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Akshay Kumar, Mohit Raina, Randeep Hooda all tie the turban for the Battle of Saragarhi

As a bunch of ventures on big and small screens take the legendary battle of 1897 as the subject, filmmakers and trade analysts discuss if this boosts the recall factor or leads to unnecessary rivalry.

bollywood Updated: Feb 27, 2018 16:05 IST
Naina Arora
Naina Arora
Hindustan Times
Battle of Saragarhi,Akshay Kumar,Mohit Raina
The legendary battle of Saragarhi has inspired the upcoming films Kesari, starring Akshay Kumar, and Battle of Saragarhi, starring Randeep Hooda, and the on-air TV show, 21 Sarfarosh: Saragarhi 1897, starring Mohit Raina. (Photos: Twitter/akshaykumar; Instagram/merainna; Instagram/randeephooda)

Actor Akshay Kumar’s upcoming Kesari; actor Randeep Hooda’s Battle of Saragarhi; and television star Mohit Raina’s new TV show, 21 Sarfarosh: Saragarhi 1897 — they all have one thing in common: the core of the story is the legendary battle of Saragarhi.

In this historic battle of 1897, during the Raj, 21 Sikh soldiers of the British Indian Army fought 10,000 Afghans at Saragarhi, in the North-West Frontier Province (now in Pakistan). This is the kind of tale of valour that the Indian entertainment industry laps up — but three at the same time? The films are on the floors; the TV show began a few days ago. Could there be an overdose?

Actor Mukul Dev, who stars on the TV show, doesn’t think that it’s too much. He feels that “real-life incidents are open to interpretation”, as “everyone is going to have their own take on it”. Citing Hollywood filmmaker Richard Attenborough’s classic Gandhi (1982), Mukul says, “There have been so many films made on Gandhi, but Attenborough’s Gandhi was best received by the audiences. The USP of [narrating] a historical event is that people have an idea of it already, but they also want to know what exactly happened.”

Mohit, the lead actor on 21 Sarfarosh: Saragarhi 1897, points out, “We’re making a series of 1,200 hours, whereas the films would be of two-three hours. Everybody’s vision is different. As long as you’re true to the subject, everyone will appreciate it.” He adds, “The subject [of the battle of Saragarhi] has been in the limelight for a couple of years now. The story of a triumph that seems impossible always strikes a chord with the audience, especially when it’s related to your nation.”

However, trade analyst Atul Mohan feels that a film like Kesari, expected to be “huge and spectacular”, with a major star like Akshay Kumar fronting it, might draw the hype away from smaller ventures with the same storyline. “[The smaller films] know that the praise and attention would be with Akshay and [filmmaker] Karan Johar,” he says, adding that smaller makers would thus have to work harder to whip up interest.

Mohan points out another subject picked up by several ventures — the life of freedom-fighter Bhagat Singh, which inspired three films in 2002, starring Ajay Devgn, Bobby Deol, and Sonu Sood. They had mixed fortune at the box office. The analyst adds that it’s “foolish to risk so much money on the same subject”.

Rajkumar Santoshi, who’s directing Battle of Saragarhi, believes that too many projects with the same theme aren’t ideal. Santoshi tells us that when one person has announced the subject of their film, it’s only ethical that others refrain from picking the same subject. He says, “The Saragarhi battle is a part of history and open to everyone’s screen interpretation. But as a matter of ethics in filmmaking, I had announced the Saragarhi project before anyone else and started preparation, including shooting the look, rehearsals, actors’ training. Others working on the same subject, at the same time, doesn’t just harm the film industry, but also creates ill will in the fraternity.”

Incidentally, it was announced in August 2016 that Ajay Devgn would make a film on the battle of Saragarhi. He had posted a ‘first look’ on Twitter, and India Today quoted him as saying, “I salute the 21 Sikhs who were the heroes of this mission and I want to show their bravery on screen. I want this project to have the scale of an international epic.” In September 2017, Devgn told the media that the film would take a couple more years because of the scale and technology involved.

Several people grabbing the same story doesn’t indicate a shortage of ideas, says director Kunal Kohli. “It’s just a coincidence,” he says. “It’s a historical piece of work, and everyone is welcome to their own version of it. The stars will have an advantage of a budget and bigger opening, but then every film has to speak for itself.”

Trade analyst Taran Adarsh says that while the historical backdrop makes a film interesting, “it all boils down to content” — whichever film offers quality, will have takers, he adds.

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First Published: Feb 27, 2018 16:04 IST