Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon go back in time in Panipat
The first time co-stars share the experience of working in Ashutosh Gowariker's latest historical epic
Like other period films that suffered the same fate, the Arjun Kapoor-Kriti Sanon starrer Panipat has come under fire even before its release. A descendant of Peshwa Bajirao who objected to a certain dialogue of Kriti's, served notices to the film's producers and its director Ashutosh Gowariker. Also, the trailer of Panipat has drawn inevitable comparisons to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani, with some saying that the film looked too much like its predecessor.
However there's no denying that anticipation surrounding the release of Panipat is high, with the trailer having had over 41 million views so far and the film's stars going on a promotional blitz, undaunted by comparisons or controversies.
In a recent phone conversation with City Times, both Arjun Kapoor and Kriti Sanon admitted that they didn't know much about the historical events upon which Panipat is based, before they took on the roles of Sadashiv Rao Bhau (leader of the Maratha army at the third battle of Panipat) and Parvatibai (Sadashiv's wife) respectively, but said they came away from the cinematic experience a whole lot richer.
We chatted with the stars about their approach to their characters, what they wanted the audience to take away from Panipat, releasing this weekend in the UAE, and what role women played in this seemingly male-dominated battlefield.
The third battle of Panipat dates back to the 18th century and was fought between the Marathas and Ahmad Shah Abdali's Afghan army. How much did you know about this period in history before you took on your roles in Panipat?
Arjun: Like any child who is inquisitive about history, we are all aware of the fact that there were three battles of Panipat; I was aware of the location of the third one and the fact that it was a huge battle that led to an unprecedented loss of life but not many other details. I think Ashutosh himself is an encylopedia and his narration wasn't just for the film - it was for me to understand the time, emotions, politics, personalities, the upheavals, the tasks, every single thing. It was a big learning. I understood that this battle is not just an anecdote in a history book but something that changed the course of our country's history forever.
Kriti: I'm someone who used to give the history exam and then forget what I've done! So, my history wasn't that great - I knew about Parvatibai but not all the details. I also feel that when you search online there's not many details you can possibly get, as much as you can when you're watching a film like this. I feel the visual medium makes you feel a lot more for every character. We've always known the beginning and the end of this battle, but the journey, the obstacles they went through and what betrayals those involved have had - that is something that many of us don't know.
What can you tell us about your characters?
Arjun: I play Sadashiv Rao Bhau, who was the leader of the Maratha army at that point in time. He was loved by his armed forces, but he was also very stern and stubborn. He was someone who heard everyone out but did what he wanted to do. He was also very vulnerable - with his family, with his friends, and always cared about his people. He had a layer that you could not see when he was in front of the army. He was someone who was very sure about what he was doing. He never doubted that the intent had to be right, and then the result would come. That goes for any soldier or any warrior I guess. He always believed he's meant for only one thing - being a warrior. But at the same time there's a side to him that makes you see that he could have been a fantastic leader of the Maratha empire also. Because his decision making was very stark, very solid and came from a very organic and logical place.
Kriti: I'm very proud of how the Marathas had fought this war, and I also love how Ashutosh has given so much strength to Parvatibai's character, because I feel like he's someone who cannot see his female characters weak. He always makes them very strong figures, and very independent. I feel like his characters are very contemporary. Parvatibai is shown to be a vaidya (physician). At that time I don't know how many women actually worked. Ashutosh said, 'Parvatibai is a vaidya, she's someone who knows sword-fighting and she's someone who can defend her people if the need arises.'
There's a point in the film where she steps up and helps the Marathas in a very important way, during the journey of the war. At the same time she is someone who is very vocal about her love for Sadashiv, which is not something we expect from women of that time. We always expect them to be coy and keep their feelings inside. And when required she's a very strong personality who can emotionally and physically be like a pillar. When I heard all of that I just felt like this is a character I'd had no idea about, and this is a character that I'd love to show the world.
The battle scenes are very gripping. What was it like filming those - did you have to learn any particular skills, like sword fighting?
Arjun: I learned horse riding, sword fighting, javelin throwing, all three skill sets were imperative. But horse riding was the biggest challenge because I had to wake up at 6am to go to the racecourse; it was too much but felt worth it eventually when I was on set and could shoot an entire sequence with the horse. I connected with the animal, so for me it was a new experience. To shoot the battle itself was very difficult because we shot it in May (why we did that, don't ask!) Also, the armour weighed about 18 kilos, and we needed four people to put it on!
A lot of the action movements were changed when the armour came on because of mobility getting restricted. The war takes up quite a bit of the film, so shooting a lot of it every single day you feel a bit confused, as to where are you going with this (you're not the director, so you don't know the end product, you just know the shots that are taken). So it's sometimes mentally draining because you're not sure how it's going to pan out with the VFX and the way it will look. You're going with the conviction of one man, and eventually when you see it you realise it looks special.
The film also stars veteran actresses like Padmini Kolhapure and Zeenat Aman. What role do the women play in this seemingly male-dominated tale of battle?
Arjun: They figure very heavily, you have to see the film to realise this. Unfortunately I would not say it was on an equal footing because women could not take certain decisions that men could take on their behalf. But the decision to go with the men for the battle was the decision the women took.
That's something that I don't think has ever been seen on the big screen - where you have women coming along for the journey in a war. It creates a very interesting dynamic because the men took their families along and therefore in moments of vulnerability they had somebody to hold on to. So there are very strong female characters and they all have their moments in the film; each character has a say in the way the plot unfolds.
What was it like working with each other for the first time?
Kriti: I had bumped into Arjun a couple of times at parties; we also interacted through messages. Many times we were on the verge of signing a film together but something used to happen - my dates were an issue or his dates were an issue and we ended up doing those films with other people, or the film got shelved. So when Panipat happened I remember he messaged me that 'oh, finally, we're working together, after so long'. He's a very chilled out co-star who has a great sense of humour. Through this film I've spent a lot of time with him and we've spoken about things other than work. I realise that he is a great friend to have. I was very glad that this (the film) happened.
Kriti goes from Punjabi to Marathi for Panipat
Kriti says, "A lot of research has been done to put my traditional look in Panipat together, whether it's the saris, the colours, or the fabrics. We tied the nauvari sari in the most authentic way possible. Also, the jewellery, the khopa (hairstyle), the nath (nose ring) - all of this makes the Marathi peshwai look. Before that I couldn't really imagine myself looking like a Marathi, because I'm a Punjabi from Delhi! When I saw myself for the first time in that look, it just made me feel like I was from that time. Even with jewellery, I feel like Neeta Lulla has paid so much attention to the the details! She gave me a lot of hair pins made of gold which had birds on them, there were birds on earrings, there were some peacock tails - that was her touch, that was what she felt about my character (Parvatibai). The way people would dress was very elaborate, and grand and when you get to wear all that and look at yourself, you love it. That's definitely one of the perks of being in a period film!
Sanjay Dutt is amazing, says Arjun Kapoor
On what it was like starring alongside Sanjay Dutt (he plays Ahmad Shah Abdali) for the first time, Arjun says, "He's an amazing person to interact with because he completely disarms you with his normalcy. He has the demeanor of a man who's lived a life that deserves a biopic. He's the epitome of a 'manchild' because he's a man who has been through hell and back but when you sit with him you realise he's just like a child and when he's talking about stuff you forget he's Sanjay Dutt. I really enjoyed working with him, he's somebody who never let it become a big deal that he's such a big star and personality - it never came to the forefront with the way we conducted ourselves on camera."