Samrat Prithviraj review: Sonu Sood leaves his mark in Samrat Prithviraj

Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s film is fairly written, inclusive, but he fails to bring the best out of his ‘dream’ lead cast. However, Sonu Sood impresses as Prithvi Chand Bhatt aka Chand Vardai, the court poet of Samrat Prithviraj Chauhan.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

By Mayur Lookhar

A week before its release, there is a slight change to the film’s title. There was nothing wrong with the earlier title Prithviraj. It wasn’t factually incorrect, but making historical films in India comes with its challenges. If not all, but the sentiments of the few potentially disruptive elements have to be accommodated. And so producer Yash Raj Films and director Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi obliged and changed their title to Samrat Prithviraj [2022]. Reportedly, there were few more words altered, an anti-Sati, anti-Jauhar disclaimer added in the film, but the rest remained intact.

So, Lekar Mahadev ka naam (Taking the Lord’s name), Samrat Prithviraj [2022], Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s long cherished dream finally hit the screens today [3 June].

Writer-director Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi had made it clear during the trailer launch a month ago that his film is primarily based on Prithviraj Raso, the epic poem on the life of Hindu warrior king Prithviraj Chauhan (1166-1192), as penned by the court poet Prithvi Chand Bhatt aka Chand Bardai also spelt as Chand Vardai. Dwivedi opts for the latter.

The different versions to the battles, death of the Hindu king naturally build a curiosity around his story. Though we’ve not read the original poem (in Braj text), but Dr. Dwivedi is a respected figure in the entertainment industry. His experience of acting, directing the popular Chanakya TV series, flair for history and language, make him the ideal man to also tell the Prithviraj Chauhan story. There have been few films, TV serials made on the Hindu warrior king before. Even the late Tamil super star M.G. Ramachandran played Prithviraj Chauhan in the Tamil film Rani Sanyuktha [1962].

The Chahanama (Chauhan dynasty) king’s reign was defined by his fierce battles with Ghurid dynasty king Muhammad Ghori. After tasting defeat in the first battle of Tarain in 1191, the latter returned a year later to even the score. While the two battles are not disputed, historians are divided over what transpired thereafter. Dwivedi’s film primarily banks on Prithviraj Raso, but it also listened to folklore and other sources.

Samrat Prithviraj’s reign lasted from 1177 to 1192 CE. Fighting an Islamic invader naturally makes one a modern hero too, but to the Chandela dynasty, Prithviraj was anything but. The film mostly focusses on Prithviraj’s two battles with Muhammad Ghori.

Writer-director Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s Samrat Prithviraj [2022] is fairly written, with special focus on the language. While lead heroes Akshay Kumar, Sanjay Dutt aren’t burdened with the language of the period, but it is actors like Sonu Sood, Ashutosh Rana, Rajendra Gupta whose tones reflect the then culture. Prithviraj Chauhan is often regarded as the last Hindu Samrat before the Islamic invaders took control of the north, east and central parts of Hindustan. Ajmer was the capital city of Chauhan’s Sapadalaksha territory.

Proud Rajasthanis would point out the lack of the Rajasthani, Marwari accent from the lead cast, but Rajasthan only came into being much later. With Ajmer as its capital, Dwivedi doesn’t lose sight of the early Islamic influence in the region. So, please don’t freak out upon hearing Prithviraj and co. using some Urdu words in their speech. It also makes the film inclusive. While it is wrong to judge historical films with 21 century sensibilities, in new plural India, a film cannot afford to come across as divisive either. Hopefully, the left-liberals should be pleased with the inclusivity in Prithviraj’s reign. Here’s a Hindu king who gives shelter to a royal Muslim and his Hindu lover Chitralekha, which becomes the cause of conflict with Muhammad Ghori.

Dwivedi’s Prithviraj [Askhay Kumar] is portrayed as a fair and just king who isn’t averse to defying norms, challenge social order. He makes his queen Sanyogita aka Sanyukta or Sanjukta an equal partner in presiding over daily court proceedings. This is despised by the veteran Chauhan panch Thakur Saab [Rajendra Gupta]. Much like Shahid Kapoor’s Rawal Ratan Singh from Padmaavat [2018], Prithviraj, too, is shown as a man of principles, ethics who respects women and one who would never resort to any dirty tricks. This trait was also perceived as political immaturity, but don’t everybody love a righteous king?

