If there was a contest for who was the Romila Thapar of Indian cinema in terms of distorting Indian history on silver screen, Ashutosh Gowariker would’ve been the undisputed winner of the same. From portraying Akbar as a handsome, monogamous hunk in ‘Jodhaa Akbar’, to making a laughing stock of Bengali revolutionaries in ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’, and scripting his own history of the Indus Valley Civilization in ‘Mohenjo Daro’, Ashutosh Gowariker is to Indian cinema what Romila Thapar is to Indian history.
As such, it doesn’t come as a surprise when Ashutosh Gowariker decided to meddle with historical facts once again in his recent flick ‘Panipat – The Great Betrayal’. While he stayed true to the essence of Marathas being the better side ideologically, he did his best in order to impose his own ideology over the actual facts. From introducing extremely awkward dance steps to portraying Parvati Bai as a mere commoner when she wasn’t, you name it and Ashutosh Gowariker.
However, he went literally overboard as he represented Maharaja Suraj Mal, the powerful Jat ruler who played an important role in the politics surrounding the Battle of Panipat. Also known as Sujan Singh, Maharaja Suraj Mal was the most powerful ruler of the agrarian Jat community, who commanded a significant presence in the region of the North-Central India. He not only kept the Mughals limited to the region of Delhi, but also whacked the Rohillas and the rulers of Awadh at will. As such, it was natural for the Marathas to ask his help when Ahmad Shah Abdali set his eyes on India.
Maharaja Suraj Mal was also ready to help, but he couldn’t come to terms with the commander of the Maratha forces, Sadashiv Rao Bhau. Sadashiv Rao was chosen over his elder cousin Raghunath Rao to command the Maratha forces, and unlike Raghoba [Raghunath Rao], Sadashiv had no knowledge of the complex politics of Northern India. As such, Maharaja Suraj Mal was the only man who could offer sound advice to the Maratha faction. Moreover, he had a sizeable army of his own, acquainted with the war tactics of Rohillas, the Awadhis as well as the Afghans. If he had allied with the Marathas, our history would’ve been different altogether.
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. Imad ul Mulk was the Wazir of the Mughal Empire, who had replaced the Rohilla chieftain Najib ud Daula in 1759. However, the power greedy Imad Ul Mulk resorted to his own tactics and soon enough, he murdered the Mughal king Alamgir II in order to gain power in Delhi.
While it is true that the issue of Imad ul Mulk became a bone of contention for the Jats and the Marathas, it was never the case that the Jats were ready to shelter the wily Imad ul Mulk. 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.
This is not the first time however that Ashutosh Gowariker has distorted history in order to propagate his secular ideology. In ‘Jodhaa Akbar’, he portrayed Akbar as a tall, handsome hunk who remained committed to only Jodhaa Bai throughout his life.
In ‘Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey’, based on the Chittagong uprising, he not only changed the scene of the flag hoisting ceremony from the Police Lines to the British Cantonment, but also showed the revolutionaries running away from the Battle of Jalalabad, even when it is proved beyond doubt that it was the British who were defeated by the revolutionaries. For the depiction of Indus Valley Civilization in ‘Mohenjo Daro’, the lesser said the better.
Dear Ashutosh Gowariker, it is not bad to take cinematic liberties. Makers like Tigmanshu Dhulia and Ram Madhvani depicted historical characters without going overboard in taking creative liberties. What is bad is the moment when you start distorting facts and figures to your own advantage, which is unacceptable. If some sense prevails in Ashutosh Gowariker, he should better not plan a visit to Haryana right now.