Battle over 'Panipat'

Bollywood film has upset Jats on two counts - a king portrayed as an ally of Afghan invaders and the use of Haryanvi and Rajasthani instead of Braj

A scene from Panipat.

Ashutosh Gowarikar's film Panipat is marked by his signature grandeur, but it has upset the Jat community in Rajasthan, which believes he has portrayed king Maharaja Surajmal in a poor light.

Based on the Third Battle of Panipat fought in 1761 between the Marathas and Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali, Panipat packs in a layered narrative that delves into the complex politics of the period.

Portrayal of maharaja

The Jat community says the film portrays Maharaja Surajmal as a greedy king, with an eye on the Red Fort in Agra. He is shown as denying help to the Maratha army, and thus paving the way for an Afghan victory. 

The film shows Sadashiv Rao Bhau (played by Arjun Kapoor), commander of the Maratha army, seeking the support of ally Surajmal in Rajasthan in the fight against Abdali, but failing to get it. 

Vishvendra Singh, 14th descendant of Surajmal and former tourism minister of Rajasthan, says, “It is a historical fact that when the Marathas returned from the Battle of Panipat, in defeat and anguish and burdened with the wounded, such was the benevolence of Maharaja Surajmal and Maharani Kishori that they sheltered the entire Maratha army and their leaders for six months. Historical proof exists in Gagarsoli village in the form of a Khande Rao Holkar cenotaph".

The minister has asked the government to form a committee to ensure that films about historical figures are approved by their descendants as well as their community.

Language row

The other aspect bothering the Jats is the mixing of two languages. "The film has mixed Rajasthani language with Haryanavi language. Such distortion of Rajasthan's history cannot be tolerated,” says Jat leader Nem Singh, in the forefront of the protests. 

Historian Mahendra Singh Sikarwar, who has written a book on the history of Bharatpur, says the Red Fort of Agra was already under Surajmal before the Panipat battle, and Surajmal only spoke the Braj language.

Referring to the 1925 book 'History of Jats' by Kalikaranjan Kanongo, Sikawar says it confirms Surajmal did help the Maratha king and his men. The book is based on Persian and Maratha sources.

Surajmal, born in 1707 in the kingdom of Bharatpur, Rajasthan, ruled in the 18th century and was the son of the Jat chieftain Badan Singh. He is described as “a strong leader who harried the Mughal empire in the anarchic period of its decline.”

According to texts in the British Library’s online gallery, Surajmal consolidated the kingdom with its capital at Bharatpur and used his resources to build forts and palaces. The most famous of his structures are the palace at Deeg and the fort at Bharatpur.

Surajmal has a statue in his honour at Bharatpur, and prominent institutions are named after him: the Institute of Technology and Maharaja Surajmal Brij University in Bharatpur.

Irked by the film, the Jat community in Rajasthan has burnt effigies of director Ashutosh Gowarikar. The film is banned across the state. 

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has urged the Board of Film Certification to take note of the allegation that Panipat has distorted facts about the king.

From the opposition, former chief minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje has also said the portrayal is objectionable.

Third Battle of Panipat

The Third Battle of Panipat took place between the Marathas and the invading armies of Afghan general Ahmed Shah Abdali in 1761.

Fought 90 km north of Delhi, it was won by the Afghans, and left 40,000 soldiers of the Maratha army dead.

Maharaja Surajmal was among those who played a key role in the battle.

After the Panipat battle, the Marathas lost their preeminent position in north India. Their defeat ultimately paved the way for British colonial powers to take over.

Response from Panipat

Rajeeva Swarup, additional chief secretary (home), Rajasthan says the producers of Panipat have agreed to edit out a portion of the film.

The state government had sought a response from the producers, who provided details of the books they had consulted to script the film.

The producers say there is no denying that Maharaja Surajmal helped Marathas with food and resources.

His kingdom helped survivors of the battle by giving them shelter. But that was not shown as it was not relevant to the plot and storyline of the film, they say.

Two years ago, historical drama Padmaavat had also faced protests in Rajasthan and other northern states over the portrayal of Rajput queen Padmini.

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