KARACHI: Witnessing the closing ceremony of the much-celebrated Sindh Festival at Mohenjo Daro was quite a moving experience for me; I was amazed at our resolve to preserve geographic history. Hope eventually turned into dismay when the firecrackers lying on the ruins caught fire and I saw artists using whatever remains of our ancestors on the backstage as toilets. They literally peed on them as images of the Dancing Girl of Mohenjo Daro were projected on a screen on the main stage.
It was a publicity stunt that made a mockery of history. So with a heavy heart I officially closed the chapter of our glorious past. Two years later came a film by the name of Mohenjo Daro, starring a mainstream Bollywood actor in the lead role and his resolve to fight for the grace and dignity of Sindhu Maa (Mother Sindhu) quite prominently shown in the film’s trailer.
Like the many concerned about needless Arabisation of Pakistani history, just the mention of the word Sindhu gave me goosebumps and above all, a hope for debate and discourse. So I stepped into the cinema only to witness a Sindh Festival all over again, only this time it was not literal. We were first to trample over Mohenjo Daro, and on both occasions, the dead died once more. It is clear that those who claim to be sons of the soil are clearly not worried about their mother’s body that has been rotting in a corner of the universe.
This is the era of remakes and sequels. Where the financial feasibility has pushed studios to extend franchises up to even six and seven editions, a lack of original ideas has also made them consider the idea of retelling, especially that of epics of civilisations with an epic stature in history.
So Mohenjo Daro does not stand alone in inaccuracies that have been discussed to death since its release. Even popular TV shows such as Marco Polo and Vikings rely on a more extreme and narrative-friendly version of history and body of knowledge. Having said that, all these examples and many others have a significant archeological base to build upon, which unfortunately is not the case with the Indus Valley civilisation. And Ashutosh Gowariker takes so much of a creative liberty that it actually becomes offensive.
He jumps through historic periods and civilisations on a flying carpet, so much so that the ease with which the dwellers of Mohenjo Daro walk across a river into Ganga is actually insulting to the libraries. What is worrisome is not the ignorance of bare facts such as the Indus Valley civilisation predating Hinduism and the Vedic period, but the fact that this atrocious account of Mohenjo Daro will be watched by many who don’t care to pick up the book. You can blame it on the consumers of narrative but in desperate situations like ours, it’s a film-maker’s obligation to refrain from making an already forgotten chapter of history even more confusing.
What is even more frustrating is that the film in itself is quite boring and such an epic could have easily be set in any part of the world where humans existed. Sarman, an indigo farmer from Amri (located near modern-day Dadu) comes to Mohenjo Daro for trade purposes. He has also been given a bronze biscuit with encryptions on it by his father, only to be used in an emergency. He falls in love with the daughter of a priest who eventually finds out that Sarman is destined to overthrow the current ruler of Mohenjo Daro and reclaim its true glory.
If you haven’t read or watched such a story before then go see the film; if you have, then pay a visit to Mohenjo Daro instead. It may soon get lost with Gowariker’s version of history, where Sumerians trade with the Indus people, or another festival where models try to ‘shake a leg’ on the ruins. Take some time to realise the stakes involved and play your part.
Verdict: If you haven’t watched a clichéd epic before, then go see the film; if you have, then pay a visit to Mohenjo Daro instead