Afghanistan Analysts Network – English

Context and Culture

Bollywood’s ‘Great Betrayal’ of Afghanistan: “Panipat” and the cost of vilifying Ahmad Shah Durrani

Fabrizio Foschini 18 min

Panipat: The Great Betrayal”, out in Indian cinemas since December 2019, is just the latest in a string of recent Bollywood movies that feature Afghans in the role of arch-villains, in this case Ahmad Shah Durrani, often described as the founder of the modern Afghan state. The historical revisionism and stereotyping of Afghans seen in the film have sparked protests by Afghan diplomats and public alike. AAN’s Fabrizio Foschini here assesses the film-makers’ claim to historical accuracy and also sets the movie in a wider context, wondering if the recent negative portrayal of Afghans by Bollywood may yet jeopardise the long-lasting bond of friendship between the people of Afghanistan and India.

Sanjay Dutt as Ahmad Shah Abdali in Panipat - photo

On the 14 January 1761, a great battle was fought on the plain of Panipat, around 90 miles north of Delhi in today’s state of Haryana, India. It was the third major confrontation to take place on this battlefield in just over two centuries and while it was not the most decisive, it was certainly the bloodiest. More than a hundred thousand soldiers were involved in the fighting, along with countless camp-followers and civilians who were also present; the casualties numbered, for both sides, in the tens of thousands. The armies of the Durrani Kingdom had marched south from Kandahar led by Ahmad Shah; facing them was the army of the Peshwa, the ruler of the Maratha Confederacy, who had travelled northwards from their capital of Pune under the command of Sadashiv Bhau. The two factions led large coalitions, as various contingents of fighters from the regional principalities of Northern India had coalesced around the two contestants. 

The Afghan king had come to assert a claim over some northern provinces of the Mughal Empire that had recently fallen under his dominion. Moreover, the Afghans had decided to intervene more directly in the Mughal affairs at the behest of their kinsmen, the Rohillas, who were long-settled in Northern India, and trying to counter the Marathas’ expansionism by cutting a role for themselves as king-makers at the Delhi court. The Marathas power had grown after successfully resisting the Mughals in Deccan and gradually encroaching upon imperial territory in the North by way of raids and tributes exacted from local Mughal feudatories. They were now trying to play a more pro-active and stable role in Delhi, until faced with this challenge from the Durranis. 

The third battle of Panipat followed two months spent with the main armies entrenched in the respective camps, with only minor detachments involved in forays and sallies, until the Afghan command of all the supply routes forced the Marathas to attack. At the end of a violent engagement that lasted for most of the day, the Marathas were thoroughly defeated and their rout turned into a massacre.

Despite representing the climax of a protracted confrontation that had pitted the Marathas and the Afghans against each other for over two years, with many a battle fought and with mixed fortunes, Panipat led to remarkably limited consequences for the balance of power in northern India, at least in the short run. The victorious Ahmad Shah stopped in Delhi just for a couple of months in order to settle the affairs of the helplessly decaying Mughal court to the advantage of his allies and to secure recognition of his annexation of the ex-Mughal province of Punjab. (1) Then he rode home, back to his cherished mountains, fruits and quarrelsome subjects.

Thus far, facts that anybody familiar with Afghan or Indian history knows. Against the backdrop of war-torn eighteenth century India, with Mughal authority in the North collapsing and stimulating invasions and raids from Central Asia, Central India and European colonial inroads in Bengal, the Afghan military campaigns in the Punjab and around Delhi hardly made an outstanding exception. (2) However, history is often re-written according to the whim of the era or the need of the screenplay, and in the case of “Panipat: The Great Betrayal” it seems that the Durranis have been taken as the eponym for an evil foreign threat that had to be stopped at all costs by a handful of self-sacrificing and patriotic heroes. Conversely, in the movie script it fell to the Marathas to be cast in this valiant role, an unlikely one even for these redoubtable warriors.

The highly-polarised rendering of this historical episode and, in particular, the nasty portrayal of Ahmad Shah Durrani, a hero to many Afghans, has caused deep resentment among the Afghan public, an otherwise avid consumer of Bollywood movies.

A three-hour history lesson?

