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Interview Hindi

Only Arjun Kapoor fit the image of Sadashivrao 'Bhau': Ashutosh Gowariker

Filmmaker Gowariker explains why he chose to tell the story of a battle the Marathas lost, why he cast Arjun Kapoor in the lead, and why he did not collaborate with AR Rahman this time.

Keyur Seta

After having made a string of period films, Ashutosh Gowariker could be forgiven for wanting to tell a simple tale of today's times, taking place in a room one night between two characters. But, of course, he has ended up making yet another historical film, this time on the Third Battle of Panipat, no less. The film, simply titled Panipat, stars Arjun Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt and Kriti Sanon.

Though the battle ended in defeat for the Marathas, striking a body blow to the empire whose foundation had been laid a century earlier by the legendary king Shivaji, Gowariker believes the story needs to be told.

In a group interview ahead of the film's release, Gowariker explained why. He also defended his decision to cast Arjun Kapoor as the Maratha general Sadashivrao 'Bhau' and to not collaborate with the 'maestro of Madras' AR Rahman this time. Excerpts:

What was the reason for choosing this story?

We have always heard about the three battles of Panipat. Why is every battle happening in Panipat? It’s not a war destination. But Panipat is located on the outskirts of Delhi in the northwest such that every invader had to be stopped there before he could reach Delhi. I showed the Second Battle of Panipat in Jodhaa Akbar (2008).

This was not supposed to be a battle in Panipat. This was supposed to be an army travelling up north a thousand kilometres to stop an invader. They were approaching Delhi. But circumstances ensured that when [Ahmad Shah] Abdali came in they were on opposite sides of the Yamuna. It’s about how the chase happened across the Yamuna and how they reached Delhi, then north, and how finally they reached Panipat, where they were not supposed to reach, and the battle took place.

Arjun Kapoor in Panipat

It’s a very interesting and intriguing storyline, which we haven’t told because the battle was lost. We all like victories. But we also like tragedies. If we don’t like tragedies, how can we explain so many love stories where the hero and the heroine die in the end? We weep and go home saying, ‘That was a great tragic love story.’

So, this is a tragic battle story. In a warrior’s life there is always courage and battle. But what is it over here? This army consisted of Hindus, Muslims, Marathas of all castes, farmers, etc. It was just a blend, unification of a different kind. I found that very interesting.

Your film is bound to be compared with other historical films, including your own Jodhaa Akbar. What newness does this film bring?

The newness comes out of the theme, script or period. If I make Jodhaa Akbar, I know I will not make anything on Jehangir and Shahjahan because it’s done. When it comes to the British Raj, I am not interested in anything after 1857. So making that choice is very important.

Comparisons will always happen. If you compare it with your own film, it’s great. If you compare it with a previous hit film, that’s a natural thing too; you have to always welcome that.

I am doing the peshwa period. So, naturally, when you see the trailer, everyone will compare it with Bajirao [Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani (2015)] because you have seen it in that film. But the fact is that these people are descendants of Bajirao. It’s the next generation, after 20 years. So, the clothes and their house Shanivarwada have to be the same. The story is really what defines the different aspect of this movie.

Arjun Kapoor, Mohnish Bahl and Padmini Kolhapure

As you yourself said, the film will be compared with Bajirao Mastani. Have you thought about taking extra care to ensure that Arjun Kapoor doesn’t fall behind in comparison with Ranveer Singh?

Not at all, because when I had cast Hrithik Roshan [as the emperor Akbar in Jodhaa Akbar (2008)], people compared him directly with Prithviraj Kapoor (laughs). Mughal-e-Azam (1960) came 50 years ago. There was no connection! It [Jodhaa Akbar] was four generations later. So, I don’t think much about this. The character I have chosen for this film required Arjun Kapoor. Sadashivrao Bhau was a stubborn and large warrior. Only Arjun fit such an image as only he has the quality. Plus, he has never done a historical film.

You have regularly made historical films in which you are required to create a different world altogether. How challenging is it?

Whenever I finish making a historical, the first thought that comes to mind is that my next film will have only two characters, it will be a one-night story set in a single room in Switzerland. There will be no problems and we will complete the film in 18 days. Normally I take 100 to 125 days.

So when I start thinking about the story for my next film, I don’t think I will do a historical again. It is always the theme I try to look for, which inspires me. And that theme turns out to be history.

My treatment in Panipat is much more authentic. For example, nobody knows what happened between Jodha and Akbar inside their palace. So, I could do what I wanted to. But here I have tried to keep in mind the realistic and authentic portrayal of what happened in the entire journey.

Almost every time a historical film is released, someone or the other accuses it of being inaccurate or misleading. How do you prepare for such obstacles?

Every 10–15 years a new historian goes through the previous books and writes his own. Then people start questioning its content. The historian might say he has found two old letters which nobody had. Hence, there are such problems even among historians. I am a cinematic historian, but I am not a historian. I am a filmmaker trying to tell a chapter of history on screen.

Every history book is 400–500 pages long. You can’t portray it entirely in a film. But people will question you for retaining something and deleting something else. So I am prepared for people’s objections, questions and discussions because I have answers. I also don’t feel bad for having to explain because this history belongs to all of us. We all have a certain visualization of history. Mohenjo Daro (2016) didn’t live up to the Mohenjo Daro and Harappa civilization that is in the minds of people since childhood. That’s why the film didn’t work.

You have mostly collaborated with AR Rahman for your period films. But this time you opted for Ajay-Atul. Why?

Rahman is great. He would have researched and studied the Marathi milieu of the time and created the music. But I needed a Marathi-ness that was natural. Only Ajay-Atul have that. I had never worked with them. But I have been an admirer of their work.

I called up Rahman and told him that I have called to ask if he would allow me to sign another music director this time. He asked why do you need my permission. I said it’s because of our association. He said that’s sweet of you to ask but go ahead. Then he asked who is it. When I said Ajay-Atul, he said that’s an excellent choice and he himself has been an admirer of their work.