The problem with the way history is taught is that it always remains factual. In detailing the events, it never explores the beautiful and often ironic cause of the events — human emotions. The problem with the way history is recounted ( grandparents to children), is that it remains largely moral and idealistic. It misses the nuances of ethics as it obsesses with valour. Panipat, which tries to imbibe the contrasting benefits of both fails to be either.
The movie tries to detail everything that lead to and happened during the battle- courtship, promises of fealty and the great betrayal. But it doesn’t explore the complex human emotions that turned the tide of the events. The characters are one-dimensional. Leaving no space for nuances. Sadashiv Rao who leads the battle is a perfect man. Strong, intelligent and kind.
Arjun Kapoor might lend Sadashiv Rao the grace of a Peshwa and the physicality of a warrior, but he does not portray the larger-than-life aspects that the script needs. Kirti Sanon, on the other hand, does not render Parvati Bai any grace. Her interpretation is too urban, too modern and too jarring. Sanjay Dutt, playing the antagonist Ahmad Shah Abdali, is lucky enough to have some complexity. This King is not the Muslim stereotype. But his performance is disappointingly derivative of himself.
Given the weak performances of the lead and supporting cast, and an uninventive screenplay, the story falls short of becoming grand — a factual fable. The battleground is too quiet. The promised great betrayal is barely a shock. The messaging about religious unity looks forced. The simplistic dialogue does not match the opulence of the sets. Neither the music nor the camerawork elevates the story. Director Ashutosh Gowariker’s vision is too simple.
He misses on many things. Like the glaring fact that the honourable warriors who united for their idea of Hindostan (a Mughal empire) and lost their lives did so because of two cunning kingmakers. Or more importantly that it was Sadashiv Rao’s obstinate views on duty and honour behind this battle for a small piece of land. Which paved the way for Britishers to colonize the entire subcontinent.
The beautiful irony that may be doing the morally right thing is not always the right thing to do. An irony that the movie itself succumbs to.