indian cinema heritage foundation

"Chandragupta" Historically Incorrect But Entertaining!

23 May, 2023 | Archival Reproductions by Cinemaazi

Is it perhaps too much expect a historically correct story from that popular film scribe, Mohanlal Dave? Nothing definite is known about his educational qualifications or about his precise knowledge of history. It is, therefore, not surprising to find "Chandragupta" a historically incorrect tale which is likely to confuse our students who are taught something else in their school-rooms.

According to Vincent Smith (The Early History of India, pp. 118-19), Seleukos, conventionally described as the King of Syria crossed the Indus in or about 305 B.C. for the first time. Seleukos was one of the great generals of Alexander, the Great. The other was Antigonos. In 312 B.C., i.e. seven years before Seleukos invaded India, he defeated Antigonos and recovered the possession of Babylon. Antigonos and Seleukos were therefore sworn enemies. Vincent Smith writes that Seleukos defeated and ultimately slew Antigonos in Ipsos, 2,500 miles from the Indus, in 301 B.C. i.e. two years after his treaty with Chandragupta.

Jayant Desai Presents a Polished Production!
According to the following historians: Justin (XV, 4); Appian (Syr. 55); Strabo (Bk. ii, Ch. ii 9) and Vincent Smith (The early History of India, pp. 118), Chandragupta defeated Nanda, the King of Magadha in 322 B.C. (i.e. 17 years before Seleukos invaded India) under the guidance of Chanakya and inherited from Nanda a huge army of 30,000 cavalry, 9,000 elephants, 600,000 infantry and a multitude of chariots. In the picture this Nanda episode is dated after the invasion by Seleukos.
Mohanlal Dave proves himself a Prize-Fool!
All these historians confirm that Seleukos crossed the Indus in or about 305 B.C. and found Chandragupta already ruling as a powerful emperor.

Chandragupta gave battle to the invader and Seleukos was compelled to conclude a humiliating peace giving away a large part of Ariana (known as Kabul, Herat and Kandahar) and his daughter in a matrimonial alliance. This alliance was concluded in 303 B.C.

These are the true historical facts on which a historical subject like "Chandragupta" should have been based.

Film-scribe Mohanlal Dave has, however, given his own history of Chandragupta, something which the original never lived. For instance: (1) Chandragupta had never even once become the prisoner of Seleukos. (2) When Seleukos invaded India, Chandragupta was a well-established and very much feared ruler of India having defeated Nanda of Magadha years before. (3) Seleukos and Antigonos were sworn enemies and the former killed the latter, two years after his treaty with Chandragupta.
If students see this picture, they must forget the incidents portrayed in the story because these were not historical facts.
According to Mohanlal Dave, Chandragupta in saving the life of Seleukos, himself becomes his prisoner at the hands of Antigonos, who is shown in the picture as a general of Seleukos. The captive Chandragupta now falls in love with Helen, the daughter of Seleukos and begins teaching her horsemanship. With the help of Chanakya, Chandragupta is shown as escaping from his captivity to give a battle to Seleukos in which Seleukos, Antigonos and others become prisoners. On the wedding day of Helen with Chandragupta, Seleukos makes an attempt to prison Chandragupta, but through a happy accident succeeds in killing Antigonos, his commander, who drinks the poison with an air of bravado. Actually Antigonos died 2,500 miles away from India and two years later.

A historical picture is a great responsibility both for the producer and the writer. In this case the producer is Jayant Desai, but he can be acquitted as he is completely innocent of history. Jayant never claims any knowledge of history or letters. He is merely a film craftsman who does his best, under all circumstances, of the story material placed before him. He wouldn't mind even if Charlie had acted Chandragupta. Actually Ishwarlal acts the hero of the picture and Jayant does not seem to mind it. Between Iswarlal and the original Chandragupta there is a two-thousand years-wide gulf all round and it remains just that wide in the picture.
The entire blame for this incorrect representation of history must, therefore, be placed at the door of Mohanlal Dave.
The entire blame for this incorrect representation of history must, therefore, be placed at the door of Mohanlal Dave. This man turns out stories like sausages and does not seem to care a damn about the nonsense which he usually doles out. The stuff he writes is usually orthodox, stupid and reactionary for our fast-moving times. This fellow aims all his writings at the masses and exploits their frivolous sentiments to earn a few crusts for himself. He doesn't seem to care for our social progress. People have tolerated his stupid social stories with the eternal triangle and the usual family-squabble angle pretty long. But one can't understand why of all people, Mohanlal Dave, who seems to be completely ignorant of our ancient history, should have taken up the responsibility of writing "Chandragupta". If he did not wish to miss the money in the game, he should have at least had the decency to get some historical research done by some college professor in fairness to the past history of our country.

