Art & Culture

New Year resolution for Bollywood: Stop distorting history

Kishwar Desai
Kishwar DesaiJan 02, 2016 | 18:22

New Year resolution for Bollywood: Stop distorting history

I propose a New Year resolution for the Indian film industry: to produce just one historical film in 2016 which is accurate, based on some real research and which does not resemble yet another version of K Asif's Mughal-e-Azam.

The latter was made more than sixty years ago, but somehow the tropes it engaged have enslaved cinema in chains. Even younger directors find it difficult to try anything bolder than a hugely romantic saga with elaborate sheesh mahals and a thousand elephants.


While two of the biggest Hindi films were released at the end of 2015, the reality is that most of us were unconvinced whether we should watch either of them.

Frankly, the Shah Rukh-Kajol potboiler seemed unbearable, and Bajirao Mastani had the dubious distinction of being a film based on a historical legend. Or so we were told. And so we went for the learning curve experience rather than Dilwale where two ageing divas were necking in front of spectacular sunsets.

Of course this meant that we were going to be subject to an artistic version of Ram Leela meets Devdas, both of which had undergone a Sanjay Leela Bhansali hallucination . The only bit of history -- which everyone forgot to mention, were references taken from Mughal-e-Azam, another so called "historical" hallucination.

One of the abiding mysteries of our time is the lack of history in our historical epics. The interesting thing is that while we can find new ways to censor our films excising them of undue, gratuitous sexuality, we cannot do the reverse: censor films to force them to stick close to reality, even to try and capture any of the historical references that might have existed.


The invention of history in cinema is undoubtedly complicated. Unlike a book, in which rigorous scholarship can be demonstrated through cross referencing of other books (footnotes), in cinema the director and screenplay writer can take poetic license, stating that that there were natural lacunae or even historical impediments which stood in the way of a great film.

And then you have directors like the now legendary Sanjay Leela Bansali who take a special pride in creating a parallel universe, in which history unfolds almost like an Ekta Kapoor, saas-bahu serial, where wives and mistresses must dance together. The last is almost becoming a hallmark of his grander films.


What a great opportunity was thus squandered!

Because while the sets and the costumes, as well as the war scenes and cinematography were world class, the substance of the film was puzzling. It seemed that Bhansali was so enthralled with the details of each scene that he quite forgot to give us a taste of the historical tensions which prevailed at the period.

He did not, even though we can now afford a less romantic view of history, put his central character of an incorrigible warrior in the context of what the Peshwas represented. And why not ?


Why let this golden opportunity of generous producers who allow self-indulgent directors and stars to create beautiful but unwatchable cinema, just be wasted away?

The long watery death of the actor, Ranveer Singh, was far too akin to his long watery death, with eerily, the same heroine, Deepika Padukone, in Ram Leela. When directors begin to run out of ideas, why don't they simply take better ones from reality ?

Let's hope they accept our fervent appeal for just this one New Year resolution : make cinema history ( pun intended)!

Last updated: January 02, 2016 | 18:22
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