It may be pointless to single out every historical inaccuracy or inconsistency in the movie, given the typical lack of concern towards these issues displayed by Bollywood movies. That boring historical truths can be sacrificed – at least up to a point – on the altar of entertainment and audience empathy is part of the rules of the game. However, the movie chooses to follow a chronological approach, relating the events of the 1759-1761 campaign in order and detail and laying thus an implicit claim to accuracy. Indeed, it has been labelled, by some cinema reviews in India, a “labored history lesson” (read here or here). It is therefore worth mentioning a few significant points of the historical reconstruction offered by the movie, particularly given the huge educational potential of Bollywood among the Indian public and that of neighbouring countries.

The title “The Great Betrayal” – following the old literary canon that only betrayal can bring about the heroes’ defeat – finds little justification in the facts surrounding the military campaign. The movie is also ambiguous about the real substance of this betrayal: it could refer both to the belated decision by Shuja ud-Dawla, the ruler of Awadh (in modern Uttar Pradesh), to side with the Afghans, despite his many differences with the Rohillas who were the main local allies of Ahmad Shah (the rulers of Awadh and the Rohillas were competing for territory and belonged to rival factions at the Delhi court, loosely aligned along sectarian Shia and Sunni lines); or to the last minute desertion from the Maratha coalition by the Jat leader of Bharatpur, Suraj Mal.

On one hand, the focus on the Marathas’ epic struggle and political-military achievements is interesting. Episodes from Maratha history have not featured prominently in Bollywood movies until recent years but were consigned to regional filmography. A re-discovery of such history and its significance at the national level through the media of cinematographic fiction is entirely justified. However, the portrayal of the Maratha policies and ideology offered by “Panipat: The Great Betrayal” is flattened by a mixture of early twentieth century Indian patriotism and early twenty-first century Hindu revival.

Director Ashutosh Gowariker with the main characters from the Maratha camp: the hero Sadashiv Bhau (Arjun Kapoor, in white) his beloved wife Parvati Bai (Kriti Sanon, warming up with a hot beverage) General Govind Pant Bundela (Paresh Shukla, in orange) and loyal Muslim soldier Ibrahim Khan Gardi (Nawab Shah, with beard) – photo

Let us start with the most problematic aspect of how religious strife is dealt with in the movie, particularly when set against the backdrop of today’s sensitivity on this issue in India. Official history here unfortunately led the way: according to many sources from the time, in his 1759-61 campaign Ahmad Shah had responded to pleas from several leaders to come to the rescue of the Indian Muslims, threatened by the Marathas’ capture of the Mughal capital, including a request from Shah Waliullah, a major alim (religious scholar) and Sufi pir (holy man) of Delhi. Hence, the idea of a Jihad against infidels – together with hopes of booty and territorial and diplomatic gains – was part of the ideological baggage of the Afghan army when marching towards Delhi. It is to be noted, however, that Ahmad Shah had established diplomatic relations with several Hindu rulers, such as the Rajput princes of Jaipur and Jodhpur, who had also invited him to India to protect them from the Marathas and who remained steadfastly pro-Afghan during the whole Panipat campaign. Among the ranks of the two armies there was an intermixing of Hindus and Muslims. Troops coming from Afghanistan were not accustomed to such integration at first and were reportedly outraged at the presence of Hindus in the contingents of their Indian allies. It was after the better advice of his Rohilla and Awadhi supporters that Ahmad Shah issued decrees to his troops requiring them to respect Hindu religious practices. It is not however Muslim intolerance that is exaggerated in the movie. (3) Rather, it is the pan-Hindu significance of the Maratha struggle against the Afghans that gets portrayed in a way that panders to the Hindutva nationalist ideology expounded by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and by more extreme, right-wing political movements.

One example. Songs usually stress crucial moments and have a narrative value in Bollywood movies. A particularly telling one in the movie marks the Marathas’ conquest of Delhi in July 1760, during the manoeuvre warfare that took place before the decisive battle. The event is hailed in the movie as the liberation of the national capital (in fact, Marathas had already entered and held the city in 1758, in collaboration with a faction of the Mughal nobility, before the Afghans occupied it early in 1760). The main refrain of the song, “We’re the ones who shook the millennial chains of bondage” cannot but refer to the centuries-long rule of Muslim dynasties over Delhi and, generally speaking, northern India. The fact that before this last ‘shake’ the Hindu Marathas had alternatively threatened or patronized the now-weakened Mughal emperors, exactly as the Afghans were doing, with no intention of abolishing the institution of the Mughal Empire is conveniently overlooked.   

This brings us to the second incongruous aspect: the hero’s and his companions’ idea of nation, socially and territorially. One of the movie’s recurrent themes is the self-identification of the Marathas with India as a whole and their dedication to protect its external borders from foreign invaders. However, this needs clarification, both at the semantic and symbolic level. 

