Before the release of Panipat, we look back at Ashutosh Gowariker's films.
For many viewers, Ashutosh Gowariker's claim to fame will forever remain Lagaan. The 2001 cricket drama ushered in a new blockbuster era. Nominated for Oscar, it was just as influential in furthering the career of its leading man. By some reckoning, it was only after Lagaan that Aamir Khan discovered the unique art of PR blitz. Gowariker's other famous film is Swades. It released three years after Lagaan and though universally acclaimed (certainly counted among SRK's best movies), the lacklustre box-office broke its director's heart. Before Lagaan, Gowariker was primarily known as an actor and the films he had made were middling, at best. But Lagaan propelled him into the A list. Another upshot was that he got interested in history, or so he has claimed. Never a history buff, he told The Telegraph recently, "After Lagaan I started enjoying the creation of another world, another era, seeing a lifestyle that’s very different and far removed from how we lead life today." Which is strange, because most historians called Jodhaa Akbar, a 2008 costume drama starring Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan, 'historically inaccurate', even as Rajput outfits protested and turned the simple release of a film into a needless, drawn-out controversy. Critics carped that even 2016's Mohenjo Daro was nothing like the Indus Valley civilisation it hoped to bring to life.
For his ninth film as a director, Gowariker returns to a familiar terra firma that he has tilled most of his life. The eagerly-awaited Panipat is a period piece, based on the third battle of Panipat. Sidestepping friend Hrithik Roshan this time (blame it on the Mohenjo Daro fiasco), Gowariker has cast Arjun Kapoor as the Maratha warrior Sadashiv Rao Bhau while Sanjay Dutt, whose agent-of-evil Kancha Cheena brings back all the menacing memories from Agneepath, is once again poised to turn in a memorable baddie act. Dutt plays a battle-hardened Afghan invader in the new film. He has also given regular collaborator A R Rahman a break, teaming up with Marathi music director duo Ajay-Atul. That is understandable given the film's Marathi flavour.
Going by Ashutosh Gowariker's record so far, expect Panipat to face controversies and divide opinions as it goes gently into the Friday. Meanwhile, for those wanting to catch the period spectacle on December 6, here's a little primer on the filmmaker (who was once a popular face in countless 90s hits starring mainly Aamir and Shah Rukh Khan). We have got every Gowariker film ranked. Read on.
8. Mohenjo Daro (2016)
Hrithik Roshan's second collaboration with Gowariker after Jodhaa Akbar, Mohenjo Daro is a colossal failure of imagination, made both worse by a simplistic treatment of history and totally unbearable by Roshan's accent. (He plays a farmer who arrives into Indus Valley as its proverbial saviour.) Compared to it, the Patna cadence in the more recent Super 30 was pure Shatrughan Sinha.
7. What's Your Raashee? (2009)
What's Your Raashee? starring Priyanka Chopra and Harman Baweja.
Horoscope for those who were subjected to this drivel: your time at the movies today will be far from fun. Horoscope for Gowariker: Your idea is workable, but what went wrong? What's Your Raashee? has Priyanka Chopra in 12 avatars. Usually, the redoubtable star can pack a mean punch in just one role. But twelve? All of them duller than the last.
6. Pehla Nasha (1993)
Pehla Nasha marked Ashutosh Gowariker's debut as a director.
With a title pinched from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar's hit romantic song, Gowariker's debut reimagines Deepak Tijori as an actor, in what is clearly a tedious rehash of Brian de Palma's Body Double. For nostalgia hunters, there's a scene which brings together Aamir, Shah Rukh and Saif Ali Khan along with heartthrob Rahul Roy, going all meta on Baazigar and Parampara. Turns out Tijori's wannabe hero was dreaming.
5. Baazi (1995)
Baazi starred Aamir Khan in the lead role.
A predecessor for Sarfarosh's ACP Rathod, Baazi's Amar (Aamir Khan) is an honest cop squaring up against a dreaded assassin (played by Mukesh Rishi who, in an unusual move, became a positive character in Sarfarosh, the police officer Salim who packs a patriotic punch with, "Phir kabhi kisi Salim se mat kehna yeh mulk uska ghar nahin hai.") There's a streak of patriotism in Baazi that Gowariker built into his latter-day period epics and Panipat is another prime example of it.
4. Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (2009)
Based on Manini Chatterjee’s book Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34, the film follows Surya Sen (Abhishek Bachchan) as he and his band of revolutionaries lead an armoury raid against the British. Gowariker's epics are usually long. But at three hours, KHJJS especially tests your patience. The presence of mainstream stars like Abhishek and Deepika doesn't help beyond a point.
3. Jodhaa-Akbar (2008)
Riveting and well-cast, Jodhaa Akbar is Gowariker's answer to everything that Sanjay Leela Bhansali stands for. In a Telegraph interview, Gowariker described himself as a "cinematic historian." So, if you are expecting an accurate history lesson from a self-styled cinematic historian, you have walked into a wrong film. Watch Jodhaa Akbar for the stunning chemistry between title characters played by Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan, and larger-than-life detailing.
2. Swades (2004)
Shah Rukh Khan has spent the 1990s working up NRI nostalgia in his career's biggest hits. But Swades' Mohan Bhargava is not your typical Raj or Arjun from DDLJ and Pardes. Instead of enjoying the American Dream, NASA engineer Mohan opts to return to India and work in a village to help bring it electricity. One of SRK's finest performances is also his least ostentatious and credit must go to Gowariker, who wilfully keeps King Khan's celebrated mythology and shiny glamour in check. An intuitive actor, Khan lights up Swades with an endearing simplicity that we thought went missing after Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa and Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman.
1. Lagaan (2001)
Lagaan proved cricket and patriotism makes for a heady cocktail.
Surveying Gowariker's filmography, one thing is clear: he embraced patriotism long before Bollywood got bitten by that bug. And no film of his delivers the jingo byte more sharply than Lagaan. Because the poor, dhoti-clad Indian villagers rise above caste and religion to beat the suited-booted British at their own game. As Kulbhushan Kharbanda's Raja Puran Singh says, just before the Indian side goes out into the field, "Dhajjiyan udaa do inn firangiyon ki." Yes, cricket and patriotism makes for a heady cocktail. To use the Lagaan lingo, equally potent is 'Kachra's firki' and Arjan's battlecry 'Aaa aaa.'