If you thought, like me, that we lost Ashutosh Gowariker after Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan’s Jodha Akbar, we weren’t really correct. After the mess that his last outing with Roshan and Pooja Hegde – Mohenjo Daro – was, the director is back in action with Panipat: The Great Betrayal. I’m still wondering which betrayal the title of the film refers to, but, we are letting that go.
Set in the 18th century, Panipat tells the story of what happened to the Maratha Empire after the death of Bajirao, Mastani and Kashi Bai. Now, Nanasaheb is on the throne and the Maratha Empire is spread out almost in the entire country. From the very first scene, the premise is set, and strongly held and maintained by Gowariker and his team of writers, Chandrashekhar Dhavalikar, Ranjeet Bahadur, Aditya Rawal and even Ashok Chakradhar, who has written the dialogues. Mastani’s son, Shamsher Bahadur (Sahil Salathia), Nanasaheb’s son Vishwas Rao (Abhishek Nigam) and Sadashiv Rao Bhau (Arjun Kapoor) are at the forefront of war now, lead by the latter. But Afghan King Ahmad Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt) comes in their way as he wants to be the one ruling over Hindustan. The clash between the two caused the Third Battle of Panipat, which sets the premise of the film.
While the film will obviously be compared to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani, it won’t be fair to entirely compare the two. Firstly, Bhansali’s film was a love saga. Gowariker focuses more on the political side of things in his film, while love remains a sub-plot. Secondly, Panipat begins where Bajirao Mastani had ended, in fact, much after it had ended. The culture, background, setup is the same, but it just isn’t fair to compare. The sets aren’t as grand as those in Bhansali’s film, or rather films, but they match up to the expectations we have of Gowariker after Jodha Akbar. And here, in Panipat, he goes a step ahead. The castles, tents, oversized cooking vessels are not treated as mere props and something to take our breaths away, but rather as the normalcy of the life of the Marathas. The second half does see a looser grip over things, but it works. The war sequences are brilliantly shot and choreographed but there is less of essence as there should be owing to the fact that the Third Battle of Panipat was a huge moment in Indian history. Nevertheless, the film works great and much of the credit goes to the actors, especially Arjun Kapoor and Kriti Sanon, who lead the film in their career best performances.
I’ll be honest. I did not expect both of them to deliver as they did. After watching the trailer, I could neither buy Arjun Kapoor as the Maratha hero that Sadashiv is, nor could did I think that Kriti Sanon had the natural flair to play a Peshwin Bai. My apologies. And not to compare, but perhaps Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra Jonas had set the bar too high for these actors. And both the actors make sure, they touch the bar, if not break it.
Arjun Kapoor as Sadashiv Rao is sincere and earnest. He goes from playing the young lover in a film like 2 States to playing a very mature and informed character. Rao is everything and all of it together. He’s bound by duty – towards his family and his motherland, love – towards the woman he can’t hurt and even enmity – towards the Afghan King. In every single scene, he is more than just one thing. While in the court, he’s a nephew, a husband, a brother, a soldier too. While at war, he’s a soldier, a husband, a protector. There is a lot of layering to him, and Kapoor walks through the film so gracefully. Even though Rao is too good to be true, and his layers could’ve been more visible, this sure is Arjun Kapoor’s most mature performance.
Kriti Sanon too delivers and how! She plays Parvati Bai, who, like Rao has multiple roles all at once. She’s a doctor, a wife, a daughter-in-law, a Peshwin Bai, even a soldier, and all of this while belonging to a lower caste that Rao. After Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s Bareilly Ki Barfi, I hadn’t really seen the correct potential in Sanon, but here she proves me wrong, and proves that she is an actor who is worth investing a good script in. Like Kapoor, she too makes Parvati hers and makes this her best performance till date.
In a lazily written character, Sanjay Dutt is wasted. Of what I’ve read of Ahmad Shah Abdali, he was a mighty man, and a very interesting character arc couldve been written for him, but it’s not, making him the weakest point of the film. He’s fierce and angry, but the purpose is not always evident. In the beginning of the film he lives in Afghanistan and the Kohinoor is with him for some reason. That’s when I lost most of my interest in his character and perhaps even in Dutt’s performance.
All in all, Panipat deserves to be watched. I did not sit in a houseful theatre as I did in Pati Patni Aur Woh, but truth be told, Panipat is the film you need to be watching this weekend – for Arjun Kapoor, for Kriti Sanon, and mainly for the return of Gowariker.
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