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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 

 

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Three trailers of Prithviraj: On stage, on screen and off-screen

Three trailers of Prithviraj: On stage, on screen and off-screen

This is what the invitation, received on Friday, 06 May 2022, by WhatsApp, from YashRaj Films read:

“Hello, Yash Raj Films cordially invites you to the trailer launch of their first historical film - based on the life of Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan starring superstar Akshay Kumar and Manushi Chhillar and directed by Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi (Padma Shri).

Date: 9th May 2022- Monday

Time: 10.30am

Venue: YRF Studios, Stage 1

Please join us for a traditional Rajasthani lunch thereafter.

We will be starting sharp on time, see you :)”

A few things did not conform to the invitation. Firstly, besides the trailer launch and the lunch, there was another item on the agenda, which should have been mentioned. Secondly, the writer-director admitted that in all the authoritative books that he had read, nowhere was Prithviraj referred to as Samrat, so that was a misnomer. Lastly, the event took off about an hour after the scheduled time, not “sharp on time”.

This was the on stage trailer:

Divided into three parts, the stage had a centrepiece that read Prithviraj but was used to project images in the graphic lettering. On the left and right panels, the trailer was projected twice, in all its pristine glory. A good turnout watched as the spectacle unfolded on screen. And then they emerged: First to come out from behind the cover was Akshay Kumar (Prithviraj), and he was soon followed by Manushi Chhillar (Sanyukta/Samyogita) and Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi, the writer-director, who has been honoured by the government with the civilian prefix to his name, of Padma Shri.

Akshay is among the ruling gods of Hindustani cinema, Manushi, a beauty queen and a doctor who did not complete her studies, makes her dream debut, while Dwivedi has been making TV and film content since 1991, a period of 31 years. While Akshay has been part of many big productions, it is unlikely that many of them cost more than Rs. 300 crore (the budget of Prithviraj) to make, Manushi will be waiting with bated breath to see how her upscale debut is received by the audience. For, Dwivedi too, it is a production on a never before scale.

So far, he has directed three films: Pinjar, Zed Plus and Mohalla Assi. Pinjar was based on the partition of India and an above average film. I did not get to see Zed Plus, which his wife Mandira co-produced and he co-wrote. As the title suggests, the film was about Zed Plus security and the Prime Minister of India, the latter according Zed Plus security to an auto mechanic in Fatehpur, Rajasthan, and its consequences. The Hindu daily newspaper, in its review, dated 28 November 2014, summed-up the film as, “A well-meaning, well-acted satire that is let down by uneven treatment.” In the meanwhile, Dwivedi directed serials like Mrityunjay, Ek Aur Mahabharat, Upanishad Ganga (where he lent his voice) and Surajya Sanhita. Also, in the meanwhile, he was researching Prithviraj, for something like 14-18 years.

Aditya Chopra, the big boss at YashRaj Films, a banner that still carries his legendary late father’s name, had called him some years ago to collaborate on a script. Suddenly, one day, Aditya realised that Dwivedi was as much a director as a writer, and asked him if he would be interested in directing a film for YRF. Dwivedi was delighted. Asked whether he has any script ready, and he had: Prithviraj. After reading the script, Aditya asked him if he could suggest some options for the titular role. Dwivedi’s ready response was, “Akshay Kumar. And no options. I have just one name in mind.” Aditya agreed, and that is how they got the 42 days of shooting that were needed to complete Akshay’s work in the film.

On Manushi Chhillar, he joked, “We have one thing in common. Both of us were medical students. The difference is that I completed my studies and became a doctor, while she hasn’t, as yet. She is basically a Hindi-speaking person, which helps with my dialogue, and so stunningly beautiful that I was convinced she would fit Sanyogita’s role perfectly. And would you believe it? She learnt the entire script by heart, and never needed to refer to any paper during the shooting?” Akshay Kumar needed Dwivedi to simplify the language of the books on which the film is based, their language being highly Sanskritised Hindi. Asked whether he had to unlearn the stuff that his recent, big ticket formulaic films were made of, in order to blend into the eponymous role, Akshay did not quite get the meaning of the word ‘unlearn’. “I did what I was told to do, and this how I portrayed Prithviraj,” he confessed. During the interaction, Akshay stressed that he wanted all humans to live in peace and love each other.

On being asked by this writer whether he deliberately chose ‘newcomers’ in every project that he helmed, Dwivedi agreed. By newcomers I meant a new team, of actors and many persons behind the scenes as well, persons who had not worked with him previously. “They give me new energy, a freshness, therefore I work with a new team in every new project of mine.” A look at his oeuvre will prove my point.

This was the on-screen trailer:

Watching the trailer, one saw a royal romance, a king’s determination not to let an invader take even a handful of mud from his country, epic battles, and a fleeting glimpse of Muhammed Ghori (that is how it is spelt on the Internet), Prithviraj’s adversary, played by Manav Vij (Indu Sarkar, Race 3, Andhadhun, Bharat), conspicuous by his absence. Also conspicuous by their absences were stars like Sanjay Dutt, Ashutosh Rana and Sonu Sood. That Prithviraj will fuel ultra-nationalism is a given. Whether the film will live up to cinematic expectations, is to be seen, but chances are that YRF will give you a very strong package, and that 300 crore is no small change that they will gamble with. Yet, we will know for sure only after it has been shown.

