Film Review: Arjun—The Warrior Prince

Fast-paced animated feature retells the story of the Mahabharata hero Arjun and his struggles to defend his Pandava family.

In production for several years, Arjun—The Warrior Prince is a well-mounted account of a pivotal figure in Indian culture. The film relates key incidents in the life of Arjun—who appears with Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita—in a brisk manner that should engage the uninitiated as well as those more familiar with the great archer's story.

Arjun opens on a young prince eager to make a name for himself as a fighter as he practices fencing in an empty courtyard. A nurse later tells him bedtime stories about the courage and focus necessary to actually be a warrior. The film flashes back to young Arjun (voiced by Yudhveer Bakoliya), a son of Lord Indra and one of five Pandava brothers. At court the Pandavas are trained by master warrior Drona (Ravi Khanwilkar). Arjun dazzles Drona with his skill. But the Pandavas also earn the enmity of their Kaurava cousins, in particular the evil Duryodhan.

Duryodhan's unscrupulous uncle Shakuni (Vijay Kashyap) helps turn the court against the Pandavas. They are sent to Varnavat, a land of swamps, where they are set upon by the Trigartha bandits. Arjun and his brothers eventually establish an affluent kingdom.

By defeating opponents in a difficult archery contest, Arjun wins the hand of Draupadi, a princess in a neighboring kingdom. But Shakuni and Duryodhan, jealous of the Pandavas' success, cheat the family out of their riches and send them into exile for 12 years.

During his exile, Arjun travels throughout India, mastering martial arts while learning from his friend Krishna (Sachin Khedekar) exactly what he needs to do to become a successful warrior. At the end of the exile, the Pandavas are living in Virat. The Trigarthas divert Arjun's brothers away from their castle. Only Arjun and a young boy are left to defend Virat against Duryodhan and his army. To win, Arjun may have to kill his old teacher Drona, a choice he doesn't want to face.

Although rendered on computers, the animation in Arjun has an old-fashioned, 2D feel that suits a storyline steeped in tradition. At times director Arnab Chaudhuri employs photorealistic backdrops, and at other times he veers into expressionistic settings. The film's frequent action scenes are tightly choreographed and edited, particularly during Arjun's exile to the northern mountains. Chaudhuri also favors sweeping camera movements that help convey the scale and grandeur of ancient kingdoms.

More basic animation sequences can be disappointing, however. Figures tend to move stiffly, with one shot of marching soldiers resembling a row of bobblehead dolls. Chaudhuri has trouble livening up the many debates and lectures that pop up in the story. An excellent voice cast and the film's historic storyline help compensate for these weaknesses.

Arjun—The Warrior Prince is a necessarily truncated account of the hero archer, but it seems no less abridged and simplified than, say, DreamWorks Animation's The Prince of Egypt. The film's ending holds out the possibility of a sequel.