Variety

Telugu film mistakes fiction for history as it invokes regional pride

G Naga Sridhar Hyderabad | Updated on January 12, 2018

A poster of the movie, Gautamiputra Satakarni

Gautamiputra Satakarni depicts the ‘achievements’ of a 1st century AD Satavahana ruler

Invoking regional pride and self-esteem of people through films is the new buzz word. After a flick on the history of Kakatiya queen Rudrama Devi, pride of Telangana, now it is the turn of the latest Telugu block buster, Gautamiputra Satakarni. It depicts the ‘achievements’ of a 1st century AD Satavahana ruler while championing the Telugu cultural pride.

The film, directed by J Krish, appeals well to the so-called Telugu pride of the viewers. While it scores well on many parameters, it surely misses some aspects of history and culture in the process.

Identity

The Satavahanas ruled the Deccan for nearly 300 years — from about 220 BC to 2nd century AD. The present-day Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra were integral parts of their territory. How far is it justified to own up the Satavahans to highlight Telugu pride? They had a lot of Maratha content, too, which is conveniently left out in the film.

They patronised the brahmanical religion/culture besides Buddhism and Jainism, and promoted trade and commerce. Some classic paintings in the caves of Ajanta, Ellora and Bagh caves (Madhya Pradesh) are also datable to their period.

But the film totally rests on one fulcrum — war for unity. One cannot apply the modern sense of regionalism/nationalism or foreign vs native ideology to an ancient period.

While correctly depicting the military exploits of the protagonist, the film wades through his celebrated conquest of Nahapana, a Scythian/Saka ruler who migrated to the Indian sub-continent. There is ample numismatic evidence to this victory.

Who is foreign?

But the point is that Sakas too were famed rulers in their own right. Despite being foreigners, they embraced Indian culture. The first classical inscription in Sanskrit, which comes from Girnar in Gujarat, was issued by a Saka ruler called Rudradaman. This leaves the question whether one can raise the foreign vs native debate in the fight between Saka Nahapana and Satakarni.

There is ample fiction in the storyline. The fight between Demetrius and Satakarni depicted in the film’s climax is not true. Demetrius was the first to invade India around 200 BC after Alexander. There is a gap of almost two centuries between Demetrius and Satakarni.

Culturally and economically, the Indo-Greeks were not inferior to the Satavahanas. They patronised Buddhism and were instrumental in the production of the first image of the Buddha in the Gandhara School of Art. They were the first to issue gold coins in India, and boosted Indo-Roman trade.

Showing Amaravati as the capital of Satavahanas is questionable. While their place of origin is still debatable, they had a brief presence in Telanana and Andhra regions before shifting their base from Amaravati to Paithan or Prathisthan in Maharashtra for reasons which are not yet fully explored.

Other inaccuracies

There are social and cultural issues, too. A group of historians take exception to acknowledging the greatness of the Satavahanas as they represented oppression in the name of caste.

A Nasik inscription of Guatami Balasri, mother of Satakarni, says “he promoted the interests of the twice-born and stopped the mixing of the four varnas.”

Taking cinematic liberties to show Satakarni’s respect for his mother or women in general is fine. But neither did he stop the evil practice of Sati nor did he improve the conditions of women and untouchables. According to Suvira Jaiswal, an authority on ancient Indian social history, this period witnessed the maximum growth of untouchables.

All this is just to draw a line between history and fiction, not to underplay a film that is fine for viewing. But the filmmakers cannot claim it as history.

Published on January 19, 2017

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