Part of the problem is with the term “Hindustan”. Historically this referred only to the Upper Gangetic Basin – roughly speaking from Sirhind to Varanasi – but since Partition it has become the term of choice used by some Indian and Pakistani politicians to indicate the whole of India, in place of the official name, Bharat. While historical-geographic Hindustan covered a portion of Northern India in which a Muslim minority had made significant contributions through centuries of political and cultural prominence, the ideal Hindustan evoked in the words of the movie hero Sadashiv Bhau (the Marathas’ commander in the Panipat battle) is a veritable ‘Land of the Hindus’ encompassing the whole of India. (Sadashiv Bhau is at some point even rebuked by another Maratha chief for his dream of a united Hindustani army).

Indeed, what the movies shows as the Maratha concern of rushing to defend the northern frontiers because of Delhi’s inability to guard them, fails to take in account what we know about the geographic differences and community identification of the time. Eighteenth century Marathas would not have identified as Hindustanis but as Dakhani, from Deccan in central India, a view that would have been shared by Hindustanis (Hindu or Muslim alike).  

This said, the Afghans who came with Ahmad Shah were certainly seen as foreigners. Ahmad Shah came in the wake of the invasion of India by his former mentor, the Persian ruler Nadir Shah Afshar. That event, in 1739, was the first time in centuries that an invader from the north-west had sacked Delhi but not tried to occupy the throne, and had instead marched back after a thorough looting, thereby not letting time wash away his otherness as previous invaders had done. While a portion of the Afghan people had for centuries been part of the north Indian landscape and were a familiar presence in Hindustan, the Persian civilization that Nadir Shah represented and that Ahmad Shah’s retinue and elite corps resembled (as the direct product of Nadir Shah’s military system), was perceived as distinctly “other” in India. Moreover, Ahmad Shah was trying to make the Afghan tribes coalesce under his leadership to create a new political entity centred on what is nowadays Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan, not on the Gangetic Plain. His dealings with Delhi do not give the impression that he had an ambition to establish himself as the successor of the Mughals in northern India. His main aim, during his several Indian campaigns, seems to have been to secure for himself Punjab, which – together with Kashmir – constituted the major revenue-generating area of his empire, and to certify this possession through a measure of leverage over the nominal emperors in Delhi. 

To sum up, to the people of Hindustan, Marathas and Afghans were foreigners in very much the same way: they were familiar, albeit foreign, military powers that had to be reckoned with. They could pose a threat by way of raids or could be called in for help against other enemies. Indeed, in northern Indian chronicles, Marathas have been vilified as much as the Afghans as rapacious raiders and plunderers. When they were campaigning around Delhi, the Marathas were as far from their capital at Pune as the Afghans were from theirs at Kandahar (Panipat is actually slightly closer to Kandahar). Some Maratha leaders and their retinue had become permanently established in Hindustan and were arguably becoming “Hindustani”, much like the Afghan Rohillas, but both expatriate communities were in the process loosening their bonds of loyalty to their original community and the political entity that chiefly represented it. 

These two historical distortions in the movie – the supposed Maratha role as avengers of centuries of Muslim oppression of Hindus and as saviours of the national independence against a foreign threat – are worth taking time to debunk because it is on them that the vilification of the Afghans is founded. In fact, the political-military ascent of Marathas and Afghans have a few common traits: from the formation of a strong “identity in opposition” against the Moghul Empire (and the Safavid Empire in the case of the Afghans) to the military exploits of their cavalry units. In an epoch of rebellions, collapsing revenue systems and perennially indebted monarchs who could not afford to pay regular troops, the Marathas and the Afghans had turned to the tactic of making war to pay for war, by raiding the declining empires’ territories – hence their shared reputation as plunderers in many sources. 

Finally, what may seem the last and foremost revisionist aspect of the movie is that it portrays the battle of Panipat as a strategic victory for the Marathas, claiming that it was Sadashiv Bhau’s heroism that henceforth scared away Ahmad Shah from India. Although all sources corroborate the idea of a decisive tactical Afghan victory in one of the greatest battles of the time, the idea that the strategic outcome was closer to a draw is not as bizarre as it seems. If the Marathas lost the battle, the Afghans failed to capitalise on their hard-won victory. The direct effects of the Afghan victory at Panipat did not last more than a decade. Even in a highly dynamic context such as India in the second half of the eighteenth century, that is not a great achievement, and arguably not worth all the blood spilt for it from the two sides. In the 1770s, not only did the Maratha recover and start anew to harass the lesser principalities of the north, but the rise of the Sikhs’ power in the Punjab helped to cut off Afghanistan from its Rohilla allies, making Afghan influence over Indian politics more remote. For some historians, a secondary effect of Panipat was the extension and consolidation of the grip of the English East India Company on India, who arguably exploited the temporary weakening of the Marathas to make decisive gains. 

