Padmavati: Epic Trouble For Epic Saga

The protests have been on for a long time – the sets of the soon-to-be-released film, Padmavati were vandalised, the director assaulted for various perceived transgressions. Now close to its date of release, the protests against the film have intensified. The film’s release has been pushed back and there have been many other fallouts as well. 

Charges against the filmmakers

There is a charge that the film ‘distorts history’, that it is ‘demeaning to women’. Some fringe elements were particularly enraged by a rumour that the film would feature a romantic dream sequence between Queen Padmavati and invader Alauddin Khilji. Some reports in the foreign press have indicated that the main problem appears to be people’s wrath on the matter of a possible Hindu-Muslim romance. 

The factual and the historical

While the existence of Alauddin Khilji, his invasions and incursions into Indian territory around the 14th century is documented in historical records, the existence of Rani Padmavati (or Padmini) is disputed by many historians. The story that everyone knows is based on a poem entitled Padmawat written by a bard called Malik Muhammad Jayasi in Awadhi in the 16th century. In the poem, the bard speaks of Padmini being a Singhalese (present-day Sri Lanka). The king of Chittor apparently crossed the ‘seven seas’ to meet her and proceeded to win her heart.

Attempted extortion?

A sting operation appeared to suggest that the main organisation protesting against the film was far from upset about the content or the ‘historical distortion’ of the film. The real motive seemed to have been extortion.

Threats issued

Now various threats have been issued against the filmmakers and the actors of the film. People are claiming to be upset about the portrayal of women in the film, for being anti-Hindu and anti-national among other things. BJP media coordinator Suraj Pal Amu has threatened to break the legs of one of the lead actors, Ranveer Singh. He also spoke about a bounty of Rs 10 cores on the heads of director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and lead female protagonist Deepika Padukone. There have also been calls for Padukone’s nose to be cut off. The irony of such violent threats emanating from those claiming to be concerned for women appears ironical in the extreme. 

Tourism is also hit

Protestors blocked the entry of tourists into the historical Chittorgarh fort and the protests are also impacting other historical forts in the state. In Rajasthan, where tourism is a major source of income, this is significant.

The film’s release is deferred

It is alleged that due to ‘incomplete paper work’, the film’s release is deferred. However, it is also claimed that there are political reasons behind this and that the upcoming elections in Gujarat are possibly one of them. Actor and activist Shabana Azmi also issued a press statement in which she condemned the Rajasthan government’s treatment of the issue and also pointed out that criminals who had indulged in vandalism and assault were never brought to book, which further emboldened them.

The issues?

The film has been screened to select people from the media and some of those people opined that the film is a ‘tribute to Rajput valour’. Whether this is true or not is secondary. Whether this film is historically accurate or not can be a matter of debate – if there are other/contradictory views substantiated by evidence, they can certainly be used to counter the content of the film; perhaps make another more accurate film on the subject. If people are offended by the film, its story or characters, they are free to either refrain from watching it, or to approach the right forum for redressal.

Bottom line

The real question here is – did Bhansali or any of those involved in the making of the film break any laws? Did the protestors break laws? If someone suffered damage as a result of others breaking the law, were they compensated for the damage? Were the miscreants brought to justice? Can the safety and security of Indian citizens be protected against those who put a bounty on their head and threaten to cut off noses? At the end of the day, these are the only questions that matter in a democracy with many views, multiple faiths and more opinions that all of those put together.

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