Indian film Panipat raises alarm in Afghanistan, Kabul writes to Delhi

Amrita Nayak Dutta, November 8, 2019

Actor Sanjay Dutt as Durrani empire ruler Ahmad Shah Abdali.

Fearing misrepresentation of former Afghan emperor Ahmad Shah Abdali in Ashutosh Gowarikar’s upcoming Bollywood period drama Panipat, the Embassy of Afghanistan has expressed concerns to New Delhi and sought a meeting with Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar over the issue.

Starring actors Sanjay Dutt and Arjun Kapoor, Panipat is based on the Third Battle of Panipat between the Maratha Empire and the Durrani Empire in 1761 — one of the most significant events in Indian history.

The film’s trailer was released Wednesday, sparking concerns amid Afghan people about the misrepresentation of Abdali (played by Dutt), the founder of the modern Afghanistan, as a brutal ruler. Panipat is slated to release on 6 December.

Within hours of the trailer release, the Afghanistan Embassy in New Delhi wrote to the Ministry of External Affairs.

“Since the film is related to former Afghan emperor Ahmad Shah Abdali, any insensitive/distorted depiction of his character might provoke emotions of Afghans which could be unfairly exploited by others to adversely affect the trust and harmony that exists so well among the people of two countries,” the letter stated.

Considering the sensitivity of the issue, the letter asked the ministry to arrange a meeting between Tahir Qadiry, Charge d’ Affairs of the Embassy of Afghanistan, and Javadekar at the earliest to discuss the film.

“The Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi the assurances of its highest consideration,” it said.

Sources in the government said India is likely to tell Afghan officials that the film is not funded or sponsored by the State in any way, and has been made by a private director in Bollywood.

However, the sources added, New Delhi is willing to take on board any concerns the Afghans show because of the important strategic partnership between India and Afghanistan.

Earlier, the culture department of the Embassy of Afghan had also written to the I&B ministry seeking information about the film.

Criticism from Afghanistan

The trailer of Panipat has garnered over 25 million views on YouTube since its release and is still trending on the platform. Many voices from Afghanistan have since spoken up against what they feel could be a misrepresentation of the Durrani emperor and Abdul Shah Abdali, a revered figure for them.

Afghanistan’s Pajhwok Afghan News quoted Tahir Qadiry as saying that the movie was yet to be released and its content was yet to be determined. He added that the embassy is in contact with Indian officials and has shared the Afghans’ concern with them.

The report also quoted Ajmal Alamzai, cultural attaché at the Embassy of Afghanistan in New Delhi, as saying that he came to know about Panipat two years ago and launched an investigation in this regard.

“We have emailed the film director to share the scenario with us but he didn’t. We have tried several times to contact the director, but failed,” he was quoted as saying.

On Wednesday, former Afghanistan ambassador to India Shaida Abdali tweeted to actor Sanjay Dutt: “Historically, the Indian cinema has been extremely instrumental in strengthening the Indo-Afghan ties – I very much hope that the film “Panipat” has kept that fact in mind while dealing with this important episode of our shared history!”

In another tweet, he said, “Our glorious past, under the ages of Ahmad Shah Abdali remains the foundation of our future — to that end, “Abdali Foundation” is underway to re-visit & re-examine the great vision of Abdali towards a United, Peaceful and Prosperous Afghanistan – and the region!”

Our glorious past, under the ages of Ahmad Shah Abdali remains the foundation of our future — to that end, “Abdali Foundation” is underway to re-visit & re-examine the great vision of Abdali towards a United, Peaceful and Prosperous Afghanistan – and the region!

Many Afghan social media users also criticised the film for being “biased” and displaying “Islamophobia”.

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