The recently released ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’ has hit the jackpot at the box office. Based on the legendary exploits of Maratha braveheart Subedar Tanaji Malusare, the Om Raut directed historical drama has won the hearts of audiences and critics alike. The film has earned a whopping total of almost Rs. 119 crores from the domestic box office and has earned Rs. 152 crores worldwide, making ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior a clean ‘Box Office Hit’ as per the observations of many trade analysts.
Tanhaji has earned accolades from almost all corners for its various aspects, be it the fabulous acting, or the goosebumps inducing music, or even the marvelous visual effects. Ajay Devgn and Saif Ali Khan have garnered the lion’s share of appreciation for their respective roles of Subedar Tanaji Malusare and Uday Bhan Rathod respectively. However, very few people have focused upon the fact that the writers of this movie have also given one of the most authentic portrayals of the Mughal tyrant Aurangzeb: a deeply religious man with no moral compass.
Aurangzeb has been portrayed in this movie by Luke Kenny, an Anglo Indian actor who has projects like ‘Rock On’, ‘Sacred Games’, and ‘Inside Edge’ to his credit. The way he has essayed the Mughal tyrant on screen, it has certainly made many intellectuals go green with jealousy. If you don’t believe me, see this excerpt from a ‘woke’ review for yourself –
“The Marathas, with a few exceptions, are valiant, noble warriors who sacrifice their lives for their motherland. The Mughals are largely avaricious usurpers who demand ‘jaat’ and ‘jaan’. They are described as ‘darindey’ and ‘mauka parast’. The clash of good and evil is played out in 3D, in an unapologetically artificial, digitized world. The battle scenes seem straight out of a video game. But Om doesn’t give you time to question the history or the questionable politics or the one-dimensional storytelling. He immerses you in a quick-paced adventure that skillfully combines spectacle, nationalism and hyper-masculinity. As storytelling, Tanhaji is rousing and effective.
Subedar Tanhaji Malusare is the ultimate mard Maratha – he twirls his moustache and ferociously leads his men into battle even when they are drastically outnumbered. He goes up against Aurangzeb’s Rajput general Udaybhan. Uday is a sadist who kills for amusement. In one scene, he screams so loudly that a man topples to his death. It is fitting that the fight between Tanhaji and Uday pivots on a phallic symbol – a canon called Nagin that is pointed at the fortress of Shivaji Maharaj.”
Frankly speaking, this outburst from the ‘woke’ intellectuals wasn’t entirely unexpected, since the portrayal of Aurangzeb hit the nail right on the head. If you wondered what Aurangzeb was knitting in the trailer sequences, it was his actual profession that gave him his daily bread and butter. Aurangzeb lived an extremely austere life as he used to sew skull caps with his own hands apart from selling handwritten copies of the holy Quran for his living. He never took anything from the state exchequer for his personal expenses.
Contrary to the expectations, Aurangzeb in Tanhaji is not a tall, well built handsome hunk, but an opportunistic, devious ruler who sewed skull caps for his own living, but had no qualms in robbing people of their daily earnings and their pride, as shown brilliantly in many movie sequences. As the narrator of the movie, Sanjay Mishra has described Aurangzeb very well – a tyrant who believed well in the concept of Divide and Rule.
For now, it would be hard to find another cinematic portrayal of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb, which is as authentic as that in ‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’. Aurangzeb and his ancestors belonged primarily from Uzbekistan, who were mostly of medium height, owing to their Mongoloid origins. Their personalities were far what could be termed as attractive, and they rarely kept long hair, which is skillfully portrayed by Luke Kenny in the movie, despite the fact that he is slightly taller than the historical character he portrayed on screen. For those, who almost deify Aurangzeb to nauseating levels, such a realistic, ‘no holds barred’ portrayal would obviously be nothing less than criminal for them.
A dialogue in this movie depicts the tyranny of the Mughal Empire very well, as spoken by Ajay Devgn, who said, “Your womenfolk can’t walk out freely during daytime. Your livestock is robbed from you in broad daylight. You can’t even chant the name of Shri Ram in mourning, how are you even alive? While Alamgir destroys Kashi Vishwanath, Uday Bhan is killing Kashi!”
It need not be explained as to how portals like The Quint, The Logical Indian or even The Wire would’ve felt on such a blunt portrayal of the Mughal tyrant. At one place, the Logical Indian writes, “Laughable to the ones well-read and aware, these ‘histories’ are sinister and pervasive with a growing constituency of Indians who consume these figments of Hindutva-inspired imagination as hard and fast truths. RSS stalwarts have time and again called for the ‘rewriting’ of history and the most recent statement of this fashion came from the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah – who called for a revision of history from an ‘Indian standpoint’.
Therefore it is not too hard to draw a parallelism between BJP’s ascent to power and the rise of jingoist Hindi cinema. Old and watched: Bajirao Mastani, Padmaavat, Manikarnika, Kesari; the newly-released and upcoming: Panipat and Tanhaji; audiences are being fed historically and chronologically inaccurate tales that are ‘retold’ versions meant to steer nationalistic sentiments. The plot is almost the same each time – a glorious war over land or morals is fought, unfailingly against a ‘Muslim’ antagonist.” The burns are way too prominent here.
‘Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior’ hasn’t only won the hearts of the audiences, it has also managed to give one of the most authentic portrayals of the actual Indian history on screen. It would be interesting to see how Vicky Kaushal, who is portraying the Mughal tyrant in the Karan Johar’s magnum opus ‘Takht’, lives up to the benchmark that has been set by Luke Kenny with his portrayal in ‘Tanhaji’.