The trailer of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Panipat has raised a few eyebrows from across the border where the film’s villain Ahmad Shah Abdali is a revered hero.
When Allauddin Khilji was described as a vile man in the Deepika Padukone starrer Padmaavat, no alarm bells were raised in Afghanistan even though Khilji ruled there. The Khiljis were of Turkish origin though they adopted Afghan traditions and customs and were later known as Turko-Aghans.
But when the poster and trailer of the Ashutosh Gowariker directed film Panipat was released, Afghans who are traditionally friends of Indians — with Indian films being watched there and both the Indian as well as the Afghan Governments being on very friendly terms — expressed fears over how Ahmad Shah Abdali would be shown in the film. Abdali may have been the antagonist for the Marathas and for Indian history but he was the founding father of modern Afghanistan — the one who united all the tribes to form a new country.
Panipat’s trailer begins with a happy image of the Maratha empire, which soon shifts to the threat of Abdali. The Afghan emperor is described as a gruesome warrior, and the Marathas prepare to fight the ultimate battle.
Dr Shaida Abdali, ex-presidential candidate, Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India, who is also an alumni of Jawaharlal Nehru University, raised queries when Sanjay Dutt tweeted his picture as Abdali with a caption, ‘Death Strikes Where His Shadow Falls.’ “Dear @duttsanjay. Historically, the Indian cinema has been extremely instrumental in strengthening the Indo-Afghan ties – I very much hope that the film ‘Panipat’ has kept that fact in mind while dealing with this important episode of our shared history.”
While Dutt’s Twitter handle was merrily indulging in various replies to the actors and Twitteratti — there was no response to this one.
Our queries to Dutt, Gowariker and the film’s PR were unanswered at the time of going to the press as to how would Abdali’s depiction be in the film.
Soon after, various Afghans were up in arms on social media. “Hope Team Panipat does not manipulate history. The 3rd war of Panipat has dark status in the history of India while it was the golden era of Afghans,” wrote Samir Limar expressing his view.
Another Afghan was very vocal as he said that, “They are making this film against Ahmed Shah Baba!” Ahmad Shah Abdali is also revered as Ahmed Shah Baba in Afghan history and is known as a poet as well.
But according to Dr Avkash Jadhav, Head of History department, St Xavier’s College, a lot more is involved in bringing Abdali to India. Explaining the actual event, Avkash says, “This battle comes as part of the Peshwa history. When we look at this battle, it was very decisive in terms, as the Peshwas and Marathas were at their peak during this tenure.” According to the historian, the Rohilla, who were considered the Pathans, threatened Marathas. When defeated, the Rohilla appealed to Abdali and the Afghan warrior along with his son Taimur Shah turned up to help them.
But later Raghunath Rao led the Peshwas and defeated Timur, forcing him to return. “Now this entire incident of defeating Timur Shah was taken very personally by Abdali, and then, he stormed through India and ransacked Mathura and Delhi. And on the way, he engaged in national looting and arson,” adds Avkash. This is what triggered the third battle of Panipat, showcased in the film. Abdali defeated Sadashiv Rao Bhau, halting Maratha’s further advances in the north.
Indian history has always shown Abdali as an invader, right from school books to historic literature. But for Abdali, the battle of Panipat was a symbolic victory. Avkash explains, “Abdali, after defeating the Marathas, left the country, so for him the battle of Panipat was a very symbolic battle. He was not here to actually have any territorial gain.”
Filmmakers do have a level of creative freedom, but according to Avkash, who has also been a part of CBFC for historical film, feels that the onus of responsibility falls on the director. “Cinema can take liberty for entertainment, but it cannot take liberty for recreating history. And especially when you’re trying to showcase icons, or trying to put these historical characters in a particular shade. You have to be very careful, because many times, the masses learn history from this kind of entertainment. Of course there’s freedom in terms of entertainment, but the freedom also should be used with responsibility,” he says.
Sources inform us that the matter is now being pursued in the highest echelons of power to ensure that the Afghans have a dekho at the film before it is sent in for censorship. After all they want to know how Sanju Baba is as Ahmed Shah Baba!
—Trisha Ghoroi and Sanskriti Media