Mohenjo Daro, the film, turned four on August 12, 2020. The ambitious project, helmed by Ashutosh Gowariker, starred Hrithik Roshan as Sarman and Pooja Hegde as Chaani, alongside a larger-than-life almost unrealistic set and an equally underwritten story in the lead. Ouch! Too harsh? Shaanth! Let us explain.
Sarman fights crocodiles with bare hands – even the ones that are made of plastic and aren’t fantastic – and dreams of a one-horned animal of some kind, a deer perhaps. He is a regular village boy, a descendant of the Mohenjo Daro civilisation, but he looks like Hrithik Roshan. And we don’t know which is more confusing – the dream or the casting. Chaani, the priest’s daughter, lives in the nearby ‘big city’ – you know the ones that have two-storey buildings and sanitation work that we read about in history books – and has several feathers on her hat. We aren’t even kidding, she literally wears feathered headgear and glides through the streets. Sarman comes to the big city to sell earthen pots at the bazaar, a bazaar so bizarre that has merchants from Siberia, the Middle East, and we think we even spotted some Russian salesmen. We couldn’t, however, find a stall that sold a portable time machine.
The same day, Chaani is being chased by horses, and she’s hoping to be bachaoed but no one can bachao her except for our Sarman. Sarman passes a sermon, “Shaanth!” he yells at the horses, and thus the horses quit horsing around. Of course, Sarman has ‘pehle ka naata koi’ with animals, hence the dream, duh. Begin ishaaron ishaaron mein between the two.
Hindi cinema, as it seems, had picked up quite a few things from the Mohenjo Daro civilisation. The Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge palat, for example, used time and time over in several other Bollywood flicks, was first spotted in the Mohenjo Daro civilisation. Possibly when the excavators unearthed a bronze statue depicting the move, alongside the Dancing Girl. She was obviously dancing because there was a Bollywood dance number being played, right?
And the menacing, teeth-grinding villain trope was also a gift of the Indus Valley civilisation. In Mohenjo Daro, the film, we met Moonja (Arunoday Singh), son of city pradhan Maham (Kabir Bedi), betrothed to Chaani. Their hats lacked feathers, they were more Viking-inspired. We’re telling there was a stall that sold time machines, we just couldn’t spot it, okay?
And, there was also this Milan Raat – a night where men would declare their love for the women they desired – possibly the predecessor to Vasant Panchami. Singing and dancing guaranteed.
The Indus Valley civilisation, historians have proven, collapsed due to climatic and geographical changes in the region. The Indus river, that gave both the civilisation and India its name, flooded due to a movement in the Earth’s plate below and swept the area. In the film, something similar was shown. The sewage lines, a particularly significant archaeological find that told a lot about that era, flooded, engulfing the city. Sarman saved all those he could, including Chaani. He then stood on a small hill, looked at the flowing river between him and the city that was, and said, “Isse hum Ganga kehenge.” Ganga originates in Gangotri (Himalaya), whereas the Indus, also known as the Sindh river originates in the Tibetan Plateau. Ganga merges into the Bay of Bengal, while the Indus merges into the Arabian Sea. We rest our case.
But in Ashutosh Gowariker’s defence, he never claimed Mohenjo Daro to be an “accurate representation” of the Indus Valley civilisation. And we never claimed that the film was wahiyat!
(The writer tweets as @NotThatNairita)