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Once again, locked in a battle

Once again, locked in a battle

Yet another historical, yet another controversy. The latest to run into trouble is Panipat, once again opening the debate on creative freedom vis-a-vis accuracy11 Dec 2019 | 9:21 AM

The third battle of Panipat; at loggerheads are Maratha warrior Sadashiv Rao Bhau and Afghan king Ahmed Shah Abdali.

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Manpriya Singh

The third battle of Panipat; at loggerheads are Maratha warrior Sadashiv Rao Bhau and Afghan king Ahmed Shah Abdali. So far so true! The ‘nth’ battle of modern India; at loggerheads are the makers and Karni Sena, Jats, Rajasthan royals, as the case may be! The bone of contention? Documented past, its depiction, its interpretation and the great Indian debate — mythology versus history.

So when the release of Panipat brought along not just reviews, but news to do with controversy, over the alleged negative portrayal of Maharaja Surajmal of Bharatpur, it was just a new controversy, not a new situation. Says filmmaker Sudarshan Juyal. “People should understand that cinema is a part of popular culture and not a discourse on history, which of course should be taken much more seriously. Cinema itself means creative liberty. Eventually, it’s business with hundreds of crores involved,” This NSD and FTII graduate, who always warns the aspiring filmmakers during workshops on the consequences of dealing with history at present, adds, “History, even off the screen has become controversial now.”

Widespread criticism

Not just certain section of the royals from Rajasthan criticised the film, even politician Vasundhara Raje has objected to the “incorrect portrayal of the noble, self-respecting, highly revered Maharaja Surajmal.” With IFS officer Parveen Kaswan even fact-checking the film, followed by a tweet, “Not only wrong but also ill-informed depiction of Maharaja Surajmal,” followed by his advice to Marathas laid out in detail.

Meanwhile, Rajasthan Minister Vishvendra Singh has called for a ban on the screening of the film, alleging how his ancestor Maharaja Surajmal of Bharatpur was depicted as not helping the Maratha army while they were retreating after the battle. “It is very sad that a great man like Maharaja Surajmal Jat of Bharatpur has been depicted in the film Panipat in a very wrong way, while tampering with historical facts. I believe that the film should be banned in view of the huge opposition by the Jat community of Haryana, Rajasthan and north India, otherwise the law and order of the country may deteriorate.”

Flip side

Calling for a ban is a bit too much. Filmmaker Aditya Datt, director of Commando 3 and several web-series, feels that for dramatic cinema we need to let the filmmakers be. “If it was a documentary they were making, then you expect the facts to be true in the literal sense. But for commercial films, we need the liberty to express.” Shares another filmmaker on condition of anonymity, “There is a reason we put disclaimers at the very beginning.”


Movies with historical plots have suffered before... 

Jodhaa Akbar

More than a decade back, Rajputs in Rajasthan blocked the screening of Hrithik and Aishwarya-starrer Jodhaa Akbar, accusing director Ashutosh Gowariker of depicting Jodhaa as Akbar’s wife. According to them, Jodhaa was the daughter of Udai Singh of Marwar and was married to Salim, Akbar’s son. Gowariker, not a newbie to controversies (remember he made Lagaan), claimed the backing of historians and a few of the royals. 

Padmaavat

Where do we even begin?  From the filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali being assaulted on the sets to the sets itself being vandalised by Karni Sena! Their objection, the name of the film (earlier Padmavati) and the plot of the film both depicting Rajput Queen Padmavati in bad light. In jumped the historians, citing how both the film and the plot were based on an epic poem by 16th century poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Then there were objections to the film glorifying jauhar. 

Bajirao Mastani 

Three protagonists in question. So, the descendents of Peshwa Bajirao didn’t take nicely to how creative liberties were taken and the way he was portrayed. There were even objections to how his wives, Kashibai and Mastani, were put across. But that wasn’t the first time filmmaker Bhansali was dealing with a controversy. Nor the last time! 

Mohenjodaro

It’s a neck-to-neck between filmmakers Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ashutosh Gowariker. Mohenjodaro, written and directed by Gowariker, took us back to Indus Valley Civilisation where the hero, Hrithik, dances, sings and serenades the girl, who wears plumes and outfits fit for today’s khadi campaigns. Naturally, the historians and guardians of Indian ancient culture saw red. 

manpriya@tribunemail.com

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