On 6 December, two major films clashed at the box office. One was the modern twist to the 1978 hit classic ‘Pati Patni Aur Woh’ and the other was Panipat, directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. While the former, despite being hounded by critics, is on its way to become a ‘Super Hit’, the latter, despite being appreciated by some critics, fell flat on its face as it is on its way to become a disastrous flop.
Made on a budget of almost 100 crores, Panipat earned a little more than 4 crore rupees on the opening day. After that, on Saturday, it earned almost 6 crore rupees, and on Sunday the film earned more than 7.5 crore rupees. All in all, Panipat has earned Rs. 17.68 crores domestically and 5.4 crores approximately from international collections, which is abysmally low for a film worth 100 crores.
So what is the reason behind the string of flops by Ashutosh Gowariker? What happened that despite not being anti Maratha, Panipat flopped at the box office. There are many reasons behind the same, which need to be looked at.
One of the prime reasons behind the film tanking at the box office is the bizarre casting. If you’re choosing a villain, whose acting will undoubtedly leave the audience in awe, you need a hero to at least match him, if not supersede the same. However, by making Sanjay Dutt as Ahmad Shah Abdali and Arjun Kapoor as Sadashiv Rao Bhau, Ashutosh literally sealed the fate for his film.
While it is true that Ranveer Singh’s character of Alauddin Khilji was given more attention in Padmaavat, Shahid Kapoor, despite the limited impact of his role as Rawal Ratan Singh almost matched Ranveer Singh in his intensity, if not exceeded him. In comparison to the two, Arjun Kapoor looked completely out of place as Sadashiv Rao Bhau, forget even matching the intensity of the antagonist played by Sanjay Dutt.
Another reason behind Panipat being a flop is the way Ashutosh played with historical characters. Since Ashutosh couldn’t portray this film as anti Maratha, he decided to meddle in a subtle way with the facts. To quote an example, Parvati Bai was shown as a mere commoner, whereas she was the adopted daughter of Chhatrapati Shahu Maharaj, and since Sadashiv Rao Bhau’s body was never found after the battle, Parvati Bai refused to live as a widow until her death. She did not die mourning him as shown in the movie.
However, we forget that this is the same Ashutosh Gowariker, who is to Indian Cinema what Romila Thapar and S Irfan Habib, i.e. Distorian. Ashutosh Gowariker has distorted with facts in the name of cinematic liberty almost every single time. In Jodha Akbar, he showed Emperor Akbar as a tall, handsome hunk who remained committed to only Jodha Bai throughout his life.
While depicting the Chittagong uprising in ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’, Ashutosh not only changed the scene of the flag hoisting ceremony, but also reversed the result of the Jalalabad Hills battle, where he showed the revolutionaries as retreating, whereas it was the other way round. For the depiction of Indus Valley Civilization in ‘Mohenjo Daro’, the lesser we say, the better.
However, one of the major reasons behind the film flopping is the way Ashutosh depicted Maharaja Suraj Mal in Panipat. One of the few leaders to have supported Marathas before the Battle of Panipat, Maharaja Suraj Mal offered a practical solution to the problems of the Marathas. However, he was turned down for reasons best known to Sadashiv Rao Bhau.
However, Ashutosh Gowariker portrayed Maharaja Suraj Mal as a corpulent, opportunist buffoon, who was ready to even shelter people like Imad ul Mulk when it clearly wasn’t the case. To make matters worse, ‘Panipat’ gives no mention at all about the repentance of Suraj Mal when the wounded Maratha soldiers and the non-combatants escaped from the battlefield. Remorseful for not having helped the Marathas in the battle, Maharaja Suraj Mal ensured the safe passage of Marathas as they escaped the persecution of the Afghans and the scheming Rohillas. Following the discovery of the same, protests against the movie have intensified in Rajasthan and Haryana, with Vishvendra Singh, one of the descendants of the legendary warrior, demanding a ban for the same.
Now that Panipat has tanked as well, Ashutosh Gowariker should now go on a self introspection mode. He should also take a leaf from the regional directors, who at least keep the historical facts intact, even if they take a few cinematic liberties.