How Panipat, Bajirao Mastani, Tanhaji are related: Here’s a look at Indian period dramas and their timeline

With a bunch of historical films releasing in the last five years and many more in the pipeline, getting the history behind them can be overwhelming. Presenting a timeline.
Arjun Kapoor and Kriti Sanon in Panipat.
Arjun Kapoor and Kriti Sanon in Panipat.
Updated on Dec 04, 2019 09:11 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByNivedita Mishra

Come December 6, ace filmmaker Ashutosh Gowariker’s ambitious period drama, Panipat, will unveil in theatres. Starring Arjun Kapoor, Sanjay Dutt and Kriti Sanon, the film has been talked about (often mocked at) ever since its trailer was released. One of the criticism it has had to face was that it looked and felt exactly like Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani and Padmaavat! People commented incessantly how Arjun looked like Ranveer Singh’s Bajirao. Many also felt that Sanjay’s Ahmed Shah Abdali looked quite like Ranveer’s Khilji.

Truth is there was bound to be overlaps, not because the filmmaker and his creative team were lazy and thought imitation was the best form of flattery, but because the events fall in the same period of Indian history, particularly Arjun’s Sadashivrao Bhau and Ranveer’s Bajirao. They both belonged to same era of Indian history - Bajirao 1 (1700 – 1740) and Sadashivrao Bhau (1730 – 1761) - and belong to the line of Maratha rulers and commanders. While Bajirao 1 was a Peshwa (prime minister during Maratha rule of India), Sadashivrao was a leading commander of Maratha army.

Panipat and Bajirao Mastani belong to the same period in Indian history.
Panipat and Bajirao Mastani belong to the same period in Indian history.

Ahead of the film’s release, we bring to you a timeline of various events from Indian history and films that were made in the past around them, ones that are in the pipeline and some more recent releases.

A chronological guide to timeline of period films

Sikandar (1941)
Event: Battle between Alexander and Porus on the banks of river Jhelum (Punjab) in 326 BC
: Prithviraj Kapoor, Sohrab Modi

To the millineal, this might come as a surprise that Kareena Kapoor and Ranbir Kapoor’s great grandfather, Prithviraj Kapoor was a once a dashing young man who played an anti-hero, Alexander The Great, in an epic Bollywood drama called Sikandar (Persian for Alexander). The year was 1941.

The story goes back to 326 years before the birth of Christ (326 BC), when the Greek general Alexander had conquered much of what was then known as the civilisation. After conquering Persia and the Kabul valley, Alexander set his eyes of India, on the Punjab region. King Porus (Puru in Sanskrit) asked the neighbouring kingdoms to join hands to rebuff the invader, but was forced to meet Alexander alone on the banks of river Jhelum in Punjab and lost the battle. It was recorded by Greeks as the Battle of the Hydaspes (Hydaspes being Jhelum in Greek).

A famous interaction is often ascribed to the two - Alexander asks the conquered king as to how should he be treated. To which, Porus replies that Alexander should treat him as a “king would treat another”. The dialogue features in the film too.

Watch the famous dialogue ‘like a king should treat a king’ between Prithviraj Kapoor and Sohrab Modi: 

Watch Prithviraj Kapoor and Sohrab Modi in a scene from Sikandar:

Asoka (2001)
Event: Conquest of Kalinga by King Asoka of Magadha around 260 BC
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Kareena Kapoor

Nearly 10 years after making his film debut, Shah Rukh Khan decided to get into film production and one of earliest productions was Asoka, based on the legendary Magadha king of ancient India. Shah Rukh plays young king Ashoka while Kareena Kapoor starred as princess of Kalinga, Kaurvaki (also Karuvaki), whom he falls in love with but gets parted from. In time, unknowingly, the two find themselves on either side of war on the plains of river Daya (near Bhubaneswar, modern-day capital of Odisha). Deeply disenchanted by the bloodshed that see thousands perish, Ashoka embraces Buddhism and ushers in an era of peace and prosperity.

History tells us that a bloody battle was fought between the armies of Magadha and Kalinga, in which Asoka’s armies triumphed but at a huge cost. It led to Ashoka turning his back to warfare. Kaurvaki was also one of many queens and there’s a mention of her on Ashokan pillar at Allahabad.

Prithviraj (scheduled for Diwali 2020)
Event: Life of Prithviraj Chauhan, ruler of north western India (1178–1192 AD)
Starring: Akshay Kumar, Manushi Chhillar

To be directed by the redoubtable Dr Chandraprakash Dwivedi (famous for his Doordarshan series Chanakya and the film Pinjar), this Yashraj Films’ production will star Akshay Kumar as the legendary Rajput king. Manushi Chhillar will play Sanyogita, his beloved.