This was the off-screen trailer:

Somewhere in the initial stages of the proceedings, Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi raised the slogan, Har Har Mahadev. This is raised as a sign of strength, militancy and war cry, depending upon the situation. In recent times, it has been associated with the majority community in India venting their anger at the largest minority community, and, sometimes, even instigating its followers to attack them. Therefore, his raising the slogan at the launch of a film trailer seemed completely out of place.

In cinema halls across India, we all stand when the national anthem is played, and rightly so. But firstly, Har Har Mahadev is not a national anthem or national slogan. Secondly, the trailer launch in a film studio’s stage, in front of a large media gathering, was out of place, to say the least. Add to this Dwivedi’s statement that the first terrorist to attack India was a 19-year old boy named Mohammed (I forget the rest of his name; was he referring to Ghori himself?), over a thousand years ago, and that all history books in India teach only Mughal and British history. Some might argue that the slogan Dwivedi chanted was spontaneous, though I am sure it was not, what followed was 100% pre-planned.

A contingent of 50-100 strong men in informally uniformed clothing chanted “Har Har Mahadev” repeatedly, in unison, as also some other slogans, which I could not hear, since I was seated in front and the shouting was happening at the back. They could not possibly have been journalists. Nor could they have been the staff of YRF. Obviously, they were either hired for the job, or came to vent their anger, at what or who, I wonder, with due permission. Neither premise is acceptable. Only the producer of the film and the owner of the studio, Aditya Chopra, could have arranged this demonstration, and it could not have been done without the concurrence of the writer-director.

It must have been a first in the history of Indian journalism, unless I have missed out on other such occurrences. While I protest at being subjected to sloganeering at an occasion where I have been invited to watch the trailer of a film and interact with the team, the sloganeers, and their sponsors, are within their right to do so. My only hope is that wiser counsel shall prevail over other producers, who invite media to get coverage in the press, on the net or on TV, and they will not be given the same treatment that we were given that day. The act, however, left little doubt about the intentions behind making the film.

During the interaction with the press, Dwivedi was asked about his motivation behind researching and making this film. He gave a two-part reply. In the first part, he said that India had been subject to terrorist acts from across the border beginning more than a thousand years ago. Clearly, he was referring to an attempt to conquer either part or the whole of India, as it existed then. A thousand years ago, and for many centuries after that, kings were attacking other kingdoms all over the world, to gain land and supremacy, and terrorism, as we know it today, was unheard of. To call an attack on the country by a royal power (I assume that this Mohammed was not a commoner, who hoped to conquer India, a là Don Quixote) a terrorist attack ignores the historical perspective altogether.

In the second part, he said that in all Indians schools, the history that is taught begins with the Moghuls (1526) and ends with the British (1947). I am amazed that a man of the intelligence of Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi made such a statement. I have studied in Mumbai and many of my school friends and friends from other schools, were taught and were aware of the Indus Valley Civilisation, dating back to 2,600 BCE. We studied the Nand and Maurya Dynasties, which ruled during 323-184 BCE, the Kushans and the Guptas and the Chalukyas (6th to 12th century).

We studied Prithviraj Chauhan and Maharana Pratap too. But since my school days are many decades behind me, let me quote from the website, Vedantu: “Prithviraj III, famously known as Prithviraj Chauhan or Rai Pithora, was one of the greatest Rajput rulers who ever lived. He is the famous ruler of the Chauhan dynasty who ruled the Sapada Baksha which is a traditional Chahamana territory. He controlled the present-day Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and some parts of Punjab. Even though he had kept Ajmer as his capital, many folk legends describe him as the king of India’s political center Delhi.

Prithviraj Chauhan fell in love with a woman named Sanyukta, who was the daughter of the king of Kannauj, whose name was Raja Jaichand. The king of Kannauj didn't like this and he didn't want Prithviraj to marry his daughter, so he arranged a 'swayamvara' for her. He invited all the princes, except Prithviraj. He didn't invite him to insult Prithviraj, but Sanyukta rejected all other princes, and later fled with Prithviraj to Delhi, where they married later.

Prithviraj Chauhan is widely known as a warrior king who bravely resisted the Muslim ruler, Muhammad of Ghor, the ruler of the Muslim Ghurid dynasty with all his might. In 1192 CE, Prithviraj was defeated by Ghurids at the second battle of Tarain and, later, he was executed after his defeat, after being captured, on charges of plotting treason. His defeat at the second battle of Tarain is considered to be a landmark event in the Islamic conquest of India.

Indian Indologist, Dasharatha Sharma, estimated the year of Prithviraj Chauhan’s birth as 1166 CE, and he ascended to the throne after his father’s death and took complete control around 1178-80 CE.

It is entirely possible that the history of the last 500-1,000 years is much better documented than that of earlier centuries, and therefore finds greater representation in history books. Isn’t that only natural and logical?

Surely no film-maker needs any excuse to make a film on Prithviraj, but why cite baseless discrepancies in Indian schools’ history books as the motivation? Unless Dwivedi has made a survey of a large lumber of such books, and found that they are indeed confined themselves to Mughal and British periods.

Incidentally, Dwivedi is not the first to make a film on Prithviraj. Prithviraj Sanyogita was made in 1933 and Prithviraj Sanyukta in 1946, while Maharana Pratap, too, was made in 1946.

So, was this ‘show of strength’ a part of the PR machinery, part of show business? Or does go much deeper? Only time will tell.

Attempts to get the official Press Release and photographs of the event from Yashraj Films did not bear fruit.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

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