Let’s just call it Ashutosh Gowariker’s version of history, but even then Panipat: The Great Betrayal is a hard pill to swallow. The action starts from Shaniwarwada in Pune, the capital of the Maratha empire and moves on to Panipat - where the epic battle was fought. At 173 minutes, with an army of writers responsible for the dreary screenplay, Gowariker’s Panipat seemed to have lasted as long as the war.
To check the growing Maratha influence, the Afghan ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali (Sanjay Dutt) is called in by the Mughals. This leads Nana Saheb Peshwa (Monish Behl) to send his trusted Sadashivrao Bhau (Arjun Kapoor) along with his own son and cavalry to forge ahead to the north that eventually leads to the Third Battle of Panipat. But everything here is burdened with Gowariker’s overt preoccupation to glorify Maratha rulers and to eulogise their valour and love for Hindustan, never mind that the concept of a “nation state” as a whole came into being much later.
But for the purpose of convenience it’s us vs them - we on the side of the Maratha warriors and they the brutes. The biases amount to almost caricaturish portrayals of many of the royals who oppose the Marathas. Except for the introductory scene of Abdali with a dagger fight and an attempted assassination attempt that the emperor squashes with barbaric rage, Sanjay Dutt is mostly out of breath and trying to make sense of all that is happening around him moving laboriously in those velvet shrugs and elaborate headgear. His questions though are most handy especially for us viewers, who are struggling to fathom who is fighting whom and for what? Actor Mantra who is impressive as the dubious Najib-ud-Daulah supplies us with details .
Arjun Kapoor is a straight backed and wooden faced as Sadashivrao Bhau at war and during peace equally wooden and awkward around Kriti Sanon, his love interest who goes on to become his wife and the narrator of the tale. The absence of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s grand vision looms large in almost every frame and even if one ignores the terrible music, blaring background score and poor CGI, the fact that we never really connect with Sadashivrao and Parvati or his mission for a Maratha samrajya takes away from the over all impact of Panipat.
Panipat: The Great Betrayal as it’s called - feels like one too without the requisite emotional playoff or enough visually arresting scenes. In the end, it’s all reduced to a boring history lecture that lasts almost 3 hours.
My Rating: 1.5 Quints out of 5.
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