Arjun Kapoor and Kriti Sanon are the stars of Panipat, a period drama helmed by Ashutosh Gowariker, a director with a penchant for tracing India's history through film (Lagaan, Jodhaa Akbar, Khelen Hum Jee Jaan Se, Mohenjo Daro).
When the trailer of the film released, fans were quick to draw comparisons between the film and Bajirao Mastani, which stars Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, who is a good friend of Arjun Kapoor. Even the dance steps seen in the two song clips that have been released look similar to that of Singh's character from the 2015 film.
Initially, Kapoor took the comparison talk sportingly, telling Filmfare that him and Singh "have always interacted at a friendly level and never went into deep discussion." However, the talk of the similarities has only grown online, and memes are spreading across social media. But the comparisons are starting to rile Kapoor, as was evident when The National spoke to both him and Sanon over the phone this week.
"So, if a MS Dhoni biopic is made, should we not make one on Yuvraj Singh?," Kapoor questions. "Both stories [of Bajirao Mastani and Panipat] are from the same era; the palaces were not built and destroyed the next day; the costumes did not change much. The story continues from 1730 to 40s when Bajirao was there to 1761 when the Panipat battle happened, so there will be commonality.
"The criticism happens only on social media, [those] who have nothing else to do but compare. In fact, I believe negative conversation only makes a film better and better... like Kabir Singh and Housefull 4.
The film traverses the third battle of Panipat in 1761, when the Maratha empire was expanding and had reached Delhi. There, a contingent under Sadashiv Rao Bhau (Kapoor) clashed with the forces of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the king of Afghanistan (played by Sanjay Dutt). The battle was one of the deadliest of the century, leading to more than 60,000 people dying in a single day.
"The story is about martyrs who died for their country. It is a story that deserves to be told, rather than depending on [the feedback of] people who have nothing to do but compare films."
Talking about his role and personal feelings, Kapoor is grateful to Gowariker for thinking of him for the key protagonist in an ensemble cast that includes veteran actresses Zeenat Aman and Padmini Kolhapuri. "It is an actor's dream to do a costume drama.
"It was amazing, yet a humbling experience, doing the shoot with so many big names. Also, it is wonderful to know that for, bad or better, there were people who even laid down their lives so that others don't plunder our country. Especially given the comfortable lives we live today.
Kapoor says the costumes were intense: "I had 18 kilos of armor on me and it took four people to get that on me. And we had to shoot outdoors in the heat. It wasn't in the studios, so it was tiring. But to be honest, it was more tiring for others as well," he adds, referring to the crew members.
Why Kriti Sanon said yes to the role
Sanon, who plays Parvati Bai, wife of Sadashiv Rao, says the Gowariker factor was key to her saying yes to the role. "When you get a call from an Ashutosh Gowariker to do a period film, that is enough to excite you," she says.
"And I realised that while we know how important the battle of Panipat was, we never knew how it was achieved; what sacrifices were made in what was essentially a fight for Hindustan [the term for a unified India].
"If you google my character Parvati bai, there is nothing – how she married, the fact that she travelled to Panipat and how she died.
"Ashutosh sir is someone who never keeps women weak [in his films]. And Parvati bai has traits of being a little naughty and yet having the courage to stand up and fight next to her husband for the rights of the clan.
"It is so difficult to imagine such women in that era, so there are many shades to my character."
Sanon says Parvati Bai is the most powerful role she has had so far, a career that has peaked this year with successful films such as Luka Chuppi and Housefull 4, as well as Arjun Patiala and Panipat.
She also has a cameo appearance in Pati, Patni Aur Woh, which also releases on the same day as Panipat (December 5 in the UAE).
"As an actor, I am very happy to get a lot of work this year, but it is not only that. It is the different variety of characters that I got to play. This year has been very special."