Dr. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi is synonymous with quality and historical accuracy. He is the man who gave us the spellbinding Chanakya in 1990, a series that is still remembered for its magnificence and can still be found streaming on a giant streaming platform like Amazon Prime Video. Dr. Dwivedi confirmed that Samrat Prithviraj was a script that he was working on for 18 years and that he couldn’t get it made earlier because he was not willing to make any compromises or dilute the content and the spirit that he believed was synonymous with the Hindu Samrat. I was pumped to watch this film even though everything about it told me that it was going to be another assembly-line product that ticked all the boxes necessary to be a Yash Raj Films (YRF) production.
Speaking of YRF, contrary to Dr. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi, YRF is fast becoming synonymous with producing and distributing films that are neither entertaining nor in keeping with the rich heritage and illustrious history of the production house. Their last 5 home productions were Thugs of Hindostan, War, Mardaani 2, Bunty Aur Babli 2, and Jayeshbhai Jordaar. That should tell you everything about why I was not at all excited about them producing an Indian historical epic where I wanted the emphasis to be on the politics and the wars that changed Indian history for ever and not so much on the romantic angle between the two protagonists. But I still had hopes from Dr. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi. Now that I have seen the film, I can say that I am deeply disappointed by it. It’s not that there isn’t anything positive about the film, but those positives are so few and far apart that they don’t make much of a difference in the end.
Before I dwell on my issues with the film, I would like to draw the attention of my readers to some of the things that I liked about the film.
The first 20 minutes of the film:
The first 20 minutes of the film caught me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to start the way it did, and it left a significant impact with how it introduced Samrat Prithviraj and what he was shown doing in this sequence. I just loved how the technical team dealt with this sequence and how efficiently they created the lions that looked eerily real. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lions turned out to be real. If that was the case, then the team should be heaped with even more praise for capturing and editing the sequence so well that the crevices were practically invisible. The background score in this sequence and the aura of the king that Akshay Kumar was able to bring out briefly compounded to leave a stunning impact.
The last 5 minutes before the interval:
The love story of the film proved to be nothing more than a “disc brake” on an otherwise smoothly purring narrative. Interestingly, it does have one high point and it comes right before the interval. The scene where we see Sanyogita (Manushi Chhillar) elope with Prithviraj (Akshay Kumar) in grand fashion brought a smile to my face. This scene was further elevated by the presence of veteran actors Ashutosh Rana and Sakshi Tanwar who made this portion interesting with their respective additions to this scene.
Gorgeous visuals and flawless technicalities:
I loved the way the entire film looked from start to finish. I was informed that this film was shot in 42 days but when you look at it, you do not feel that something as epic and laid out could have been shot in such a short time. The grandiosity of the Rajput life and its colorful aspects often find their way out on the screen. The grim existence of the antagonist is also brought out with efficiency, and it is not the caricature that is often made of what most Bollywood takes the Islamic invaders of India to be. Even the people in the background forming large gatherings have some character and are not ignored as mere pixels on the screen. The visual effects of the film are terrific. The best visual effects are the ones that you cannot spot and that is one aspect that the visual artists of Samrat Prithviraj take seriously. Sans one brief scene where the green screen becomes apparent, the film’s visuals remain on point throughout. The climax of the film and the first 20 minutes of it deserve special mention.
Having said all that, now I must dwell on all that the film gets wrong.
Too much to show in too less time:
Dr. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi commits the cardinal error of cramming too much narrative in a runtime that needed to be at least 30 minutes longer. That is only one of the problems with the narrative of the film. The bigger problem is that the story focuses too much on the romantic angle between Prithviraj and Sanyogita. It also spends a lot of time on the bits where we see Sanyogita stand up against her father, Jaychandra, and elope with Prithviraj. If that was not enough, we are then treated with prolonged sequences depicting the couple’s marital bliss. Then there are the sequences that show us how Prithviraj was a champion of women’s empowerment. I do not have any problem with these sequences but in the director’s unyielding desires to show the true essence of liberalism and equality enshrined in the moral fabric of the Hindu Samrat, he completely side-lines the interesting bits like the politics at play, the details of the wars that he fought against Ghori, how the various elements like Jaychandra’s enmity with Prithviraj proved to be a problem for him and a plethora of other interesting things.
