Being Compared to the Best: ‘Panipat’ Team on Bhansali
Panipat is an upcoming historical drama, based on the third battle of Panipat, which took place in 1761. It was fought between the Marathas Empire and invading forces of the King of Afghanistan, Ahmad Shah Abdali, supported by two Indian allies – the Rohilla Afghans of the Doab, and Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh. Directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar, the film stars Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon and Sanjay Dutt in the lead roles.
In a recent interaction with the media, Gowariker, Arjun and Kriti talked about the inevitable comparisons with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani, the challenges of bringing a period drama to life and more.
What was the inspiration behind Panipat?
Ashutosh: The city’s name, of course, and the three wars related to it. We know the basic stories of the first two wars – I even showed the second war in Jodhaa Akbar (2008). But there was not much information about the third war, and we never showed much interest in it either because that was a failure. Five or six years ago, I started reading about it and found it really inspiring. The story of valour, the story of Sadashiv Rao Peshwa, who led the Maratha army to stop the attack by Ahmad Shah Abdali and the entire expedition during it fascinated me. And then I thought, a film should be made on this, because we never read about it in school.
What kind of research went behind writing the screenplay for Panipat?
Ashutosh: Whenever I do research, I like to focus the most on history. I don’t believe in novels, because they are all fiction. And given that I am also trying to create fiction which is combined with facts, it is important that my facts are correct. That’s why, (for this movie) I am following TS Shejwalkar’s book Panipat 1761, which was written in 1946, and is the oldest account of the war. This is the main source of any information here. The information absorbed from this was turned into the screenplay. Now in screenplay, if you focus just on the history, the film will be of 12-15 hours because the material itself is that much. To reduce it to three hours was a challenge because deciding what to keep, what not to keep took us one-and-a-half years. So it was a tedious process. We tried to keep it as authentic as possible.
How was it working with Ashutosh for the first time?
Arjun: It’s good that he gives us so many details, because as an actor you rely on your director’s research. Now if I do my own research, it may start clashing with his perspective. I have to align with his research, his vision to tell the story. A story has many perspectives, and the way he explains his perspective patiently, it’s not that it’s unchangeable, he provides logic behind it. He will give you the reason behind why the character was like this, or the behaviour of the character. He gives you enough material to work with. I also love the fact that he’s so involved with the performance. He gives you the chance to act and present according to your understanding, and then tells you what he likes, and what can be tweaked. He sometimes keeps your narrative if he likes it. So I had fun.
Kriti: He pays attention to every small detail, Like in the ‘Mard Maratha’ song, there are so many people, and so many things happening and he will notice one small flag not moving at the back. So that is amazing to have that ability. His briefs are also very precise. For instance, in this song only, when I am lip-syncing to Sadashiv, he came and said, “Give me that smile which can make me feel that you have known him for a really long time.” And that was such a beautiful poetic description, which made it very easy for me to play that.
People are comparing the trailer with previous movies like Bajirao Mastani and Bhansali’s style. What do you have to say about that?
Ashutosh: Whenever a film comes out in the historical genre or comedy or action, it always gets compared to the previous one. But in our case, we chose a period which is just 20 years after Bajirao Mastani, so the costumes are similar, it’s the same Marathas, it’s the same Shanivar Wada. So it is natural that the first image people get after watching the trailer is of of Bajirao. We were prepared for it. At least we are being compared to the best.
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