MOHENJO DARO Movie Review: Terribly plagiarized and horribly directed and enacted tale


Whatever India’s Tughlaqi and corrupt courts may say or do, the fact is established beyond doubt now that Ashutosh Gowarikar plagiarized the original Mohenjo Daro play, written and directed by Akashaditya Lama, to develop the story and screenplay of this horribly made film about our civilizational past. It’s another thing that his rotten brain could not fully digest the far better developed and thought-out original material and finally regurgitated this stinking crap at the cost of more than 100 crores to UTV-Disney.

The reprehensible part of this episode is that Disney collaborated in this crime, probably because the UTV-Disney officials convinced their bosses in Los Angeles, California, that it’s no big deal and the Indian justice system can be easily fixed and plagiarizing stories and scripts and purloining intellectual property is a commonly accepted phenomenon in what remains of the Indus Valley Civilization.

Had I been the CEO of the Walt Disney Company, I would have handed over the sack-order to Siddharth Roy Kapur for his willing complicity in the crime committed by Ashutosh Gowarikar. The Disney Empire stands tall over its Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and disregarding and denying the IPR of an Indian writer is the most heinous and despicable crime it can perpetrate. Walt Disney must be tossing and turning in his grave over such ignominy. One hopes Bob Iger, the Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, gets to know about the cheap shenanigans of the Disney executives in India and does the needful.

In India the Film Writers’ Association and the Film Directors’ Association should name and shame Gowarikar for his blatant plagiarism and strip him off his membership. That’s the only way to drill sense into the overblown heads of these big names of Indian cinema.  

Now, let’s talk about the film. It’s ‘Mogmaboisation’ of a serious subject. While the original story of Akashaditya Lama had used names like Varun, Indra, Mahamaya, Sugandha, and Mitra and beautifully connected the Indus Valley Civilization to our Vedic past, Gowarikar camouflages his perfidy with strange- sounding Indrajaal comics-inspired names like Sarman, Maham, Channi, Moonja, Laashi, and Lothar. The original story refers to the festival of Makar Sankranti and establishes the fact that Indus Valley Civilization was essentially an agrarian society, Gowarikar replaces that with item numbers reminiscent of terrible caricatures of African dances in some of our old Hindi films. These are set to some atrocious music by Oscar-winning maestro Rahman with insipid nonsense in the name of lyrics written by Javed Akhtar. 

It’s the story of a young and brave indigo farmer and crocodile hunter Sarman (Hrithik Roshan) who goes to sell his produce to Mohenjo Daro and falls in love with Channi (Pooja Hegde), the daughter of the priest of the city (Manish Choudhary). Channi is betrothed to an oppressive monster of a man Moonja (Arunoday Singh), the son of the murderous head of the Mohenjo Daro state called Maham (Kabir Bedi) who brooks no opposition. Maham had usurped this top position by conspiring against and killing Sarman’s father. Sarman was a little kid then. He was presumably saved by his father’s friend and taken out of Mohenjo Daro to a safer place and brought up as an indigo farmer.

Sarman obviously has come as a deliverer to Mohenjo Daro, to rescue his people from the tyranny of the despotic power-hungry villain Maham and his son Moonja, and finally ensure the survival of his civilization. He achieves the purpose of his life after a few fistfights, a prolonged and unimaginatively choreographed and heavily referenced comical fight of Sarman with two man-eating giants inside a Mohenjo Daro era ‘Coliseum’. He also performs a few item numbers in tribal costumes with horn-fitted headgear as musical and romantic interludes. All these proceedings are lackluster, stagey, and boring. Nothing works. It’s a lifeless film. And it certainly is not epical in its sweep and content.

Although Gowarikar has purloined the story and idea from Akashaditya’s play, his brazen attempts to adopt and make them appear as his own original creation are too cheap, facile and preposterous. It clearly shows through in the film, which evidently is devoid of artistic integrity, coherence, and conviction, the tour-de-force that sets apart the ordinary from extra-ordinary. Why did he do it? Is he blind? Is this his sense of artistic judgment? He could have easily acquired the rights of Akashaditya’s far better written, characterized, and wholesomely developed genre story and made his film. Yet he did the inexcusable, certain that he will get away with it by using his money and media power. That’s the malaise that has been killing our creative genius, the penchant to steal and copy ideas and stories without giving due credit to the original creators. Such mean-mindedness and dishonesty stunts our mental and intellectual growth.

Gowarikar has boasted in his published interviews, and on the film’s Wikipedia page, about the tons of research done by him and how had he interacted with foremost experts in the field to add authenticity to the film. That should have shown through somewhere in the film’s production design and costuming. Alas it does not. He picks up readily available references from films with Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Hatimtai and Arabian Nights themes. His favorite dancing dervish costumes and Turkish headgear are all there. It’s an unimaginative exercise coupled with obvious CGI fakery. A.R. Rahman’s background score is replete with middle-eastern themes and instrumentations that make Indus Valley Civilization look and sound like Saudi Arabia and Turkistan. The costumer, thankfully, has been kind enough not to show women in hijab. Even the film’s poster and its title fonts are referenced from countless Cleopatra and Arabian Nights film posters and their titles. 

It’s also a badly performed and directed film. Actors go through the motion rather bewilderingly. The leading lady is horribly presented. She has very little to do in the film except flashing plastic smiles. Her make up is bad too. Hritik Roshan is also wasted in a badly written and developed role. He seems to have been employed to perform routine dance and fight sequences alone. Gowarikar does not care for nuances. I have a feeling that the film was shot much longer than its present version and a lot of chopping had to be done at the editing table, leaving gaping holes in its narrative flow.

Filmfakers like Ashutosh Gowarikar have no sense of national or civilizational pride yet they pick up stories of our past, and somehow hustle stars and big production and distribution houses into backing them. They squander not only precious talent and resources; they also mindlessly preempt important subjects. We have been hearing about Sanjay Leela Bhansali making a film on Maharani Padmini of Chittor. The buzz is that the film is hitherto unheard story of Allauddin Khilji’s passionate love for Rani Padmini. I hope it’s just a rumor without an iota of truth. How do we deal with brazen travesty and misrepresentation of historical facts and our folklore? I suggest all such stories are declared to be our national treasure and filmmakers are asked to submit their scripts to a panel of experts for clearance before making their films.

I’m a firm believer in the freedom of artistic expression but it does not mean we should allow mutilation and misrepresentation of our history, and cavalier mockery of our traditions and folklore by idiotic Bollywood filmfakers. 

Directed by      Ashutosh Gowariker
Produced by    Siddharth Roy Kapur, Sunita Gowariker
Written by       Preeti Mamgain (Dialogue)
Screenplay by  Ashutosh Gowariker
Story by         Ashutosh Gowariker
Starring          Hrithik Roshan, Pooja Hegde,
Music by         A. R. Rahman

Rajesh Kumar Singh