Dr. Dwivedi also forgets to flesh out his antagonist and he doesn’t even try to make the audience aware of how long Ghori and several others like him were trying to tame the Hindu kingdoms of India. By doing this, Dr. Dwivedi alienates his audiences from the root cause of the invasions and thus robs them of any chance to connect with the actual cause that Prithviraj championed throughout his life. This also makes Prithviraj a lot less heroic and his fall a lot less heart-breaking, impactful, and meaningful. Dr. Dwivedi also side-lines the gruesome atrocities that Ghori had committed on Prithviraj and shows the monster as just another generic villain who borders on being bad as he wants to expand his territories and ran into a tussle with Prithviraj because he gave asylum to his brother who had eloped with one of his mistresses.
Too few action sequences:
There were three battles fought in Tarain that changed India for ever. A film about Prithviraj needed to have at least two of these battles renditioned in its glorious uncertainties and great detail. The strategies used by the two armies, the bravery of the men involved, the cunning ploys used by Ghori, and the spectacular replies to every move of his by Prithviraj were nowhere to be seen. The first battle was over within minutes and the second one is completely glossed over and ends in the most anti-climactic manner. I wasn’t too sure about the historical accuracy of this battle too. There aren’t any skirmishes in between to keep the action fans interested.
Akshay Kumar and his inability to be anyone else:
The kind of films that Akshay Kumar does are generally in strong keeping with his persona and never about people who we know of or have a specific image of. Sadly, in the case of Prithviraj (who was in all eventuality 26 years old when he died), Akshay’s performance falls flat. He is neither able to bring forth the charisma that was rumoured to be a signature character of the Hindu Samrat nor is able to infuse the necessary sense of urgency and physicality in the character. Thus, the protagonist that we get here never becomes special or memorable. Whatever little charisma he is able to extract is for the fact that we Indians have a larger-than-life image of the Samrat, and we were only using his rendition to somehow behold the man in flesh and blood. That notion is also swiftly marred in the film when we see Akshay break out into a full-fledged dandiya song when his “Samanths” are being butchered someplace else while defending his lands. That was truly a terrible editing choice.
Manushi Chhillar and her relentless poker face:
I would have ignored the limitations of Manushi Chhillar as this is her first film but the amount of time that her character is given in the film makes it impossible to ignore her performance. If you are given so much screen time and so many interesting aspects of a film have been sacrificed to give you that screen time, the least you can do is make it worthwhile for the audience. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. She looks comfortable in the song and dance routines but every time the camera pans on her face, we see nothing but two expressions throughout.
Not hard-hitting enough:
Yesterday, I watched Dr. Chandra Prakash Dwivedi and Akshay Kumar talk their lungs out on a entertainment show with Navika Kumar about how little we know about the Hindu kings and how much there is left for our generation to learn. Now that I look back, I haven’t learned anything new or novel from this film that I didn’t know earlier. Wasn’t it the responsibility of the director to make a film that told the audiences things about the king that they didn’t know all these years? Wasn’t it the responsibility of the makers to show the invaders for the monsters that they were instead of watering down their cruelty? Wasn’t it the responsibility of Akshay Kumar to enact Prithviraj in a befitting manner? These are questions that the makers of this film should ask themselves.
Samrat Prithviraj is a massive disappointment. This film could have redefined Indian cinema. They had the director, the actors, and evidently the technical prowess to pull off something as complicated, enormous, and important as this. Sadly, Samrat Prithviraj walks the same path that most of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Ashutosh Gowarikar’s historical epics do. That is its biggest tragedy.
Rating: 2.5/5 (2.5 out of 5 Stars)
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