I am a history nerd. I have loved history ever since I can remember back to my earliest existence. And because I’m also a movie buff, it is only natural that I love historical films or period dramas. My tryst with such films from the stables of Bollywood has not been good. Most of them are plainly stupid to be honest, both in terms of their execution and authenticity. Filmmakers in Bollywood have perhaps the worst track record when it comes to making period films.
When it comes to various aspects of such films, the portrayal of the era concerned through the medium of costumes, sets and events depicted, clearly shows that Bollywood has little regards for such things. This is why a horrendous film like Asoka exists which is nothing but a direct insult to perhaps the greatest ruler India has ever produced.
The reason I’m even writing this piece is because I had several thoughts after watching the new trailer for the upcoming film, Mohenjo Daro. The announcement of this project a couple of years back had gotten me really excited. As a history nerd, the Indus Valley Civilisation is one of my favourite eras of Indian history. Very little is known about that era, the people, their lifestyle and culture, their language, etc. All this because their script still remains undeciphered. But there is still enough archaeological findings and other evidences that paint a rough picture as to what kind of people they were. Even with such findings, a filmmaker can make a rather decent movie about that era backed up with a solid script and research.
First came in the film’s motion poster. I really liked it. They used actual scripts from the Indus Valley era into the motion poster as they conjured up to reveal the film’s name in English. That was clever, I thought. So I waited for further reveals from the makers.
And then came the posters featuring the hero and heroine of the movie. Hrithik Roshan looked decent in the poster, though it was rather hard for my mind to digest that he looked like a guy from that era. Most historians have imagined Indus Valley people to be darker skinned and even having a mixed population of various races such as negritos, proto australoids and mongoloids. And Roshan here looked like a Greek god in every single frame. Well Bollywood, I give up on this one!
But the poster featuring the heroine dashed all my hopes of the movie being historically authentic. Pooja Hegde is dressed in a designer gown with a deep cut cleavage and even a cut in the lower gown from below to reveal her left leg. Clearly, this dress looks more like one of those outlandish gowns that you end up seeing in a fashion week parade. The decoration of bird feathers on her head gear further convinced me that the makers have taken too much of a liberty while depicting things in this film. There is a very thin line that differentiates between authenticity and stupidity. This film may cross that barrier on several occasions, it seems.
Now let me say that I like Ashutosh Gowariker as a filmmaker. He and Sanjay Leela Bhansali are still better directors to handle period dramas compared to other directors in today’s Bollywood. Also, the way he has tackled the concerned eras in films like Lagaan and Jodhaa Akbar clearly show that he is better equipped in handling such topics. But the new trailer for Mohenjo Daro clearly shows that perhaps this is out of even Gowariker’s league.
The Indus Valley Civilisation is India’s first civilisation and is one of the world’s oldest. It was a contemporary culture to the Mesopotamian Civilisation of Iraq and the Egyptian Civilisation. This civilisation predates India’s recorded history and is a precursor to the Hindu civilisation that was brought in by the Aryans after its decline in about 1700 B.C. Whatever we know of this era is from the archaeological findings that include pottery, toys, jewellery, seals, metal and stone equipments, and other such artifacts. The biggest hurdle to uncovering the mysteries of this civilisation has been that the script still remains undeciphered. It was an urban civilisation and had some of the world's largest cities from that era.
Watching the trailer was quite interesting for me. It didn’t blow me away obviously, but it left me wondering as to why a filmmaker like Gowariker gave in to so many historical anomalies while making this film. I’m only judging from what I saw in the trailer. We’re yet to see the movie. Perhaps I’ll be blown away then. Or maybe it will turn into another comedy show for me just like other period films from Bollywood.
