Samrat Prithviraj: Braveheart emperor turns lackluster

Akshay Kumar and Manushi Chhillar in Samrat Prithviraj. Photo: Yash Raj Films

A film based on the life of Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan, the valiant warrior king who lost out to a malicious invader partly due to his principles, should have emphasized on the king’s valor, his unique sense of patriotism and his determined approach as a ruler. There should have been a sense of drama, even larger-than-life, as the emperor of the 12th century was such a persona from whatever little we know of him.

Instead, we get a flat and uninspiring tale that hardly does justice to his greatness. We even get a filmi honeymoon song and an absurd pre-jauhar sequence, apart from some needless ‘comedy’ in the sequences of his old uncle, Kaka Kanha (Sanjay Dutt). Come to think of it, poor Kaka is blindfolded for a reason that is at odds with Prithviraj (Akshay Kumar)’s forward thinking in other matters like gender equality, respect to enemies and opposition to regressive Kshatriya patriarchic traditions.

In the last 15 years, we have witnessed many a patriotic historical film, mostly treated in a larger-than-life manner, like Jodhaa Akbar, Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat, Panipat and Tanhaji—The Unsung Warrior. There should have been a cerebral analysis of these movies before attempting yet another mega-budget war-cum-romantic drama.

Why Padmaavat and Tanhaji… worked big time, and Bajirao Mastani is still cherished, while Jodhaa Akbar did only modest business and Panipat did not work should have all been object lessons in not just how to present history but also dramatize it for quality as well as popular appeal. The resonance with emotional chords present to an extent even in Jodhaa Akbar and Panipat is missing totally here. All that we are left with is an occasional flash of substance, like when Prithviraj defends his wife’s status in his darbar or when Sanyogita (Manushi Chhillar)’s father Jayachandra (Ashutosh Rana) finally regrets his actions.

The character of Prithviraj’s loyal right-hand-cum-astrologer, Chand Bardai (the film is mainly based on the poem Prithviraj Raso by the real Chand Bardai) as played by Sonu Sood, becomes a shade incredible with his prophecies. Worse, the fact that he seems to have unusual freedom as a prisoner in Ghori’s fort seems more than a shade ludicrous. Though Sonu Sood does leave a distinct impression.

That the film employs the flashback mode makes no difference as there is nothing to engage the viewer almost throughout the narrative, and even the romance is lukewarm. The opening and closing sequences are VFX-driven and do not really thrill or grip. The opposition to the Prithviraj-Sanyogita romance is as stereotyped as they cinematically come, and we are not made privy to how Prithviraj comes to know of her svayamwar and arrives there in the nick of time to take her away. Later, there are some clichés uttered about why Prithviraj chose her and reciprocated her letters, sent to him when she did not even know him personally and they had not met.

The emperor and his soldiers declare wars almost casually in a let’s-have-a-party-tomorrow-Yeah-Great! mode and the battle sequences are as predictable as night following day. The villain, Mohammed Ghori (Manav Vij) looks like a mild, harmless and near-middle-aged man who can be insulted or deceived at will, more than like the cruel and unscrupulous butcher that he was—a huge case of miscasting.

Every on-screen clash—emotional or dramatic—lacks the intensity and fire we should have even in a contemporary drama, forget a historical. This is genre, after all, where from classic Hollywood to India, we have had spectacular face-offs, come Sikander (1941), Mughal-E-Azam (1960) or Tanhaji… (2020). The over-obsession with accuracy (which is questionable in some sequences that could not have possibly been precisely documented) leads to a lack of dramatic impact as well as looseness in the scripting itself.

Akshay Kumar does his very best in the constrained setup and goes subtler than usual, but he does not really evoke awe as the emperor, thanks to the inept scripting and direction. No fault at all, then, of the versatile superstar for being not half as effective as even in the mediocre Bachchan Pandey, his last outing. Manushi Chhillar’s lackluster expressions and performance hardly portend a great Hindi film career as of now. Sanjay Dutt is okay despite his clownish-meets-suddenly-serious character. Saakshi Tanwar and Rajendra Gupta are wasted. Ashutosh Rana and Manoj Joshi are back to being clichéd after a long while.

Director-writer Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s work is a far cry from his earthy and gritty Pinjar almost two decades ago. And this again shows that the three solid legs of a film are script, direction and, later, editing, for editor Aarif Sheikh in any case could do little with the languid material at his disposal.

Technically, the cinematography (Manushnandan) is good, but the VFX generally looks overdone and tacky at the same time. The action is alright, nothing we have not seen before, and the production design (Subrata Chakraborty & Amit Ray) decent. Sanchit and Ankit Balhara score loud and clichéd background music.

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s songs go the modern (that is, with a catchy hook) way and do not leave any impact. Despite good singers like Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghoshal and Neeti Mohan, the songs are forgotten as soon as they are over. Varun Grover’s lyrics fail to evoke the right moods or emotional reactions.

And that is precisely what is wrong with the entire film.

Rating: **

Yash Raj Films’ Samrat Prithviraj  Produced by: Aditya Chopra Directed & written by: Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi Music: Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy & Alap Desai Starring: Akahsya Kumar, Sanjay Dutt, Manushi Chhillar, Sonu Sood, Ashutosh Rana, Manav Vij, Manoj Joshi, Digvijay Rohidas , Samar Singh Rathod, Lalit Tiwari & others






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