Dwivedi’s last film was a much more mediocre, Mohalla Assi (2015).
I’m sure he has a good handle on Indian history. And maybe the retelling/reinterpretation/recounting of it was the point of this pic. Only qualified historians can vet the facts from fiction here. As they must.
Thanks for the frickin’ class though.
I know no educated person who gets their history from Bollywood movies. Else, we’d be writing essays on Anarkali for an exam question on Akbar, no?