Of Horses, Fights and Saviours: Gowariker’s Mohen Jodaro


The trailer of Mohen Jodaro can be used as a ‘spot the differences’ puzzle for high school students studying ancient history.

Assuming that you have watched the Mohen Jodaro trailer, history buffs, or even anyone with general knowledge would have noted the so called academic flaw even in the first text that popped up.

“2016 BC”

History Convention: We don’t say BC anymore. It is supposed to be BCE.

Not considering day dreaming and wild imagination, period dramas are our only window to a visual life of the past. Movies and TV shows have often found history an intriguing and potential field that can be marketed as ‘entertainment’. Sadly, many at times, they end up being unjust to that period of time. And they give us false information. Those who might have seen ‘The Mummy’ (either the 1932 version or the 1999 remake) will remember that bald villain Imhotep. In reality, Imhotep was not a bad guy having an affair with the Pharoah’s wife, rather he was an ancient Egyptian architect, engineer and physician. A brilliant guy. And trust me, Marie Antoinette never said “Let them eat cake”, as opposed to many pop culture representations.

You might think why I am writing an entire blog post on a movie trailer. To be honest, my favorite hero is Indiana Jones. That should explain this venture. This one is particularly close to me because I did my CBSE class 12th history research project on the town planning and the architecture of the Indus cities. The Indus civilization was a marvelous era. This civilization built the world’s first drainage system and planned cities, used burnt bricks for construction, developed standards of measurement and created an amazing system of exchanging goods (by seals).

Nobody knows what the actual name of the so-called city of Mohen Jodaro was. It was named ‘Mohen Jodaro’ (meaning ‘mound of the dead’) in the twentieth century when archaeologists stumbled on its ruins, currently in Pakistan.

And here the trailer says-

Mohen Jodaro ki sachchayi!”

First of all, it is important to understand the differences between archaeology and history. Archaeology is a science, the science of reconstructing the past from ‘material remains’. History on the other hand is ‘past’, the truth about the past. Archaeology deals with possibilities, aiding historians to form a proper narrative of history. For example, imagine that you unearthed an empty urn from a mound. We could say that this urn might have been used for storage of grains or oil. Or we could also assume that these were burial urns, in which dead bodies were stored. These assumptions are not independent. An archaeologist might suggest that the urn could be a burial jar, drawing from the fact that there were other civilizations where people were buried in urns. It is thus, only a relative statement, a possibility.

All the information that we have about the Indus cities comes from archaeology i.e. from the studies of buildings, sculpture, seals, tools and art. We don’t know anything about social organization, whether the Indus valley civilization was a monarchy, an oligarchy or a self- governed community. We don’t know about their markets, customs, leisure activities, interests or rituals. In fact we have absolutely no idea of whether there was an Indus religion. The most close we got to know about a possible religion is when a tablet/seal was discovered which showed the image of a figure sitting cross-legged surrounded by rhinoceros and tigers. Historians claim that this could a proto-Shiva, the earliest depiction of Lord Shiva. Apart from the Shiva debate, there are not much traces of religion or ritual. Most importantly, the Indus script has so far not been deciphered. This means that we miss a large chunk of information of the Indus life. That is, we don’t have a well woven history of the Indus valley civilization.

But through this movie, what the makers of Mohen Jodaro are trying to do is that they are providing a whole historical perspective from this limited information. They are creating fictitious environments of past and misrepresenting history.  In one word, it is ‘fictitious’. In two words, it is ‘highly fictitious‘.

There are many inaccuracies in the trailer which was released last week. While it shows the hero, played by Hrithik Roshan, trying to tame horses in it, in reality horses in the subcontinent is believed to have been brought by the Aryans, in a migration that was possibly an invasion. The earliest evidence of horses in the subcontinent comes from around 1600 BCE, that is four centuries from the year 2016 BCE.

And you all might have seen the heroine, Pooja Hedge, dressed up in sequined push-up bras and elaborate headdresses. Historically this depiction of women comes later in time, around the middle ages. The image of the heroine in the crowded marketplace as shown in the trailer is not different from the images of 17th century Chandni Chowk bazaars. Wait, I thought we were talking about 2nd millennium BCE in this movie, not Mughal era Delhi or medieval Persia!

From what archaeologists say, the Indus people were a peace-loving and harmonious community. Now how do we know that they were ‘peace-loving’? The Mesopotamian texts mention trade relations with a region known as Meluhha, from where they procured lapis lazuli, carnelian, copper and gold. It is possible that Meluhha was the name of Harappan region. Harappans (another name for the people of the Indus cities) also maintained trade relations with South India (for gold), Oman and Egypt. Trade relations between civilizations could be conducted only by peaceful communities, given that the era is 2000 BCE.  The movie trailer, however, shows the hero engaging in some gladiator- like fights. I mean come on! Such fights came centuries later, if not millennia. And for god’s sake, we haven’t found much war-like weapons from the Indus cities. The Indus people’s tools were only some wooden ploughs and spearheads. And these should have been used for agriculture and hunting.

I remember Jodhaa Akbar, also directed by Ashutosh Gowariker. It is one of my favorite movies. The makers have beautifully reconstructed the Rajput ambitions, the Mughal court and the wars. Even the jealousy between the women in the Mughal harem does justice to historical accuracy.

As for Mohen Jodaro, I am not asking anyone to not watch the movie. But just keep your brains at home, when you are going to the cinema. And don’t draw any, I repeat, any conclusion of the Indus life from this movie. In short, the movie Mohen Jodaro is not being fair to one of the most peaceful and glorious time periods, not just in Indian history, but the history of the world. Though I cannot criticize the plot of the movie, since nowhere is it said ‘based on a true story’, I criticize it for the enormous historical misrepresentation and for providing a fictitious and factually flawed vision of the great Indus city of Mohen-jodaro.

My first reaction after seeing the trailer was ‘Can somebody just hit me with a boulder so that I do not have to live with this embarrassment!’ I am leaving this country, if this movie turns out to be a guy trying to save the great city of Mohen Jodaro because his crush’s ruler-dad was evil! And I might totally leave if it turns out to be a blockbuster.

And can somebody tell Gowariker that India’s independence day is on August 15th!


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