If students see this picture, they must forget the incidents portrayed in the story because these were not historical facts. "Chandragupta" presents "history" cooked up by Mohanlal Dave, who proves himself a prize-fool seeing that he has ignored the correct and outstanding incidents of history.
If the film producers have to buy all their stories from Mohanlal Dave, it would be a patriotic plan to send this man to school to begin his primary education so that in time to come we get at least an educated writer if not an intelligent one.
Forgetting these glaring historical inaccuracies for a while, "Chandragupta" provides sufficient evidence of neat direction, dramatic development and good motion picture craftsmanship. In these respects, it is indeed an outstanding production, in comparison with the stuff that is found in the town these days.

The main defect in the picture, apart from its historical inaccuracies, is the casting of the title role. Ishwarlal disgraces the role of Chandragupta. If Chandragupta had looked like our Ishwarlal, he would not have had a dog's chance to become an emperor. Ishwarlal looks like so much "vegetable", who would faint any minute at the sight of a sword. Not that Ishwarlal does not act well. The poor boy tries his usual best-serious and sincere-but he was asked to play a role at the dream of which Ishwarlal should tremble. We put this misfortune down to the acute shortage of talent in our film industry. Producers seem to be making the best of the bad material available. Not that we didn't have any one to play Chandragupta. We did have a couple of boys, but we guess they must be having swollen heads and quoting impossible figures as their remuneration which the Box-office Jayant Desai cannot dream of paying.
The main defect in the picture, apart from its historical inaccuracies, is the casting of the title role. Ishwarlal disgraces the role of Chandragupta. If Chandragupta had looked like our Ishwarlal, he would not have had a dog's chance to become an emperor.
Mubarak turns Seleukos from a conqueror into a clown. It is a pity that this boy gives good performances by fits and starts. In this particular picture, he has murdered the good role he had. The way Mubarak acquits himself, in the role of the brave warrior who invaded India, makes one suppress a long laughter. Schwanbeck writes in "Megasthenis Indika" (translated by McCrindle into English) that Seleukos was a brave, chivalrous and ruthless warrior, always alert and never compromising. Mubarak's Seleukos looks a circus clown who gives the fascist salute with a humorous jerk. Mubarak fails miserably as Seleukos not only in looking and acting the role but also in the speaking part of it.

Nayampally does very well in the role of Chanakya or Kautilya. This character is cast in a strain of fanatic patriotism with die-hard ideals and unscrupulous methods to achieve objects. We must say that Nayampally has understood his part well and acquired himself excellently with just enough melodrama that was needed to put the complex role over. Nayampally's dialogues, however, still need a bit of polishing.

Ebrahim does quite well in the impulsive role of Antigonos. He looks our imagination of an invader.

Renuka Devi gives a pretty sweet performance in the role of Helen, the heroine of the story. She looks foreign and distantly sweet. In part of the story, she presents a sickly and wrinkled appearance but at other times she looks quite smart. Was she by any chance ill during the picture?

Sulochana Chatterjee acts as a political weapon with youth, dance and music as her accessories. Though the music is someone else's, Sulochana's dance is not so bad.

The main stumbling block in the picture is its dialogue which is more Hindi than Hindustani. Two Muslim writers seem to have given a good Hindi performance but we are sure that over 50 per cent of the language will neither be understood nor relished in the Punjab and other parts of the North which are populated by people who understand hardly anything of Hindi and nothing of high-flown Hindi. The picture, therefore, inspite of its spectacular contents at places, will have a restricted appeal in several provinces.

The song compositions of Pandit Madhur are just words-Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit and Persian words-thrown at random without even a suspicion of meaning or intelligence. This fellow seems to be a meaningless word-spinner without any design before his eyes.

C Ramchandra seems to have maintained his reputation for stolen rhythm. Most of his tunes can be spotted as bits and pieces from different wholes given by different people. However, Ramchandra does this mixing job pretty well with a constant eye on the rhythm that gets a response from the audience. A couple of such mixtures do sound pleasing to the car in "Chandragupta".
...over 50 per cent of the language will neither be understood nor relished in the Punjab and other parts of the North.....
Dronacharya seems to have been rushed by Jayant Desai and that too in the midst of a shortage of lights for some big sets. This man is usually a good and careful camera artist, but his work in this picture is a big inconsistent. The sound recording of P C Subedar is definitely below his usual standard of efficiency.

The spectacular war scenes in this picture, almost exactly as in the case of "Prithvi Vallabh" of Minerva, are supplied from an Italian picture which once advocated the might and glory of Mussolini. Both Jayant and Desai and Sohrab Modi need not feel apologetic about this. We cannot treat Mussolini better being an unarmed nation.

As we have said before Jayant Desai has neatly directed the story and framed it in good motion picture craftsmanship. In fact Jayant is the hero of this picture, as "Chandragupta" is particularly a director's picture with its wrong historical data, unfortunate casting of the two main roles of Chandragupta and Seleukos and meaningless words of the music. It has, however, constantly changing entertainment which lags a big in the last four reels. A little speeding up would not have harmed even he "heroic vegetable", Ishwarlal, the die-hard amongst our screen heroes.

This article was published in Filmindia magazine’s April 1945, Vol. 11, Issue 4 edition as a part of "Our Review" section.

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