Why do people drop trailers on different days? I just did my nice trailer round-up post yesterday, and now I have to do a messy tagalong post just for Panipat.
Well, I watched the trailer. And there’s nothing actively wrong with the film. The battle scenes look convincing, not fake. The few lines of dialogue we got from each character was good enough. The costumes are nice and realistic seeming, so are the sets. And it seems to have a firm grasp of the historical realities of the story it is telling.
That last is why I love Ashutosh, and hate everyone else. Padmavat, for instance, was grossly inaccurate. Not just in the fictional title character, but that Shahid Kapoor’s character was off fighting against another Hindu ruler at the time that Ranveer Singh’s character attacked his kingdom, and it was that battle which killed him. Oh, and also all the women and children of the fort were allowed to leave and didn’t commit Jauhar. There’s huge gaps in history where you can fill in whatever you want for your film, what a husband and wife talked about at their first meeting, what happened to people that the history book lost track of (that brother or son or whoever that just sort of fades away), all kinds of things. But Bhansali doesn’t seem to differentiate between gaps in history that can be filled in how he likes, and actual historical fact that he can rewrite to fit the narrative he wants (the narrative being “Muslims are the cause of everything bad that ever happened in the Indian subcontinent”).
Anyway, this movie! I looked up the battle of Panipat that it is about, and it was a complicated time in Indian history which (based on this trailer) the film is going to try to accurately capture. It was NOT Muslim versus Hindu, it was Indians versus Afghanis. The Delhi Sultanate ruled the north and the Marathi kings ruled the center of the country and they had treaties and respected each other’s territories more or less. The Delhi Sultanate was growing weaker and weaker and an Afghani raider took advantage and swept down and took Delhi. The Marathi’s stood against him as the last hold for India now that Delhi was gone. You understand what I am saying? The Marathi’s in this instance were rooting for the Delhi Sultanate, and then fighting to avenge it. And the “Marathis” included various Muslim groups in their fight. And they were betrayed by a Hindu ruler. Religion had nothing to do with any of this (as is the case with most wars, religion is just the excuse, it’s really land or power or a crazy ruler. I hate it that the lie of religion as an excuse is believed over and over again).
This is kind of a correction to the view presented in Padmavat. If you remember, Padmavat briefly showed Ranveer’s character fighting off invaders near Delhi. That was the main motivation of the historical person, he was holding the border against outside invaders. To pay for his fight, he would raid down south and then come back to the north and protect the border some more. In the time of Panipat, there was no strong aggressive Delhi power to protect the border, and the outside invaders swept all the way down to the plains. I’m not saying it is “wrong” or “right” what these historical figures did, just that they all had their reasons and, in their own minds, were in the right. Unlike Padmavat that left it at Ranveer’s character being perverse and animalistic and Muslim and just liking to conquer for no reason.
In this trailer not only do we get glimpses of possibly Muslim allies, we also have no aggressive Muslim imagery around Sanjay Dutt’s character. Heck, we even have a line acknowledging that Marathi rulers were just as likely to have multiple wives as Muslim rulers! It’s like a cool drink of water after the long desert of historical fantasy.
Problem is, it’s also like the 20th big historical epic we have had in the past 5 years. Hindi film tends to find a particular genre and stick with it for a long long time. Action films in the 70s and 80s, romance in the 90s and 2000s. And it looks like historical epic films in the 2010s and 2020s.
Or does it? See, I’m not the only person who is aware of the genre theory of Hindi film history. Since romances started losing popularity, filmmakers in the Hindi industry have been desperately looking for what will be the next big thing (just like action films killed the romances in the 70s, and romances killed the action films in the 90s). Once Bahubali and then Bajirao and Padmavat started setting records, everyone figured that now we were in an era of Historical Epics.
But Historical Epic isn’t the same as action or romance. An epic is outside in, not inside out. With an Action or Romance film (at least, as they are designed in India) you start with the central conflict of the characters. And then you build the film around it, love songs and fight scenes and so on just go on top of the real story which is about a son trying to prove himself to his father, or class divisions broken down through a love story, or whatever else. But a Historical Epic is all about the spectacle, the battle scenes and the sets and the costumes and so on. And there just is not as much variety or flexibility in those things as there are in character based plots. The appeal of a Historical Epic is the visual, not the story. And you just can’t put that much variation in the visuals.
And so we have Panipat, which looks like a perfectly good movie, and yet I find myself sighing while watching the trailer. Because it also feels like a movie I have seen before. Why should I watch this big battle scene when I have already seen all those other big battle scenes? This big dance instead of that big dance? This sword fight instead of that sword fight? Spectacle must be new to be appealing, and this is no longer new to the audience.