History has it that Prithviraj ruled north-western India in areas covering modern-day Delhi, Haryana, eastern Rajasthan with some parts of neighbouring Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. He met Afghan king Muhammad of Ghor in the battlefield twice. Fought in 1191 and 1192 AD, the two battles are recorded in history as First Battle of Tarain and Second Battle of Tarain. Tarain is close to modern Taraori in Haryana, India. In the first encounter, Prthviraj won a decisive victory but lost in the second battle where he was taken prisoner and later killed. Many historians are of the belief that Prithviraj’s letting go of Muhammad after the first battle, who was injured and was on the retreat, was a major blunder on part of the Rajput king.

Razia Sultan (1983)
Event: Life of legendary queen of the Slave Dynasty of Delhi (1205 – 1240 AD)
Starring: Hema Malini, Dharmendra

Legendary Bollywood director Kamal Amrohi may be known for his fine pieces of work, Pakeezah (1972) and Mahal (1949), but he made another film, based on history. Called Razia Sultan, where Hema Malini played the noble queen of the Delhi Sultanate and Dharmendra her beloved, Jamal-ud-din Yakut, an Abyssinian slave (Abyssinia is the old name of Ethiopia). She ruled for only four years (1236-1240) as the Sultana but she is remembered to this day. A competent regent, she was preferred by her father, Sultan Iltutmish, but opposed by Turkish nobles of the court and betrayed by her step brother. Her alleged romance with a slave too was a pain point for many.

Padmaavat (2018)
Event: Siege of Chittor by Allahuddin Khilji (1303 AD)
Starring: Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmaavat is loosely based on the infamous siege of Chittor, which took place in 1303 AD (the actual story comes from a poem). However, the historical fact is that Allauddin Khilji of the Delhi Sultanate lay siege on Chittor and captured the fort and the kingdom of Raja Rattan Simha (Sen or Singh). According to a ballad by Mallik Muhammad Jaisi who wrote the epic poem Padmaavat in 1540 AD, Khilji was smitten by the beauty of Rattan Simha’s queen, Padmavati or Padmini. While the motive is matter of debate, many historians and family records of former royals of Mewar do mention that the capture did lead to a jauhar (mass self immolation) by the women of the fort.

Jodha Akbar (2008)
Event: Early reign of Emperor Akbar and events leading to his marriage to a princess of Amer kingdom (around 1562 AD)
Starring: Aishwarya Rai, Hrithik Roshan

Ashutosh Gowariker’s ambitious film, fictionalised the early years of Akbar and events leading up to his marriage to princess of Amer (eastern Rajasthan, close to Jaipur). The film portrays Akbar as a considerate and valiant king who conquered much of modern India to establish a kingdom based on unity and rule of law and ushered in an era of prosperity. It also shows that his association with local rulers, Rajputs, through marriage, in many cases, helped usher peace in the sub continent. It shows that queen Jodha had a considerable influence on him.

History records that Akbar married the princess of Amer kingdom, though her real name is a matter of much debate. He formed lasting alliances with the Rajputs and his rule is one of the most spectacular eras of collective Indian history. It is in the contours of their romance and her influence on his policies that history and fiction part ways.

Anarkali (1953)
Event: Romance between young Jehangir and courtesan Anarkali in the court of Akbar (possibly 1590 AD)
Starring: Bina Rai, Pradeep

Even before K Asif would direct one of the most iconic films on Bollywood, Mughal-e-Azam on the doomed (and rumoured) love between prince Salim (later Jehangir) and commoner Anarkali, another film on the same theme had been made. The film was a major hit of the year.

Mughal-e-Azam (1960)
: Romance between young Jehangir and courtesan Anarkali in the court of Akbar (possibly 1590 AD)
Starring: Madhubala, Dilip Kumar

The story of the affair between prince Salim, son of Emperor Akbar, with Mughal courtesan or a commoner of exquisite beauty, Anarkali finds no mention in history but is part of a folklore. The popular belief is Anarkali (born Sharif un-Nissa) fell in love with the crown prince, a matter frowned upon by Akbar. Despite opposition, when the romance refused to die down, Akbar, it is claimed, had Anarkali stoned to the wall.

History is silent on the existence of Anarkali but in Lahore stands a tomb dedicated to her, reportedly built by the emperor Jehangir himself, in memory of his beloved.

