1 Star Out Of 5: Poor
Director and writer: Chandraprakash Dwivedi
Cast: Akshay Kumar, Manushi Chhillar, Manav Vij, Sanjay Dutt
Hindi (English Subtitles Available) Nz Release : 3/6/22

All rejoice! The king may not have returned, but Akshay Kumar, one of India’s keenest businessmen, has indeed. The trouble is that his investors in the seats seem to have abandoned him.

This period drama, budgeted at Rs.300 crore (NZD 60 million), has had an opening weekend collection of Rs.40 crore – a poor launch which proves that the audience will not keep getting fooled by cinematic trash.

The bombastic, tone-deaf movie is supposed to be based on the life of the 12th century Indian king Prithviraj Chauhan. Instead, it tells us at the start with a printed statement that the movie actually derives from a piece of folklore - ‘Prithviraj Raso’. While the real-life Prithviraja III died at age 25 after losing the second battle against Muhammad Ghori who then conquered large parts of northern India, the movie has other plans and makes Prithviraj turn history on its head. I’m just grateful the movie doesn’t go on to tell us that Prithviraj may still be living in disguise somewhere amongst us, waiting to emerge and rule India again at an opportune time.

The movie’s director ensures the credits list him as Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi. Apropos the ‘doctor’ title, media articles report that he started in the medical field, but then switched to television and cinema. Doctors are supposed to make people feel better, but Dr. Dwivedi manages to achieve a unique medical feat here – the movie’s hare-brained plotline and execution lulls the viewer into sleep, but the constant booms and blasts in the soundtrack jolt you awake, thereby suspending you in a troubled semi-conscious state.

The movie’s opening scene shows a blinded Prithviraj contending with three lions in a colosseum in Ghazni (in present-day Afghanistan). You quickly understand why the king of the jungle has been wiped out from much of the original habitat. After this unwitting eco-revelation, the flashback cuts to Ajmer, India where King Prithviraj Chauhan (played by Akshay Kumar in yet another one of his sleep-walking roles meant to inspire brainless hero worship) holds court in his palace whose denizens are unable to speak normally and are in a constant state of shouting and laughing.

The king does well in the first battle, with ample help from the editor who chops the scenes so vigorously that he would be better employed as a sous chef in a busy restaurant. Meanwhile, in nearby Kannauj, a young princess Sanyogita (Manushi Chhillar) develops the long-distance hots for Prithviraj via a mysterious telepathic technique developed long before the advent of social media. The twain shall join, her Daddy – King Jaichand (Ashutosh Rana) shall go ballistic, and all hell breaks loose with a devious pact then forged to bring Prithviraj down to earth.

The movie has neither the sense nor sensibility to maintain mature narration or a modicum of restraint. There is no shortage of shouting and grandstanding. When a stray sunbeam of tranquility appears, a marauding background score and loud jingoistic chants destroy it. Depth of story and engaging twists of plot are conspicuous by their absence.

The fight sequences suffer from shoddy execution, which is a shame all the more because the cinematography has clarity and grandeur in its framing. Generous, high-quality set design is the movie’s best asset. 

The overt feminism you see on display turns out to be compensation for a profoundly anti-feminist act shown later. The writer-director may argue that showing historical practice is not by itself anti-feminist, but the way this movie totally destroys its strong female protagonist is beyond atonement.

Manushi Chhillar in her debut as the female lead, is competent, though stuck with an onscreen husband more than twice her age. She must be doing cartwheels that she escaped without a kissing scene.

Dr.Dwivedi, who has now developed an appetite for bending history to his and his jingoistic hero’s taste, has some attractive options for his next scripts - Jesus Christ disposing of Pontius Pilate and lording over Jerusalem, Marie Antoinette escaping the French Revolution and getting reborn to become Melania Trump, Bahadur Shah II defeating the British so that colonial rule never happened in India. I would like to watch the last story.

U. Prashanth Nayak is a film and food critic.

For more movie reviews by U Prashanth Nayak please click: http://www.upnworld.com//upn/movie_lists