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Samrat Prithviraj Review: An absolute epic!

Samrat Prithviraj is mounted on Akshay Kumar’s shoulders but the real hero of this epic drama is its writer-director Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi



Samrat Prithviraj

Samrat Prithviraj

Producer: Aditya Chopra

Writer-Director: Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi

Cast: Akshay Kumar, Sanjay Dutt, Sonu Sood, Manushi Chhillar, Manav Vij, Ashutosh Rana, Sakshi Tanwar

Lyrics: Varun Grover | Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy

Cinematography: Manush Nandan | Editing: Aarif Sheikh

Released in theatres

History fascinates me. However, historical films coming from Bollywood have been disappointing, mainly because to cater to the lowest common denominator, they make a mockery of history and historical figures. The creative liberty often ends up in jingoistic writing and loud performances. Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Samrat Prithviraj comes arrives as an encouraging change. The film is mounted on the shoulders of Akshay Kumar, arguably the only sure thing in Bollywood at the moment. But the backbone of the film is writer-director Dr. Dwivedi, the creator of Chanakya, a popular TV series of yesteryears.

The history of Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan is fascinating but I always thought that it would be an anti-climax for a film. He let go of Mohammad Ghouri when he was captured. Because of the conflict between the Hindu Kings of the time, Ghouri managed to capture Prithviraj by deception and kept him in jail. He also took off Prithviraj’s eyes. Indian kings and empires have often suffered because of the deception by their people. Something, we still suffer from. So, what does history teach us? That it repeats itself. Nothing really changes in the larger scheme of things. Anyway.

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Prithviraj is not just a person. It’s an ideology, a value system. India has been a land of seekers. But we have forgotten that in the last few centuries and become worshippers. We must be aware of our history because it’s been tarnished by foreign invaders for more than 750 years. Instead of only worshipping the historical figures we must focus on the values that we can inherit from them. If you’re willing, there’s a lesson to be learned.

Samrat Prithviraj had many such values to learn from. He understood the true meaning of Dharma (not religion). He respected the voice of the oppressed, women in this case. He stood for his and his country’s dignity rather than just pride. The writer-director manages to show and tell all of this without sounding preachy. A tight screenplay keeps you engaged throughout the film’s runtime of 135 minutes.

I don’t like costume dramas and historical dramas where everything looks staged. Where actors walk and talk like mannequins with ironed expressions and the filmmaker focuses more on the production aesthetics than the story. Dr. Dwivedi makes every character in this film a human. They speak with their poised demeanor but there’s a sense of realism. The spoken language is Hindustani. The choices of words are an added delight for a lover of languages.

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Speaking of choice of words, Varun Grover’s lyrics aptly describe the legend of Prithviraj Chauhan. I stay away from watching or listening to the songs, especially of historical films because I lose interest in them by the time I watch the film. I did the same with this film. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s music is inspiring and understands that less is more.

Samrat Prithviraj, the film, is well-researched. The research gives context to the content. Frankly, I didn’t quite like the film’s trailer and had my doubts about Kumar’s casting as the famous emperor. Kumar is probably the busiest superstar of his generation. I have hardly seen him getting into the skin of a character, for that matter any of his contemporaries barring Aamir Khan. His fake mustache in this film is a little jarring but you soon get over it.

As I mentioned, there’s a sense of realism in this film. That realism comes through the performances as well. It is one of those rare films where I could see the director trying to get his actors to act with their eyes. Akshay’s Prithviraj is understated. The trailer didn’t quite capture the spirit of Prithviraj but there’s some attempt here by Kumar to internalize the character. The fatigue in his body language in the opening and climax sequences is proof of that. It is this context that gives the film so much meaning.

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Sonu Sood as the equally legendary Chand Bardai is brilliant. It is after so long that we see him in a positive role that it helps. The equation that Prithviraj and Chand had, is depicted well by the two actors. The chemistry works. Adding to the ensemble is Sanjay Dutt as Kaka Kanha. Dwivedi has managed to take the Dutt-ness of Sanjay away from Kaka. His Kaka doesn’t appear only for comic relief. Ashutosh Rana and Sakshi Tanwar hold onto their own in small roles.

Manav Vij as Mohammad Ghouri is not the one-dimensional baddie Mughal. This was another reason why I thought the story of Prithviraj Chauhan might not make for a conventional narrative of a hero’s struggle against the villain. Ghouri tried to attack Hindustan many times to loot. But every time he failed. Vij portrays that dejectedness well with his eyes and body language. His Ghouri is not only deceptive but also self-aware. Maybe because he is self-aware, he chooses to deceive because he knows he cannot beat Prithviraj fair and square.

What I liked about these supporting characters is that everyone adds to the main narrative and has a story of their own. Their story may not be verbalized in the film but if you’re willing to be attentive, you can read their stories.

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Manushi Chhillar as Sanyogita makes a well-rehearsed and promising debut. The former Miss World looks beautiful is a given. But the debutante is an impressive dancer. Manushi plays Sanyogita with integrity. She stands for herself and her love. But her fight is humanistic, not feministic. Debuting in a historical film is not easy. One can make a fool of him/herself because of the lack of experience. It would be interesting to see how the actress goes about the roles in the future.

This is turning out to be the lengthiest review I have ever written but the film is as interesting to talk about as it is to watch. I hate to use the term technical aspects, for these aspects also tell a story. But let’s continue for ease of understanding. The production design is grand and detailed. So is costume design. It does not look like ‘kiraaye ke kapde’ for junior artists while the leads get designers. The makeup design is also minimalist which makes Sanyogita real as opposed to a wax doll.

Also read: ‘Fully satisfied that every single fact was checked multiple times!’: Prithviraj director Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi

The action of the film is remarkable. The high-speed (or slow-motion) shots don’t take forever to land for the effect. There’s genuine thought and attention to detail in the war scenes, especially the one between Prithviraj and Ghouri at Tarain Battlefield. The research is evident. The cinematography is thoughtful. Just because it is a historic epic, the camera doesn’t always stay aerial to show the grandeur. Instead, it stays intimate with the characters. The palaces look lived-in rather than just sets. It’s a well-edited film too. The narrative never meanders.

The only bad thing that could come out of Samrat Prithviraj – the film, is that it could be used by political parties and religious extremists to spread hate and divide between communities. That’s what I meant earlier when I wrote, it’s important what values we inherit from the legends we worship. There are many things to learn and ponder from Samrat Prithviraj – the last Hindu Emperor. And Samrat Prithviraj – the film, is worthy of a theatrical viewing. It’s an absolute epic!