Taj Mahal (1963)
Event: Life of Shah Jahan and his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal (perhaps 1607 - 1631)
Starring: Bina Rai, Pradeep

This film was based on history and deals with the love between Mughal empower Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz. The film has some of the gems in Hindi film music such as Jo Wada Kiya Wo Nibhana Padega and Jo Baat Tujh Mein Hai, sung beautifully by Mohammad Rafi. The music of the film is by the legendary Roshan, grandfather of Hrithik Roshan.

Takht (scheduled to begin shoot in early 2020)
Event: Succession battles between Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh (possible period - 1657-58 AD)
Starring: Vicky Kaushal, Ranveer Singh, Kareena Kapoor, Alia Bhatt

Karan Johar’s magnum opus Takht is reportedly based on the later Mughals and will chronicle the struggle for power between brothers Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh, after Shah Jahan has aged and lost clout.

History tells us that succession battles did break out between the sons of Shah Jahan. While the reigning emperor preferred his eldest son, liberal-minded unorthodox Muslim Dara Shikoh, who was man of learning, a great patron of arts, and more inclined towards philosophy and mysticism, his other son, Aurangzeb, was an orthodox Muslim, and one of the most controversial rulers of India. An accomplished military leader, he was among the few Muslim rulers who was keen on establishing Sharia law and Islamic economics in the Indian sub continent.

Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior (scheduled to release on January 10, 2020)
Event: Battle of Sinhagad (1670 AD)
Starring: Ajay Devgn, Saif Ali Khan, Kajol

Based on the life of able Maratha military commander Tanaji Malusare, under the reign of Maratha leader Shivaji, Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior will see Ajay Devgn play the Maratha commander with Saif Ali Khan, playing his arch rival, Udaybhan Rathod, a military commander working for the Mughals, under Aurangzeb. Uday was a fortkeeper for Jai Singh 1 of Amer, a Mughal military commander.

Bajirao Mastani (2015)
Event: Romance between Peshwa Bajirao I and Mastani, daughter of King Chhatrasal of Bundelkhand and his Muslim wife. (around 1729-1740 AD)
Starring: Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra and Ranveer Singh

 Watch Bajirao Mastani trailer here:

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film is based on the relationship between Pune-based Peshwa Bajirao I, a brilliant military commander under the Satara-based Maratha empire in the early to mid 1700 AD. He famously never lost a battle and it was under his able military leadership that the Maratha empire reached its zenith. While Ranveer played the famous peshwa (literally prime minister), Deepika was Mastani and Priyanka his first wife, Kashibai.

This film comes close to history -- it is indeed a fact that Bajirao I married talented Mastani, after aiding her father in the Battle of Bundelkhand in 1729, in which he beat the later Mughals, considerably weaker after the death of Aurangzeb (1707).

Panipat (December 2019)
Event: Third Battle of Panipat (1761 AD)
Starring: Arjun Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, Sanjay Dutt

The Ashutosh Gowariker’s film comes a few years after Peshwa Baji Rao I’s reign ends. His son, Bajirao II is now the new peshwa and one of his able commanders is Sadashivrao Bhau (he was the nephew of Baji Rao I). This is the historical character being essayed by Arjun Kapoor. The Third Battle of Panipat was fought in 1761 between Maratha forces led by Sadashivrao Bhau and Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali, who was aided by Rohilla Afghans and Nawab of Awadh.

Mangal Pandey The Rising (2005)
Event: First War of Independence or Sepoy Mutiny (1857)
Starring: Aamir Khan, Rani Mukerji

Mangal Pandey, starring Aamir Khan, was based on a historical figure of the same name. Mangal Pandey was a key player of the rebellion of 1857, where soldiers of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry of British East India Company fought back, after a rumour spread that a new kind of rifle was to be introduced by the Company which used grease derived from pigs and cows, a matter highly offensive to Muslims and Hindus respectively.

Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi (2019)
Event: Doctrine of Lapse and Rebellion of 1857
Starring: Kangana Ranaut

Starring Kangana Ranaut as Queen Laxmi Bai of princely state of Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, it chronicled the life of this young queen, who took on the might of the British. She, like many other princely states, opposed the Doctrine of Lapse, which denied the right of an adopted child of a king to ascend to throne. Laxmi Bai lost her child and later adopted a boy (from her husband’s family) to raise him as an heir to the throne of Jhansi. British law didn’t permit that, leading to a conflict. She later joined the rebellion against the British by Indian nationalists and was killed on the battlefield.

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