Protesting against the new image of the “Afghan other” in Bollywood

“Panipat: The Great Betrayal” was controversial even before its release. Afghan diplomats in India were concerned about possible negative effects of a misrepresentation of the founding figure of Ahmad Shah on Afghan-Indian ties. Reportedly, the cultural attaché at the Afghan Embassy in Delhi had started investigating the film’s contents as early as two years ago, when he first heard of it. As soon as the trailer for the movie came out, last November, these concerns were realised. The actor’s choice for portraying Ahmad Shah was Sanjay Dutt, a charismatic old favourite. However, the line he tweeted at the trailer’s debut “Ahmad Shah Abdali – death strikes where his shadow falls” sent a shiver through the spine of many Afghans

Since its release, the movie’s portrayal of historical events and, in particular, of the character of Ahmad Shah has offended many Afghans, stirring a virulent debate on social media (read here and here). The movie producers have been accused of spreading islamophobia and hatred and spoiling good relations enjoyed by India and Afghanistan for the box office takings. 

In the movie, Ahmad Shah Durrani is cast under a sinister light from his very appearance: his eyes are heavily lined with kohl and his garments are usually sombre. One cannot avoid the impression that the costume designers were keener on morphing a gothic-look of action movie villains with some of the Taleban’s black grunge, rather than consulting historical sources. Suffice to say, the image is in stark contrast to the resplendent images of the Durrani court from paintings of the era. 

The representation of Ahmad Shah in the movie is such a thin caricature that it is completely detached from any historical reality. The result however is not a fearsome adversary or a monster of cunning: this Ahmad Shah behaves like an ill-tempered gorilla throughout the movie. He is given to fits of hysteria and is often at a loss as to what to do next. The movie does not give him space for an inner life, even of a villainous nature, he merely demonstrates his evil by killing aimlessly and brutally a couple of his own courtiers. In what is probably the trashiest scene of the whole movie he smashes the skull of a conspirator with the famous Koh-e Noor diamond set in his crown, then dons the bloody headgear.

History records several massacres of civilians carried out by Afghan troops during the Indian invasions of Ahmad Shah: at Mathura and Vrindavan in 1757 and in various instances at Amritsar and in other parts of Punjab in the following years. However, the main historical sources do not attribute to Ahmad Shah Durrani a cruel or brutal personality, at least according to the royal standards of the epoch. (4) Acts of wanton cruelty and autocracy do not fit with the portrait of the Afghan monarch left by contemporaries. Moreover, Ahmad Shah had to manage a tribal confederacy, whose loyalty was conditional upon a delicate balance of personal and familial ties as much as on force and prospects of booty. This called for a very ‘light hand’ in meting out punishments to other Afghan chiefs and posed strong caveats against the despotic use of royal authority against his own subjects.

In short, Ahmad Shah is shown as a violent barbarian with no ambition above plunder, one so craving for India’s riches that his first act after entering Indian soil is to grab a pomegranate and bite it ravenously (as if he had not just arrived from Kandahar!). (5) In the movie, part of the blame for the Afghan invasion is deflected onto the treacherous Rohilla chief Najib ud-Dawla, who keeps dragging Ahmad Shah into battles that he would prefer to avoid (and is thrashed by the Afghan king every time something goes wrong). Even this, however, belittles the character of the Afghan monarch, making him look like a petty thief lacking the intellect to make strategic decisions about war and peace. Finally, at the end of the movie, his shift away from aggression towards a more reasonable posture is motivated only by the reverential terror inspired on him by the heroic bravery of Sadashiv Bhau. Indeed, a veteran of remarkable villain roles like Sanjay Dutt must have found it dull to impersonate this Ahmad Shah: he is not given a single funny line of dark humour, a recurrent honour offered to classical Bollywood villains. (6)  

