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Samrat Prithviraj review: A predictable and boring piece of propaganda

Release Date: 03 Jun 2022 / Rated: U/A / 02hr 13min

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Roushni Sarkar

Directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi, the period film is visually appealing and features good performances by Sonu Sood and Ashutosh Rana.

The period drama Samrat Prithviraj (2022), directed by Chandraprakash Dwivedi, looks grand and epic. The film has a few riveting war sequences, too. However, the moment you realize that the sole intention of the film is to mythologize the titular 12th century ruler of Ajmer’s Chauhan dynasty as the protector of Hindus against Muslim invaders, the film becomes predictable and boring.

Samrat Prithviraj opens in the territory of sultan Muhammad Ghori (Manav Vij), showing the ruler giving his prisoner Prithviraj Chauhan (Akshay Kumar) a chance to save his life by proving himself a valorous fighter. The vanquished king, whose eyesight was taken away as punishment for not surrendering to the tyrant, proves his worth with his might and fearlessness, before collapsing on the ground.

As he lies in a semi-conscious state in the company of the faithful Chand Bardai (Sonu Sood), his court poet and friend who follows him like a shadow, the film launches into a flashback, depicting Prithviraj's rise and his final battle with Muhammad Ghori.

While Prithviraj’s reign was marked by numerous rivalries with neighbouring Hindu kings, the makers have focused solely on his conflict with Ghori as it marks a significant moment in the Islamic conquest of the Indian subcontinent.

In the film, the king’s first encounter with the sultan takes place when the latter’s brother seeks refuge in Prithviraj's court after eloping with one of his overlord’s concubines. While Prithviraj is advised by Kaka Kanha (Sanjay Dutt) to refrain from intervening in an internal rivalry, the king delivers a long speech on a 'Hindu' ruler’s responsibility to protect all those seeking shelter. In this monologue and several other instances, the king anachronistically speaks of protecting 'his country' from foreign rulers.

Prithviraj’s decision eventually leads to the first battle of Tarain with the sultan, in which the latter is routed. However, Prithviraj magnanimously sets him free, claiming to have fulfilled his 'dharma' as a protector.

Prithviraj is deeply in love with princess Sanyogita (Manushi Chhillar) of Kannauj despite having never seen her in person. Sanyogita is also besotted with the king after hearing stories of his bravery and prowess. She goes against the will of her father Jaychand (Ashutosh Rana) and eventually elopes with Prithviraj, following a dramatic course of events. As the incident stokes the existing political rivalry between Prithviraj and Jaychand, the latter conspires with Ghori to deliver Prithviraj alive to him.

While there can be innumerable debates about the veracity of the story, especially as it shows Prithviraj occupying the throne of Delhi before his final battle with the sultan, most historical accounts confirm that the warrior died long before Ghori’s death. However, to give the king a heroic death, the filmmaker has not only taken liberties in depicting the outcome of the final battle between him and the sultan, but has also depicted Prithviraj dying on a bed of arrows like Bhishma, the upholder of dharma, at the battle of Kurukshetra in the Mahabharata.

At the end of the film, a note by the makers states that after Prithviraj’s death, the 'Hindu country of India' was under foreign dominance for the next 700 years, adding to the propagandist tone. Every moment where Prithviraj flexes his muscles in the film is underscored by songs dedicated to Hindu deities. While raising his voice against Ghori’s autocratic ways, Prithviraj hardly mentions the common people’s misery and only highlights how temples were damaged and Hindu sentiments were hurt by the despot and his troops.

Apart from the blatant right-wing agenda, the film seeks to portray Prithviraj as a votary of women's empowerment and depicts Ghori as a misogynist but never mentions Prithviraj’s two other wives as documented by most historical accounts.

While Akshay Kumar goes overboard establishing his heroic abilities with his imposing physique and mannerisms, Manushi Chhillar fails to emote well in intense moments and has a flat dialogue delivery throughout.

The best dramatic performances in the film are delivered by Sonu Sood and Ashutosh Rana. The former lends soul to the film while showing his attachment to the king. Rana’s rage and frustration make him riveting to watch.

Manush Nandan’s cinematography, the sleek visual effects and Subrata Chakraborty’s production design convincingly recreate an era of opulence and stunning architecture. Like many previous propagandist period films, the Hindu kingdom's palaces are depicted with brightly lit interiors and a riot of colours while the Muslim rulers inhabit dark houses, wearing clothes of grey shades. The idea sometimes backfires, as the attire of Sanyogita often looks too modern for the mediæval era.

While the background score elevates the heightened spirit of the film, some of the songs only add to its masala quotient. Sanyogita dancing to the Sunidhi Chauhan number 'Yoddha' before immolating herself is so ridiculous as to be funny.

Aarif Sheikh’s seamless editing has lent the film a compact length in accordance with its simplistic approach to storytelling.

The visual appeal does not redeem this biased portrayal of history. While the predictable progression takes away the anticipation built around the stunning action sequences, which are the only intense moments of the film, the superficial characterization prevents the film from transporting viewers to a historical period.

Samrat Prithviraj was released in theatres today.


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