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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 15:33 GMT
Should historical films stick to the facts?
A film depicting the life of Emperor Asoka has provoked some critics to call for a ban on moral and historical grounds.

They object to distortions of facts and to the portrayal of Asoka as too erotic.

Similar criticism was made of the films Titanic, Pearl Harbor and The Perfect Storm for deviating from the original story.

Should Hollywood and Bollywood be held more accountable? Or is the "truth" flexible enough for writers and directors to bring history to life? And is it fair to call for censorship on historical interpretations when historians themselves could (and do) make mistakes?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

It's a known fact that the commercial cinema is anything but realistic. The main aim of modern day commercial cinema is purely entertainment and only a means to see our dreams and fantasies. Let's never make the mistake of expecting anything more than entertainment from them. It's certainly deplorable this sad state of our commercial cinema. But guess what, don't all of us inherently want that?
Satish, India

These lies become the facts and the real facts appear to be false

Mehkri, Pakistan
I have not yet seen Asoka. However, I feel that film producers and even novel writers have been lacing facts with fiction. Does anyone believe that Gandhi had as strong personality as shown in the movie of the same name? Distorting facts in a movie is like repeating lies or misrepresentations again and again so that these lies become the facts and the real facts appear to be false. Making money at the expense of history always results in creating great misunderstandings and is a loss for the future generations.
Mehkri, Pakistan

Had Asoka, Titanic, etc been documentaries, there would have been no excuse for deviating from the historical facts. However, these are entertainment movies. Just because they are based on historical characters or events, it should not restrict them to being documentaries. Having said that, a disclaimer is an absolute must. Furthermore, movies based on history should not deviate too far from what actually happened. For example, imagine if the Titanic movie claimed that the ship never sank or that the ship sank because of a bomb explosion? That level of distortion would be unacceptable. A sense of balance is therefore important. I plan to watch Asoka, but I plan to watch it as a movie, not as a history lesson.
Kesh Tharma, UK

All along, while producing the movie the promoters have told that the movie is based on Asoka the Great, but what's in the movie is totally out of contrast with what the people read about Asoka, so changing the history script to their needs is not the right thing for them to do. If they cannot handle the script then leave it, don't make it a laughing stock in front of all about our history.
Sashi, US

No history is perfectly written. Although we are in the 21st Century, history is twisted to benefit someone or race. The films Gandhi, Titanic, Pearl Harbour and others are never very accurate. Assumptions and manipulations are always a part of the game.
Siva, Canada

For an average minded viewer this movie is an entertainment and for an intellectual minded person this movie is a nonsense. I personally was a little disgusted by the ludicrous mind of the director to associate sex with an era where women walked seeing only the ground. I find it extremely disturbing and feel that one of India's great kings has been besmirched in the minds of the international stadium.
Ganenthiran, Canada

Let the viewers apply their own discretion to historical accuracy

Ripin Kalra, UK
The primary purpose of film is to entertain viewers and if they bring to mind and sight otherwise forgotten events it is a welcome bonus. How many people do you know who would queue up in Leicester square and pay 10 pounds to watch a 120 minute documentary on the nuclear test ban treaty? Let the viewers apply their own discretion to historical accuracy.
Ripin Kalra, UK

Popular movies aim to entertain and unlike documentaries do not aim to inform. Hollywood's version of Vietnam is as far removed from reality as the earth is from the moon. The Afghan fantasy will soon follow. So, why not an occasional Bollywood fantasy?
Saradiel, Sri Lanka

Movies contribute substantially towards building the attitudes and knowledge of our younger generation. It's absolutely insane to distort their views about certain things they should proud of. Movie makers should have a deep sense of responsibility while portraying such great person comparable to Alexander The Great.
Ajit, India

I personally feel that if you cannot show enough justification for choosing a historically important figure like Asoka for making a typical Hindi Masala movie, it's better to leave it untouched. Marketing the movie on the basis of historic relevance leaves room for criticism and questions the sincerity of the moviemakers.
Gopichand Yarlagadda, India

I am not sure distorting history is a good idea to begin with. I also have serious doubts about the sincerity of the film directors and producers since more knowledgeable people were excluded. Finally, the patron of this project (Shahrukh Khan) has tried to market this film as an epic. Overall, they have used a great historical figure for cheap publicity and some quick bucks.
Ashesh, USA

Novelists have been using this technique with great commercial success and critical acclaim

Devang Mehta, India
I have seen the movie and it starts with a disclaimer about the authenticity of facts. So, I feel that it is a fair enough distortion if you term it that way. I wouldn't even call it a distortion of facts, it is more like a mix of fact and fantasy. Novelists have been using this technique with great commercial success and critical acclaim.
Devang Mehta, India

It is absolutely criminal to distort history for commercial purposes. Historically incorrect films should be banned.
Nausherwan Lahori, Lahore, Pakistan

I haven't seen the movie Asoka but heard that he is depicted as falling in love with a girl. "History" would tell us that this is untrue, yet, time and again movie directors such as those from Bollywood take shelter under the "reel life" umbrella proclaiming that spice is needed to bring life into the plot or the film will not make commercial sense. The repercussion of "distortions" like these will not be felt today, but it will when a child writes an examination in Indian history with pages of Bollywood scripts attached to the main sheet.
Anand Rao, India

Mr Osman Nasir should read Indian history before making statements like "the only great king who ever lived in the Hindu nation". As per the movie, the artists should know and respect the great Indian history. They shouldn't make such movies if they don't have a good team of historians with them.
Jee, India

The movie was full of assumptions

Osman Nasir, Pakistan
The movie was full of assumptions, the star cast failed utterly to present the true character of probably the only great king whio ever lived in the Hindu nation, Asoka was far from the fragile and frail character portrayed in the film.
Osman Nasir, Pakistan

It is okay as long as it is clearly conveyed to the viewers that the portrayal is based purely upon a specific interpretation of historical fact and that what is portrayed may not exactly correspond to the actual events. If a strong and a prominent disclaimer is not included, then the film might be tantamount to a misinformation exercise.
Piyush, India

The question remains - who is distorting what facts? Everyone has their own opinion of an event and interprets it in their own imagination. Nearly all historical events recorded by mankind are always a biased and favoured portrayal of an event. The only way you are going to record history as it really happened is to write it together with all the people affected by the events
Yogendra Patel, USA

It's NOT ok to distort the facts. Just because the historian may have made a mistake does not mean we should make the mistake as well. Two wrongs don't make it right. The best thing to do will be to correct the mistakes made by the historians. If movies were to be made with distorted facts, then people have the right to know whether content is fictional or historical.
Swishmind, Canada

Listen now
... to both sides of the debate
See also:

30 Oct 01 | Reviews
Epic Asoka loses its way
25 May 01 | Reviews
Pearl Harbor sinks fast
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