Following the release of the movie, protests immediately took place in parts of the Indian state of Rajasthan, where cinemas were vandalised. Local audiences were incensed at the negative role played by the Jat leader of Bharatpur, Suraj Mal, one of whose descendants is currently a state minister in Rajasthan. This pattern of protests against the representation of communities or historical figures is becoming a normal occurrence in India, especially given the high number of movies with historical subjects produced in recent years. It is unwise to portray historical communities with a deep-rooted sense of identity – and this is certainly the case in many parts of India, such as Rajasthan, where politics are still run on the basis of identity and family origin – in the highly-polarised manner of contemporary Bollywood movies. In the face of the Rajasthan protests, the producers of Panipat promptly edited the movie, cutting it by 11 minutes, and distributed a new version. It is however difficult to imagine that anything can be done, even if there was the will, to improve the profile of the Afghans in the movie.

“Panipat” is not the first instance of a Bollywood movie with negative stereotypes of Afghans in recent years. Most notably, “Padmaavat” (2018) and “Kesari” (2019) made many eyebrows rise. As the Telegraph India said, “Period films like Padmaavat, Kesari and now Panipat, have crassly stereotyped and vilified Afghans in typical colonial fashion as brutal, cold-blooded and treacherous”. Padmaavat retells the story of a Sufi poem about the frustrated obsession of sultan Alauddin Khalji for the beautiful queen Padmavati (or Padmini), wife of the Rajput ruler of Chittor. In the movie, the fourteenth century Afghan sultan is so violent he appears to be a borderline psychopath, and a remarkably shabby one for that. He commits all sorts of treachery: against his wife, his uncle and his foes, rehearsing derogatory tropes about Muslim men as violent abductors and rapists. The second movie, “Kesari”, is set during the Tirah campaign of 1897 and is about the battle between a small detachment of the British Indian army at a frontier garrison and the Afghan tribesmen. The heroism of the Sikh soldiers is contrasted with the brutality of the Afghans (honour killing and the repression of women are also touched upon), without addressing the paradox of a film that exudes nationalist pride but is actually centred on Afghans defending their land from British colonial rulers who were using Indian soldiers to occupy it. Both movies stirred strong criticism in Afghanistan; albeit without reaching the sensitivity of the misrepresentation of Ahmad Shah.

Have Afghans achieved a new status of Public Enemy Number 1 for Bollywood screenwriters? If so, that would reverse a long-established trend of sympathetic portrayals of Afghans by Bollywood that has been the subject of an AAN report in 2012 (read it here).

Generations of Indians and Afghans have grown up with that cinematographic staple and this has influenced positively the reciprocal perception between the peoples of the two countries. Even Narendra Modi, in his speech at the Afghan Parliament in 2015 remembered, among other instances of Indo-Afghan friendship and closeness, the famous character of the big-hearted Pathan crook Sher Khan in the movie “Zanjeer”. However, if the pattern of movies vilifying Afghans continues, things may change for newer generations. 

So, what’s happening in Bollywood? One should ask the producers of period action movies, a booming genre in today’s film industry. They are constantly on the lookout for new enemies, preferably Muslims, that fit a popular narrative of nationalism in contemporary India, with an increasingly Hindu-nationalist slant given the current political trends in India. (7) When the enemy was inside, that is when Bollywood dealt, albeit in its naïve way and through the medium of love stories, with themes of social reform like the fight against poverty, criminality, corruption and class division in Indian society, the simple-mannered and proud Pathan could be seen as a good sidekick for the protagonists, also thanks to the stereotypical representation of an altogether familiar “otherness”. Fascination for a more complex other is now over, and all the enemies are outside of India, or clearly recognisable inside it because of their religious or political affiliation. Therefore, it was probably inevitable that Bollywood screenwriters would fall in with European colonial imagery and find their ideal villain in those champions of imaginary “otherness”, the wild and wily Afghans.

Afghans were right to expect, if not a favourable portrait of Ahmad Shah and his warriors, at least one founded upon historical sources and shed of unnecessary and unproven nasty characterisations. On the other hand, Afghan touchiness on issues regarding their history and identity is problematic. As in many other parts of the world, sensitivity about issues of national or ethnic identity and the memory of historical figures has been on the rise in recent decades and has often been exploited by political forces, causing polarising mobilisations and in some cases instances of violence. This can prove particularly dangerous in a country where the study of modern and contemporary history lags behind and where teaching the events of the last 50 years in schools is still taboo. This means that when such issues arise – as has been the case on a few occasions in recent years – there is no common scholarly reference that is widely accepted or can at least be used to mediate or exclude the most extreme positions. Afghanistan should devote more efforts at researching, understanding and writing its history, by listening to its many voices and experiences of it, in order to produce shared standards of reference both at the scientific and entertainment levels, if it wants to be sure that in the future no-one can slander its historical figures and its role in world history unopposed.