While Akshay Kumar [54] has a strong physical presence (perhaps much fitter than the original), he doesn’t have that aura that a character like Prithviraj merits. Maybe, the moustache, too, is a tad short for the traditional Rajputs, but as said in the film, Samrat doesn’t like anyone twirling his moustache in the court. Kumar’s simple accent, largely Hindi tone, will come under scrutiny. But isn’t it better to stick to normal than be called out for any farce. From respecting women to pardoning the vanquished to even regretting killing animals in Ghori’s colosseum, we felt Dwivedi’s Prithviraj is striving too hard to prove his righteousness. Kumar makes a sincere effort in his maiden historical film [please count out the funny Rajkumar Bala avtaar n Housefull 4 (2019)] but you get a sense that the director could have extracted more out of him.

Akshay Kumar (L) and Manushi Chhillar (R) in Samrat Prithviraj [2022]

Former Miss World Manushi Chhillar steps into Bollywood with a historical film. Phew, quite a challenge. Chhillar shows early promise, exuding confidence with her pleasant tone and strong will. However, she doesn’t build up on that early promise leaving us disappointed with her second half showing. She is burdened by a needless dream sequence song that celebrates Prithviraj and Sanyogita’s marriage. After the cowardly overnight ambush, Rani Sanyogita and other ladies in the court happily embrace jauhar – ancient Indian practice (now banned) where women chose honour over slavery by self immolating. The poor pre-jauhar ‘Yoddha’ song and the PT exercise-like choreography doesn’t make for great viewing. It that wasn’t enough, then Rani Yogita’s leap into the jauhar pool would give Mariya Lasitskene (number one ranked women athlete in High Jump) a run for her money.

Sanjay Dutt is overbearing as Chacha Kanha, Prithviraj’s uncle, Thankfully, it is a limited role. Manav Vij is physically intimidating, but this is a rather timid show by him as Muhammad Ghori. We wonder whether the constant lisp in his tone is natural or staged? We’d seen him as a strong Islamic invader Rahmat Khan in Laal Kaptaan [2019] and that, too, was a disappointing effort. He has the physical attributes, but not quite the fear factor. Someone really needs to shake Vij to bring out that beast in him.

Sonu Sood as Chand Vardai in Samrat Prithviraj [2022]

While some big names haven’t lived up to the hype, but its few members from the supporting cast that keep Prithviraj afloat. Chief among them is Sonu Sood, a Punjabi like Akshay Kumar, but one who fits into his character effortlessly. Chand Vardai’s prophetic nature is bizarre but anyone who tried to defy the prophecy ended up as history. “Prithviraj’s victory will come in the defeat to you, but that will also be the day when you die.” Vardai leaves Ghori stunned with his puzzling prophecy. Sood’s command over the chaste Hindi, his dialogue delivery and overall intensity makes you admire Prithvi Chand Bhatt aka Chand Vardai even more. It is fair to say that Sonu Sood has paid his tribute to Chand Vardai in a biographical film on Prithviraj Chauhan.

Ashutosh Rana impresses as Jai Chand, the ruler of Kannauj, and the father of Rani Sanyogita. Though brief, Sakshi Tanwar is equally impressive as Jai Chand’s wife.

Manoj Joshi is intriguing as the political saudagar (merchant). While Dwivedi has largely stuck to popular history around Prithviraj, we didn’t any find mention of Vijayaraja of Jammu who is said to have aided Ghori in defeating Prithviraj. Well, but that was claimed by Tabaqat-i Nasiri, an elaborate history of the Islamic world written in Persian by Minhaj-i-Siraj Juzjani.

Dr. Chandraprakash Dwivedi’s historical world might lack the grandeur of Sanjay Leela Bhansali films, but his strong point lies in his language. He’s also made conscious efforts to simplify, explain certain things which don’t feature in common man’s discourse on history. Samrat Prithviraj [2022] has admirable language. It has its immersive moments, a few good performances, but as a collective, it doesn’t quite do justice to the legend of Prithviraj Chauhan.

Watch the trailer of Samrat Prithviraj [2022] below.


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