• Sunday, June 26, 2022


Even with Hindutva at its peak in India, Bollywood film on a popular Hindu king failed: Twitter ridicules

Akshay Kumar (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Shubham Ghosh

THERE could not have been a better time than this for the film to deliver.

Yet, ‘Samrat Prithviraj’ failed to set the box office on fire.

The film is about a 12th century Hindu king who stole a beautiful princess, who had professed her love for the man, from right under her father’s nose. He also fought in sweeping battles and has remained till today a symbol of the valour of the Rajput, one of India’s best known martial races.

Prithviraj is often called “the last great Hindu emperor” and besides his love story, his two battles with Muhammad Ghori, a Muslim invader from the present-day Afghanistan, feature prominently in the history books.

The king has been portrayed by Akshay Kumar, one of Bollywood’s most popular heroes who have fans both in India and abroad. The man, who has done a number of films in the recent years around themes such as nationalism and patriotism, recently said that playing Prithviraj was “a matter of pride” for him and that if his mother was alive, she would have been very proud.

But ‘Prithviraj’ has not delivered and it was shocking for many as India currently is undergoing a transformation socio-politically towards a saffron-hearted state.

The makers of the ‘Prithviraj’ still could not make it work. And that despite Amit Shah, India’s home minister, and Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and one of the Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) poster boys, giving the film a thumbs up.

Reviewers called Kumar’s film “soulless”, “tedious” and “dreary”. One critic termed the film as “simplistic, shorn of nuance, a film that is loud and lurid”.

It turned out so poorly that the cinema halls started cancelling shows due to disappointing sales of tickets and ‘Prithviraj’, who many thought would have sparked yet another moment of Hindu pride, tanked.

So what went wrong with the film which should have done excellently at a time when a pro-Hindu wave is sweeping India?

There was a lot of buzz on social media ahead of the release of ‘Prithviraj’ with Kumar controversially saying that “history textbooks are filled with information on Mughal invaders, but have little on the glory and valour of Hindu kings such as Prithviraj Chauhan”.

It was not too unexpected from the actor who in recent times has grown close with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and his party. A few years ago, Kumar was ridiculed for asking the PM whether he ate mangoes and how he ate them – by chopping or by sucking?

The BJP gave Kumar its love back when ‘Prithviraj’ released. Three Indian states ruled by the saffron party made the film tax-free so that more people would see it by paying less prices on tickets.

Shah, who saw the film with Kumar at a special screening, even said that the film is an important part “in the journey of India’s cultural revival which will take the country back to its glory days”.

According to the historians and experts, the film showed inaccuracies and critics slammed the project only as an extension of the BJP’s anti-Muslim one. They said the Kumar-starrer is the latest in the list of films that have been made in times of the BJP’s rule in India to show the Muslims as “outsiders” and “cruel” people.

Tampering with historical facts was not appreciated by many and historian Arup Banerji told BBC that one “can’t judge historical writings by the standards of our time” and “these writings were mostly panegyrics, written to glorify the leaders and rulers”.

According to him, films are made now to cater to a particular audience and they have a specific purpose – “a politically-conscienctising role” and the spectators that go to see Bollywood period films do not look for historical accuracy.

Yet, according to Banerji, history has complexities that can not be just shown in the light of a Hindu-Muslim binary.

“Prithviraj was fighting a war concerned with protecting his territory, he was not fighting Muslim invaders. To get to Delhi, the Turks from the west had to come via Rajasthan, his territory, so resistance was unavoidable for him, it was an accident of history. So he cannot be recruited into a camp now to serve the interests of the current ruling party,” Banerji added.

When asked whether Bollywood filmmakers inclined to Hindutva found Prithviraj someone suitable for the screen, Banerji said, “They are co-opting figures from history and it’s a part of BJP’s ever-advancing campaign to colonise people’s cultural beliefs. The aim of this film is to capture people’s imagination, so they want to show Hindus who were victorious over Muslims.”

Twitter also trolled ‘Prithviraj’ brutally over its failure to make a mark even in an environment conducive to Hindutva.

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