Director Arnab Chaudhuri has mentioned in interviews that his animation film Arjun: The Warrior Prince is not a children’s movie, and I’m inclined to agree with him. The Mahabharata may be a story you heard from your grandmother at bedtime, or grew up reading in Amar Chitra Katha. In that sense, the character of Arjun, the brave warrior amongst the virtuous Pandavas, is one you’re familiar with. And yet, the film has an unusual approach – it’s a coming-of-age story, a boy-becomes-man yarn that has emotions like uncertainty, fear, frustration, will-power and courage running through it.
Arjun gets the treatment of an action-movie hero, and as he slays his way through a chakravyuh of soldiers from the Kaurava army you find yourself rooting for him. In fact, I was strongly reminded of the high-voltage drama that contributed to the Sunday ritual of watching BR Chopra’s long-running Mahabharata TV series in the 1990s.
The film unfolds from Arjun’s point of view – showing him first as a boy learning his skills from his guru Dronacharya. Even though he and his brothers suffer many injustices at the hands of their Kaurava cousins, Arjun is unable to summon up the courage to retaliate on the battlefield. The film’s director builds up the narrative by showing what goes into the making of a committed warrior.
The heroic exploits and inner struggles of Arjun are woven into the film’s narrative so convincingly that you tend to forget this is animation. The characters’ features are drawn sharply, giving the film the look of Japanese manga. The action has a martial arts-movie feel to it, and thus the violence — also the sight of severed torsos — may be too graphic for younger audiences. In portions, the animation is stiff and the characters seem stilted in their movements, but there are also beautifully stylized sequences, like the one in which Arjun dives into a pond to shoot an arrow into the fish and win Draupadi’s hand at the swayamvar.
However the film is not without its weaknesses – some characters, like that of the scheming Shakuni mama, are too caricaturish and could have done with a more subtle touch, while the Pandavas’ exile portion feels overly stretched and dull. For the most part, the movie works when it concentrates on its protagonist and his evil cousin Duryodhan.
I’m going to with three out of five for Arjun: The Warrior Prince. Like its hero, the film too is a valiant effort, and an interesting interpretation of a much-loved mythological story. Worth a watch.