Monday, August 15, 2016

Ashutosh Gowariker puts a face to Indus Valley Civilization -- that's good enough

There is plenty to crib about Ashutosh Gowariker-directed Hrithik-Roshan-Pooja Hegde starrer Mohenjo-Daro with uninspiring music by the overrated A.R.Rahman -- he has become an echo. The general movie-goer is not enthusiastic about a movie which is not part of the national memory of the country the way Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Mughals and Rajputs and Marathas are. So the audience is not able to empathise with the era. It is in this attempt to put a face to the Indus Valley Civilization -- historians call it the Harappa Civilization - that Gowariker succeeds and fails.

Gowariker and his story-board team have understood quite a few things right about the Indus Valley Civilization and its cities. They were prosperous trade centres, which meant people came from Sumeria and even Egypt -- he is right on this front -- and also from central Asia -- and he is wrong in this. The presence of a horse in the film frightened the politically-correct historians and they suspect a Hindutva agenda behind this. It is possible to believe that this is plain inaccuracy and nothing more than that. Gowariker and his team are also right in imagining an agricultural hinterland because historians concur that the cities emerged because of agricultural surplus, and they were also sustained because of the surplus. There is also the fact of the Lower City, where the poor and the commoners lived and where the city markets were located, and that of the Upper City where the chiefs and priests lived. Now, where he treads the dangerous ground in the eyes of the timid historians is when he shows the religion of the people of the Indus Valley Civilization to be the worship of the river Sindhu. It is possible that the people of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa worshipped the river even as the Egyptians worshipped the Nile and to an extent the Sumerians did have some sort of religious bond with the Euphrates and Tigris. The problem, and a genuine one which Gowariker could not have overcome, is that we do not know whether the people of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa called the river Sindhu. They must have had some other name for it and we cannot know about it because the Indus Valley script is yet to be decoded. So, Gowariker settles for Sindhumata. It is a forgivable lapse.
In constructing his plot, Gowariker is quite right in assuming inter-city trade rivalries between Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro. The other twist in the story that Mohenjo-Daro was getting overcrowded because of the building of a dam across the Sindhu, and some of the agricultural lands were getting parched seems quite plausible. The other major leap of imagination in the story is to posit that Mohenjo-Daro faced a disastrous flood and the dam could not withstand the flood fury is interesting. We have to remember that both Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa were built over and over again. Okay, there is something here that has been borrowed from Raj Kapoor's 1978 flop, Satyam Shivam Sundaram's ending. The other major issue is whether Dholavira, another Indus Valley city in Gujarat, was contemporaneous with Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, and whether the Sumerian traders had to use the Dholavira route to get back to Sumeria. It looks a little far-fetched but Gowariker is absolutely on the right track on the question of trade between the Indus Valley cities and Sumeria.

The ending is both intriguing and problematic. The frame shows that the word Sindhu showing the river is changed to Ganga. The film ends there. What does Gowariker mean by this? Is he saying that the people of Mohenjo-Daro migrated to the banks of the Ganga? That could be a possibility, and it cannot be laughed away because even historians are not saying that when the Indus Valley cities collapsed the people in these cities were totally decimated. Is he hinting that there has not been a break between the Indus Valley Civilization and what followed? The panic-stricken secularists suspect that Gowariker is doing some Hindutva trick here.
The rest of the film is tame. It looks like that even as A.R.Rahman filched his own music from his earlier compositions from Jodha Akbar -- the drums -- Gowariker stole scenes from his 15-years-ago, Lagaan. And there is also evidence to show that he stole quite a bit of the special effects from Bahubali. But he has also copied scenes and costumes from Hollywood's fake versions of Egypt and Babylon and Rome. This should not bother people too much.A film like this is perforce garish because no one knows how people really looked then. Though Pooja Hegde looks sufficiently Indus Valley-ish and Mohenjo-Daro-ish, the pseudo-Aryan looking Hrithik Roshan and Kabir Bedi do seem out of place if we want to believe in the speculation that the people of the Indus Valley Civilization belonged to a race other than that of the tall, acquiline-nosed, Aryans of racial mythology built by European historians of ancient Near East Asia and Europe. Perhaps, Gowariker should have followed Father Heras's hunch that the people of the Indus Valley Civlization were of Tamil origin and taken the Tamil actors and actresses. Or he could have gone the James Cameron way in his film, Avtar, and used a different language with sub-titles. Actually. Gowariker should have tried the Dravidian language, Brahui, spoken in Afghanistan, which could have been used in Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa and other places in the region.
The rest of the story is secondary. It's indeed Bahubali-ish and comical. But give it to Gowariker that he has broken a big barrier of silence and brought alive the Indus Valley cities. All that we have known are those meticulous sketches of the clean streets of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa, and their lovely double-storeyed buildings. Gowariker has peopled those streets and those houses. It is an act of artistic imagination.


Parsa Rao said...

Very balanced and well written Review. That Gowarikar is to be given that poetic justice is understandable and definitely Gowarikar has broken new ground by treading on a History of those by gone ages, which no one dared so far to explore. Good Review.

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