Spoiler alert: Mohenjo Daro is a violent assault on history
The movie Mohenjo Daro is neither exceptional nor entirely bad. But you will have to leave your brain at home to return from the theatre without a headache.
Unfortunately, I went to watch the movie with a thinking cap on my head as I have a keen interest in the history of the Indus Valley Civilisation. I have read some 50 books on the subject, and written one myself.
The biggest - rather horrific - flaw of Mohenjo Daro is that it presents not only a misleading but a totally contradictory image of the great civilisation. One of the salient features of the Indus Valley Civilisation was its adherence to peace; some 50,000 items have been excavated from the archaeological site of Mohenjo Daro, and not one of them is a weapon.
In stark contrast, Ashutosh Gowarikar's creation is filled with violence, corpses hanging on bamboo sticks, and sinister conspiracies in the royal court. The film not only shows the use of swords, but their smuggling as well. It depicts cannibalism as part of Indus Valley culture despite the fact that it was the most liberal of the three major civilisations of the ancient world.
I have been to the Mohenjo Daro museum, and I can assure you that the movie doesn't even have a shadow of the artefacts showcased there. There's no evidence of sprawling mansions, forts, temples and imposing monuments in the Indus Valley Civilisation, unlike in the case of its other contemporary great civilisations - Egypt and Mesopotamia. Yet, the movie is set in the background of grandeur. It makes a mockery of history by showing a man-made water reservoir larger than even the modern day Bhakra Dam. In fact, in the move, this reservoir eventually brings about the destruction of the city of Mohenjo Daro. (God only knows how the rest of the civilisation perished then!)
Most historians are of the opinion that while the Indus Valley Civilisation might have lacked in scale and grandeur, it was truly accomplished in art. One does not get such an impression from the movie, though. Likewise, the peasants, a hallmark of the civilisation, are missing from it. Gowarikar could at least have shown a glimpse of the wells made with wedge-shaped bricks -- some of which still exist - and the sophisticated drainage system.
The makers of Mohenjo Daro would not have shown the ancient city in the backdrop of mountains had they cared to visit its remnants in Pakistan. Then they would have known that none of the houses in Mohenjo Daro opened on to the main road, a feature that was only adopted some 5,000 years later by Le Corbusier while planning the city of Chandigarh.
Now, the most striking deviation from history: all scholars agree that the Indus Valley people did not know the use of the horse, it was domesticated only in the Vedic age. Thousands of ancient relics unearthed in the Indus Valley have images of animals such as lions, elephants and rhinoceros but none depicts a horse. Yet, horses gallop through the movie. Perhaps, the machismo of the protagonist would have been incomplete without them. They have even been linked to foreign traders.
The horses, priests, rituals and costumes in the film try to superimpose the Indus Valley/Harappa Civilisation against some other (Vedic?) culture.
And yes, I cannot forget to mention that the director has even put a trident in the hands of the hero to fight the swords. And lo, even Mother Ganga appears at the end!
One might argue about the wisdom of analysing a movie in light of historic facts when it does not make any claim to authenticity. But can the filmmaker escape his responsibility just for that? Especially when he takes us to the era of Indus Valley Civilisation without making any claims and uses symbols like Amri, Harappa, Mohenjo Daro, Dholavira, Indus river, unicorn, wooden bullock carts, etc.
The director was at liberty to use his imagination while telling the story, but he should have at least done some justice to history when he was depending so heavily on it.
The writer is a renowned author and journalist. His widely acclaimed book Muanjodaro is a travelogue tracing the remains of the Indus Valley Civilisation. This article first appeared as a post on the author's Facebook profile.
Translated by Deepak Sharma. Edited by Mehraj D Lone.