Arjun Kapoor is gearing up for the release of one of the toughest films of his career so far. The historical drama Panipat that highlights the battle between the Marathas and Afghan invader Ahmad Shah Abdali has generated a lot of curiosity and some controversies. Arjun plays Sadashiv Rao Bhau, leader of the Maratha army at the third battle of Panipat who is in conflict with Abdali played with menacing ferocity by Sanjay Dutt. The film, directed by period specialist Ashutosh Gowariker has been the subject of debate and discussion online and offline with a descendant of Peshwa Bajirao objecting to a certain dialogue of Kriti and on another note, critics pointing out the similarity between Bajirao Mastani and Padmavaat in its treatment. Arjun and Kriti themselves, have been subject of several memes ever since the trailer came out.
However, Arjun is focusing on the release which he says, has left him nervous and excited. But he has faith in the Lagaan director Ashutosh’s vision. “When you sign a historical film for which there is no reference point or identification, you have to follow the vision of one man – the director. I would rather do that than muddle it up adding my own bits to it. As an actor, it’s better to believe in his research and his belief. You have to cleanse your mind completely when you go to the sets to enter the mind-set of an 18th-century character.”
He admits that initially, it was a bit difficult to get under the skin of the character with the costumes and heavy-duty dialogues that usually come with the territory but over a period of time, they settled in well. “There were no mobile phones allowed, we are all completely immersed in the process. And then it became a lot more comfortable.”
Arjun Kapoor and Sanjay Dutt in Panipat
Arjun admits that he didn’t know much about the battles or the history that the film portrays. “I knew that there were three battles and other surface-level truths. But I haven’t lived the journey. In fact, once I read the script I was shocked that this part of history hasn’t been much elaborated upon. It was one of the biggest and longest battles ever fought. It was fascinating. Plus it was a patriotic film, the essence of which was that the army fought valiantly against the enemy.”
One of the criticisms that have been levelled against the film by some writers is that the film divides the narrative into the Us vs Them debate with the enemy side being shown in all black while the Marathas have been shown as valiant and heroic, sans any grey shades. History, after all, can’t be black and white and different perspective can show different truths.
Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon and Sanjay Dutt in Panipat
Arjun agrees, “History always will be subject to interpretation. But the balance should come from the way the story is portrayed. So our film isn’t about the Good guys vs the Bad guys nor does it follow any ‘Us vs Them’ narrative. It’s about the soldiers who went out of their way to defend their borders.”
The challenge for Arjun was to get the character note right. “To be straight forward, stern but not arrogant, a person who speaks his mind with a calm demeanour. To get that balance was the challenge for me,” says the actor who counts Braveheart, Gladiator, Crouching Tiger Hidden Tiger and Lagaan among his favourite period films.
Will the box office battle be won? Watch out for our review of Panipat on masala.com soon.