Ashutosh Gowariker’s filmography until the release of Panipat includes three very good films— Lagaan, Swades and Jodhaa Akbar—and three sadly embarrassingly bad ones—What’s Your Raashee, Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey and Mohenjo Daro, not counting the director’s first two efforts at directing.
The first half lays the base of the Third Battle of the Panipat in which we see the fight between Sadashivrao Bhau (Arjun Kapoor) and Ahmad Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt). It starts with Sadashivrao proving himself worthy to Nana Peshwa Rao (Mohnish Bahl). After capturing Udgir fort, Sadashiv gets married to Parvati (Kriti Sanon) and gets allotted to manage the finance of the Maratha kingdom. To defend the Mughal emperor, Najib-Ud-Daula (Mantra) invites Ahmad Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt) to India. The dreadful Ahmad Shah challenges Maratha Empire hence initiating the 3rd battle of Panipat. The rest of the story revolves around the battle and how the Maratha empire fought with Abdali & the gang to defend their valour.
While Arjun Kapoor puts in a credible performance, Kriti Sanon is also given a well-etched character and makes the most of it. Sanjay Dutt provides the chills as the villain. The supporting cast also do their jobs well. The film’s makers have spared no expense and it shows. From the costumes to the choreography to the sets and production design, everything is spectacular and looks the part. The final battle, set in the year 1761, is so well shot that it induces goosebumps.
Gowariker has the ability to revisit and reimagine history in the way few others can and, more often than not, build a fairly engaging story around it. In Panipat, he trains his focus on the Third Battle of Panipat. On January 14, 1761, the Marathas — comprising a severely truncated army and navigating through ally betrayal and failing diplomacy — took on the colossal might of the Afghans, and lost. It’s an event in the annals of history that could serve as a cautionary tale on how aggression backed only by words and not resources, selfish infighting and incorrect leadership can fell even the mightiest, as the Marathas were, but Gowariker trades foolhardiness for valour, making the lost battle of Panipat a perplexing ode to pride and sacrifice.
But visions of togetherness alone won’t cut it in 2019. So Gowariker also plays up the divide. Before we even see Abdali, there are pointed shots of his courtiers being served meat, and a close-up of a knife being buried in a cooked bird. A little later, moments after Dutt’s frightening visage is revealed, there’s an assassination plot. Abdali survives, stabbing conspirators and beating the last one to death with his Kohinoor-emblazoned crown, which he then wears (Audiences will recall another Afghan making a murderous start to a film: Alauddin Khilji, perpetrator of treason in 2018’s Padmaavat).
Panipat is made in the shadow of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani (2015). Not only is Bajirao’s son, Shamsher, a character in this film but Parvati remarks, when Sadashiv is set to leave, that she’s heard peshwas who go north “return with a Mastani”. There’s even a leaf taken out of Bhansali’s love-is-pain handbook, with Parvati, a physician, makes overtures while tending to Sadashiv’s war wounds. But Gowariker doesn’t have the stomach for it. Sadashiv may win over his love by slashing his hand, but the blood-letting happens offscreen, and Parvati doesn’t cut herself in response, as Bhansali would have preferred.
CK Muraleedharan’s cinematography deserves applause from start to end. The aerial shots during the dance sequences and the final war scene leave you speechless. While visual effects are on point, the editing is a bit loose and falters at some places. Reckless, lacklustre and shoddy CGI and action choreography result in the climax failing to live up to the expectations and leaves the audience high and dry.
Overall: Patience, 3 hours of your life and your money – think and opt for Panipat at Cinemas Rating: 2/5