Panipat movie reviews: Arjun Kapoor's period drama is anything but engaging, critics say
Filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker's Panipat, based on the Third Battle of Panipat between the Marathas and the Afghans, doesn’t hit all the right notes. Critics weigh in.
Panipat is directed and co-written by Ashutosh Gowariker, who has box office hits like Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar under his belt. The historical feature released on Friday alongside Bhumi Pednekar, Kartik Aryan and Ananya Panday's comedy-drama, Pati Patni Aur Woh. Panipat, which lasts almost three hours, stars Arjun Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt, Kriti Sanon, Mohnish Bahl, Padmini Kolhapure, Zeenat Aman, Kunal Kapoor and Nawab Shah. The critics have weighed in on Panipat, with some reviews praising the work of a few lead actors in the film. However, feelings on the film itself appear to be mixed, with many agreeing that Panipat's affection for the Marathas’ pride and valour (even in defeat) is indisputable, even when the drama is undernourished.
Based on the Third Battle of Panipat between the Marathas and the Afghans, the movie starts off with the former emerging as the most powerful empire in India. This is 1761, the Marathas hold sway over large parts of the Indian subcontinent, the last of the powerful Mughal emperors, Aurangzeb, has been dead for half a century, and the present occupant of the throne in Delhi is a weakling who owes allegiance to the Marathas. But they are challenged by Sanjay Dutt's Afghan King Ahmad Shah Abdali. So, it is upto Arjun Kapoor's Sadashiv Rao Bhau to stop him, which culminates in the historic Battle of Panipat on 14 January, 1761.
Ashutosh Gowariker’s Panipat tries to show how the heroic efforts of Sadashiv Rao Bhau fundamentally changed someone as heartless as Ahmad Shah Abdali. However, that intention is squashed under the burden of tedious storytelling, average performances, and bland direction, argue critics. "The script is dense, packed with too much information, too much research, and too many details," wrote film critic Rajeev Masand in News 18. Some other critics were left underwhelmed by the film's “tacky, cardboard sets, artificial-looking battle scenes and poor CGI.”
Meanwhile, a few critics breathed a sigh of relief that Panipat was not an Islamophobic film. Although the writing team of Panipat did take liberties with crucial facts, “they did not falsely paint this as a war between Muslim monsters and Hindu saints.” In his Panipat review in NDTV, film critic Saibal Chatterjee noted that the Hindu-Muslim binary wasn't as pronounced in Panipat as it usually tends to be in Bollywood pop history films. Meanwhile, in her Panipat review for Firstpost, film critic Anna MM Vetticad wrote, "This is not to suggest that the film is bereft of caricatures. Of course not. The point simply is that the caricaturing in Panipat is not along religious lines, it is employed instead to portray the Marathas as a cleaner, gentler, more likeable people than Abdali and his associates... Still, it is important to note that this lack of nuance is not one-tenth as blatant and tacky as Padmaavat, nor dangerous and hate-filled in the way that film was."
Here's what the critics are saying about Arjun Kapoor's Panipat:
Saibal Chatterjee wrote in NDTV: "Bollywood fans have learnt to live with filmmakers taking liberties with history in the interest of an engaging story aimed at propping up one ideology or the other. But Panipat is anything but engaging. The lumbering nature of the film, aggravated by its three-hour run-time, prevents any sort of emotional connect being formed and sustained between what unfolds on the screen and the audience. It does not help that the burden on lead actor Arjun Kapoor - he dons the guise of Sadashivrao Bhau, who marches fearlessly into the third Battle of Panipat in order to stop Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali's campaign to reclaim lost territory in northern India - is way too heavy for him. To be fair, Kapoor responds manfully to the challenge. However, the onerous effort that he needs to put in to make the character work slows down the film and undermines its impact."
Rajeev Masand in News 18: "There is no doubt over the commitment and the effort that’s gone into crafting this film. Everywhere you look there are handsome sets, elaborate costumes, busy CGI battle scenes, and immaculate detail. The problem is they’re all in service of a plodding script that seldom rises above its own shortcomings. The film’s first half feels especially dry, but it gathers momentum post interval. The war scenes are impressive but never spectacular. Panipat ultimately is overlong and unwieldy. It may have its heart in the right place but its other organs are all over the place. Gowariker, who kept us engaged and invested through 3 hours and 40 minutes of Lagaan, or even through the genteel romance of Jodhaa Akbar, can’t seem to recreate the magic of his finest films. I’m going with a generous two out of five for Panipat. You come out feeling like you’ve survived war... just about."
Namrata Joshi in the Hindu: "Gowariker may have taken liberties with history, but doesn’t play around with the form. He sticks to the tried and tested, the long and languorous and old-fashioned. However, he is unable to achieve the epic sweep despite the declamatory dialogue, opulent costumes and the big song-n-dance set-pieces. In fact the spectacle gets marred by tacky, cardboard sets, artificial looking battle scenes and poor CGI, specially when it comes to the peacocks in Shanivar Wada and the raging Yamuna. In an interesting casting move, he manages to get veterans like Zeenat Aman, Kunal Kapoor and Padmini Kolhapure on board, but disappointingly leaves them with very little to do in the minuscule parts. They certainly deserved to be more than mere historical props."
Anna MM Vetticad in Firstpost: "The lack of gray in the characterisation of Sadashivrao makes him bland and pulls down the film in its entirety. Frankly, Parvati - the medicine woman he marries despite her lower social status - is far more fascinating. Of the main cast, Sanon's spirited performance as Parvati proves once again that this youngster deserves more than what Bollywood has been offering her so far. She is beautiful, has a commanding personality, towards the end of this film offers evidence of impressive fighting skills and can act. In Panipat she also has the benefit of a character who is better fleshed out than most of the rest... Kapoor as Sadashivrao is earnest, while Dutt deadpans his way through the role of Abdali. Zeenat Aman is wasted in a cameo. And this cannot be said enough: the casting of most of the remaining actors comes across as careless."
(All photos courtesy Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon and Sanjay Dutt's official Twitter accounts.)