Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming movie, Padmavati, based on the 1540 poem ‘Padmavat’ by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, starring Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh as Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji respectively, has run into troubled waters. Rajasthan Rajput group called the Karni Sena has threatened the actors and director of the film with dire consequences and demanded the total ban of the film. The movie has already been banned from release in Madhya Pradesh, UP, Punjab & Rajasthan. With the CBFC playing hardball, the release of the movie has already been postponed to February 2018. But, with the current turmoil, an eventual release seems unlikely.
Padmavati performed ‘Jauhar’ or self-immolation rather than submit to the forces of Alauddin Khilji, a fact that Rajputs remember as a great act of defiance and bravery. They accuse Bhansali of trivialising the sacrifice and softening the image of Khilji who slaughtered thousands during his siege of Chittor. For centuries, this story of Padmavati has been told and retold to generations of Indians. The Rajputs regard Padmavati’s decision to commit Jauhar rather than fall into Khilji’s hands as an act of supreme valour which upholds the honour and dignity of all Indian women. As a result, Padmavati enjoys an exalted position in the minds of the people.
However, a storm has broken out whether the act of Jauhar upholds patriarchy or whether it provides women with a choice. However, in medieval India, we need to look into the kind of life that Padmavati could look forward to as a slave, once captured by Khilji. Example of Kamala Devi and Deval Devi of Gujarat, who was captured by Alauddin Khilji after his conquest of Gujarat provide ample clue. They were treated as transferable property and frequently traded between Delhi Sultans and their princes.
However, historical inaccuracy doesn’t fully capture the feeling of angst that this movie has stirred up. As the DailyPioneer explains, Padmavati seems to tap into the deep distrust of the narrative of history that has been presented by the liberal secular Nehruvian and Marxist historians and intellectuals of the country by the vast majority of Hindu people. To their eyes, this movie is another attempt to whitewash or subvert history to show the reduced suffering of the Hindus in medieval India, glorifying the Islamic period at the cost of native rulers.
However, despite all this controversy, it is the inescapable duty of the Indian state to ensure rule of law so that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s fundamental right to freedom of expression is protected and those holding out murderous threats to the film’s director and the actors are dealt with firmly.
(pic credit: REUTERS)