Edited by Rachel Reid

(1) Also not so decisive a result, for in the next decades the Sikhs would bitterly contest and eventually snatch away control of it from the Afghans.

(2) The decline of the Mughal Empire created a free and open military labour market that was dominated by Afghan migrants by the early 18th century. As detailed by Jos Gommans in “The Rise of the Indo-Afghan Empire 1710-1780”(Brill, Leiden 1995), the prominence of Afghan mercenaries was linked to their mastering both the type of military formation most effective in that contest, medium-sized and highly mobile bodies of light cavalry, and the military commodity pivotal to the development of such units, that is, the fine war horses which were brought from the Central Asian breeding grounds to almost horseless India by the same Afghan traders. These trader-mercenaries, collectively known as Rohillas (that is, coming from Roh, the mountainous Frontier area) had settled in large numbers in a tract of land between the Ganges and Yamuna rivers which came to be known as Rohilkhand and their leaders had become influential at the Delhi court. The most prominent among them around 1760 was Najib ud-Dawla, whose territories were both the more exposed to Maratha raids and the best located to assist logistically the Durrani military campaign that he triggered, in hope of countering the threat from the Marathas.

(3) Through the movie there are a couple of Muslims characters that are not portrayed as unequivocal enemies. One of them is an unavoidable historical protagonist of the battle of Panipat: Ibrahim Khan Gardi, a Deccani Muslim who held a high rank in the Maratha army, being in command of the sepoy (Indian) infantry (European model) and of the artillery. He was a highly respected veteran who had served in the Maratha army for many years and had been instrumental in many of their victories. In the movie, however, he is seen being spared as a prisoner by the Maratha hero Sadashiv Bhau right at beginning of the events, hence forming a bond of personal loyalty to him that explains his awkward position in the Hindu-Muslim conflict that is later represented. The real reasons for his stubborn attachment to the Maratha cause apparently did not interest the movie screenplay writers. It is a pity, for reality here would have been more dramatic than fiction: after the battle of Panipat Ahmad Shah Durrani had Ibrahim Gardi executed because of his refusal to join the Afghan army. 

(4) It is interesting to note that the only non-Afghan biographer of Ahmad Shah Durrani – and thus the author of the only biography of him available in English language, Ahmad Shah Durrani, Father of Modern Afghanistan (Bombay, 1959) – was an Indian historian, Ganda Singh (1900-1987). He was a Sikh, member of a community whose past history of conflict with the Afghans holds a much more central place as a marker for identity compared to other Indian communities, but he portrayed Ahmad Shah in a remarkably positive light.

(5) Kandahar is famous worldwide for its pomegranates, which, together with other Afghan fruit have been exported to India for centuries (on the Indo-Afghan fruit connection see an old report here). Also, the scene contrasts awkwardly with Ahmad Shah’s own poems, where he longs for the gardens of Afghanistan and declares himself ready to renounce the throne of Delhi in exchange for the bare Afghan mountains.

(6) The TV series from the 1990s “The Great Maratha” (by Afghan-Indian director Sanjay Khan) is as celebrative of the Maratha gallantry as it is dismissive in its portrayal of Ahmad Shah Abdali (who appears as a rather uncouth and ruthless, if less sinister, villain). It is just as prone to casting the blame squarely on Najib ud-Dawla and equally patriotic, but nonetheless more realistic and enjoyable than 2019 Panipat (see here the episode focused on the battle). 

(7) Just one month after the release of Panipat, another period action movie focusing on the exploits of the Marathas was aired in Indian Cinemas. “Tanhaji” sees again the Hindu warriors defend their homeland (this time Central India) from an invasion by Muslim fiends (the Mughals, then still aggressively trying to subdue the Marathas), but the main villain in the movie is a Rajput Hindu commanding the Mughal troops. Depending on the point of view, he can be seen as a high-ranking official in the (at its high points) religiously tolerant Mughal Empire or as a traitor of the worst kind, but what is more interesting here is that he shares with his fellow movie villains Ahmad Shah and especially Alauddin Khalji some disgusting habits that are cast as traits of Muslim (evil) otherness, like cheating, eating huge amounts of meat and posing a threat to the chastity of women.   


Fabrizio Foschini

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