My first gripe with this film is that throughout the film, the city is referred to as Mohenjo Daro. Mohenjo Daro is a Sindhi word which means ‘mound of the dead.’ This was the name given by the locals to the excavation site when archaeologists first dug up the ruins there. Why would anyone name their city as ‘mound of the dead’ in the Indus Valley era? It simply shows that Gowariker didn’t do his research well. Compared to this, Amish did a better job. The novelist has used the Indus Valley Civilisation as a backdrop in his Shiva Trilogy novels and there he uses the word Meluha to depict the entire Indus civilisation as a country. Why is it authentic? Because ancient Mesopotamian records referred to the Indus country as Meluha. In my opinion this would have made much sense then taking recourse to the modern era Sindhi name for the city. They could have chosen any name that would have seemed relevant to that era. Since the language and script of the Indus people are still unknown, it is a world open to interpretation. But sticking to the modern name does not make sense to me.
The recreation of the city has been done well, as per me. Most of it is all just visual effects, and though they look fake in many shots, the arrangements and depiction of the city has been done well. Gowariker has taken note that most structures of the city of Mohenjo Daro did not have more than two storeys, and this is seen clearly in the long shots of the city that are shown in the trailer. But the effects are not done right. The problem is that after watching a film like Baahubali, we cannot accept any substandard visual effects in our movies anymore. Special mention must be made of the one shot where the crocodile jumps out of the water and plunges at Hrithik in the river. That looked hilarious and fake as fuck! Since when did crocodiles start imitating dolphins while preying? Even the river dolphins don’t make such high jumps out of the water for any reason.
The costumes too look quite poor. Most of the costumes that the peasants have been shown to wear look like recycled items from the sets of Lagaan. They look more like what a peasant would wear during the Mughal or British era. I had a facepalm moment when a certain shot revealed a character who was walking behind Hrithik in a shot as wearing a lower garment which appeared more like a half pant and not even a proper dhoti. Ugh!!!!! If we go by the dresses depicted in the seals and statues excavated from the Indus Valley sites, the dressing sense of that era was quite minimalistic. Both men and women used to wear one piece cloths and not stitched items. More emphasis was put on jewellery for body decoration, which was made largely from carnelian beads and other precious stones. Gold was largely unknown to these people and hence it was not much in use. The men have been depicted as wearing turbans in the movie, which I am not very comfortable with since the turban as a headgear is more associated with the later Aryans than with this era.
The trailer also revealed that the film has a few more historical errors, which may not go much into the eyes of the general public, but for a history nerd like me, those are glaring defects. Firstly, horses are shown in the city. Let me make it clear that horses were largely unknown to the Indus people. They domesticated the bull and used it extensively for various purposes. But showing horses is a major error in my eyes. Horses did not make their appearance on the Indian subcontinent before the Aryans came and they brought them in from the Central Asian steppes.
Another gripe I have is that the river Indus has been referred in the movie as ‘Sindhu Mata’ or a river mother. This is funny because the Indus has always been called a male river just like the Brahmaputra and Nile. Now one can argue that nobody knows as to how the Indus Valley people referred to the river Indus as. So that makes it open for interpretation. But it still becomes rather uneasy for me to digest.
I must say though that apart from the depiction of the city, another thing that the film gets right through the trailer atleast is that it acknowledges there was no proper currency system in the Indus Valley era. I was quite thrilled when Hrithik’s character Sarman makes a reference to Lapis Lazuli as a means of financial transaction. The ancient Indus Valley people largely practiced the barter system and used semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli and carnelian beads as means of transactions. Cattle were also used as a means of transaction here. So I’m glad that the film will get atleast some aspects of the Indus Valley era right, if not all of them.
I will not rant about the regular song and dance routine of Bollywood in the film. This is something that is expected of Bollywood and nothing can be done about it. The costumes look stupid and hence the songs will also be awkward to watch. I just hope the music and choreography don’t degenerate to the level of those from Asoka. But again, someone like A.R. Rahman has given the music, so I’m sure we will have a few good songs to say the least.
But I must state here that the person who edited the trailer is a complete idiot. He literally gave away the entire plot and during my first viewing I felt as if I had seen a gist of the entire movie in less than three minutes. We literally know here that Hrithik comes in as part of a prophecy to save the city, falls in love with the girl, gets into trouble with the evil king and his henchmen and eventually leads a revolt against the city’s rulers. In my opinion, a trailer should reveal less about the film’s plot and intrigue the audience more with clever visuals. This was not the case here. In fact, half of my excitement for this film vanished as soon as I saw the trailer.