- Also, two things go against the movie — one is Akshay Kumar’s distinct Punjabi accent and the other is his 54-year-old face.
My mother was from Rajasthan. She would tell us of the amazing love story of Sanyogita/Sanyukta and Prithviraj Chauhan, a valiant king of the 12th century. Today, I shed the coat of forgetfulness and traced my steps back down the hazy stairwell of time. The stairs were splintered but the light shone brightly in my mother’s room. She held up a miniature painting of Prithviraj on horseback holding his lovely wife after her swayamvara.
As the mist cleared, the details of this fascinating saga of romance, and war became apparent. As per the legend, the fierce Mughal Sultan Ghori attacked Delhi 17 times and was defeated 16 times by Prithviraj Chauhan and his army. I also remembered dreaming (as a young girl) of being swept off my feet like Sanyukta by my own knight in shining armor, and I hoped against hope that the movie “Samrat Prithviraj” would have a happy ending.
“Samrat Prithviraj” starring Akshay Kumar and Manushi Chillar is based on ‘Prithviraj Raso’ penned by Chand Bardai, Chauhan’s court poet. The movie opened in theaters on June 3 and is written and directed by Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi. Distributed by Yash Raj Films (YRF), the movie is the first-period drama for Akshay Kumar. Manoj Vij plays Ghori, the Sultan of Ghurid Empire (Afghanistan). After the first triumphant battle of Tairan, Prithviraj is declared the ruler of Delhi. This has a two-prong effect. The beautiful princess of Kannauj falls in love with Chauhan but her father Jaichand the king of Kannauj (Ashutosh Rana) becomes jealous of Chauhan.
Jaichand performs the Rajsuya Yagya to establish supremacy over other Rajput kings but Prithviraj ignores this. The relationship between Jaichand and Prithviraj Chauhan is strained. He holds his daughter’s swayamvara but does not invite the brave Prithviraj to attend. To add insult to injury, he installs a statue of Prithviraj as a doorman. But Sanyogita has already given her heart to Chauhan, so she garlands the statue. Prithviraj appears on horseback and carries Sanyogita to his palace where they are married.
The angry Jaichand forms an alliance with Muhammad Ghori and extends his military support to Ghori’s army to attack Delhi. A deadly battle ensues and this time Prithviraj loses the war and is captured by Ghori. Sanjay Sood in the role of the loyal poet Bardai all the way to the end of the movie is commendable. Sanjay Dutt brings his unique (though out of place) humor to the narrative as Kaka Kanha. Manushi Chillar (in her debut role) is appealing as the bold princess of Kanauj.
The movie is well scripted. The period costumes are well curated. Dwivedi portals us straight into the heart and soul of his protagonist with a dramatic opening gladiator-style fight sequence between Akshay and a lion?! As expected there are many skirmishes but the plot falters trying to do justice to the romantic portion of the story with song and dance sequences that detract from the hero’s journey. The cinematography is decent. Shankar Ehsan Loy’s music is not spellbinding. Perhaps this story would have been made into two films. One is an astonishing love story of the young Prithviraj and Sanyukta. Another showcasing the last brave Hindu King, fighting valiantly on the battlefield to defy the Muslim occupation of Hindustan.
Films like “Samrat Prithviraj” and “Padmavat” underpin the communal divide between Hindus and Muslims by portraying Ghori and Khilji respectively as uncivilized brutes. Liberties were taken in “Prithviraj” by the generous unfurling of saffron flags, and war cries like Har-Har Mahadev to invoke Hindu sentiment. Although Dwivedi does make it clear that the last Hindu king fell to the hands of invaders due to infighting and treachery among the Rajputs, he does not spare to stoke the flames of nationalism. Another aspect that makes my skin crawl is the deplorable depiction of Sati and Jauhar as acceptable among the brave Rajput men and women. I wish they would stop doing that! History bears witness that it is not wise to play with sensitive communal issues and keep the stories as close to facts as possible because these are sensitive issues and people may take offense like the Marathas did to the dance sequence in “Bajirao Mastani.”
Last but not least is Akshay Kumar as the young Prithviraj. I have followed Akshay’s prolific film journey (1987 to date) from an action hero to his heartwarming comedy roles, to serious movies with a message. He is very talented and has a mass appeal. I have enjoyed watching his acting in “Hera Pheri,” “Housefull” series, “Rustom,” “Pad Man,” “Jolly LLB” and “Good Newwz.”
Akshay Kumar is a serious and sincere actor. It is apparent that the veteran actor has worked hard for this biopic too but two things go against his performance in this movie. One is his distinct Punjabi accent and the other is his 54-year-old face (not necessarily his sinewy body). But Akshay Kumar is evergreen and I wish him luck with this movie.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.