PADMAVATI MISADVENTURES ON THE SAND DUNES
[As the date of the world premiere of film Padmavati nears, several Rajput clans in Rajasthan are up in arms against the release of the film even without catching a glimpse of it, which again is also not yet censored. This hysteria is not original, says the writer.]
Sanjay Leela Bhanshali must be living in the house of Mars when he was born. There cannot be any reason why this supposedly Manglik person be so dedicatedly chased with trouble in all his projects of making films, as we have seen in the past.
Some may say, the situation was to his making, but that seems to me far-fetched, for no one in his right senses would throw stones at oneself to gain any superficial notoriety to gain attention. Certainly not when it is the case of fictional documentation, as is the case of film ‘Padmavati’, Sanjay’s latest effort in film-craft.
The Rajputs of west Rajasthan are up in arms for a fictional figure of the desert area’s bloody past of glory and betrayals. The complaint is communal and were it to be filed twenty years ago, it would not have stirred any sand dunes. But when it is the present times, one needs to tread the holy ground as it is now full of land mines. Sanjay had not perhaps anticipated the trouble ahead for his project when he launched his magnum opus of a film which he pulled out finally after a gestation of nearly two decades.
Film ‘Padmavati’ is scheduled to have its world premiere on December 1. The launch theatre is not publically known yet. We hope it is well covered by insurance if it is in India . It is safer today to hold the premieres abroad. Indian film producers now know where the real dollar exists and there are now many instances when an Indian film has opened its eyes abroad in the midst of crazy film fans who love spectacles, and to hell with history. Even in the distant past magnum opus films like ‘Court Dancer’, ‘Shiraz, the Tale of a Prince’, ‘Light of Asia’ and more lately a string of Indo-Punjabi films have been premiere in London. ‘Padmavati’ ought to be premiere in London too.
Recall the big noise created only a decade ago when film ‘Jodha-Akbar’ was about to be unspooled. The Rajputs were up in arms; in particular the Shekhawats. They alleged that Rajput clan history was being twisted. Theatres fronts were subjected to stone throwing, street processions organized against the release of the film and all this was done ‘before’ the film was released. The movie was cleared by the Censor Board without cuts and yet the Rajasthani crowd would not allow the film to enter the State of Rajasthan. The film was released in other parts of the country where persons of origin from Rajasthan were far and few, and finally the protesting crowd relented when the spectacle opened before them.
The Rajput Chittori clan is more vocal. Its BJP leadership want nothing of it and some members located as far as in Hyderabad in Telangana have publically swore to tear down the theatre where this film will be screened. Commercially because of all these threats, film distributors in Rajasthan do not want to risk their fortunes to buy the screening rights of this film and some others in neighboring States may follow suit.
Even at the time of the launch of this film the Karni Sabha of the Rajputs had objected to Sanjay Leela having picked up the subject dealing with an alleged Hindu –Muslim romance which had little evidence for its authenticity
It is very dangerous for film makers to take their inspirations from the characters of Indian history, and particularly from north Indian history. Our lack of education in the history of the past, and reliance on fables, dant-kathas and grandma tales, have contributed to our film troubles.
Thunder-bolts have struck selectively. For instance a film like ‘Rani Roopmati’ made repeatedly in the past, involving the romance of a Muslim king Baaz Bahadur with a Rajput princess of south Rajputana in Medieval times, had aroused no notice or protest. The fort of Mandu, off Indore, is a testimony to their love. The music of this film, composed by Kalyani-Anandji, was a chart buster of the year. Love Jihad was still existing in its royal splendor and without public protest. Today this has acquired a different tone.
The protest this time against ‘Padmavati ‘ should also include the present campaign of love jihad waged politically in the country. There can be no other excuse otherwise, for the theme of Padmavati is not new to Indian cinema; only the time location is wide off the original show on screen.
It was in 1946 when the first film on Rani Padmavati was made. Marked in the film certificate as ‘Rajputani’, it featured Veena as Padmavati and Jairaj as Raja Ratan Singh her husband. The film was directed by Aspi, a known name of his time in the world of Indian films. This film had been a moderate success and made reruns in north India. It was in one such rerun in 1948, when I, as a young boy in the family, went to see the film accompanied by my father which marked my world premiere of interest in films. The story line remained the same, the mirror scene was there, there was no digital display of huge armies on the move, and no colour or grand dialogues. Veena was still regal and Jairaj was still the hapless Rajput caught between his beautiful wife and an avaricious Khilji (Bipin Gupta).
The protest against film ‘Padmavati’ is in parts. A Chittorgarh Rajput women’s group has protested that the Ghumar dance shown as a trailer of the film, is a distorted version of original dance form. None of these precious ladies have shown to us the original version as a demonstration to educate our sense of art history. The same ladies have not protested at the recreated original jewelry on Padmavati, worth in its display at rupees 1,20 crore by the insurance company.
The men protest that there was no mirror scene. They protest Allauddin Khilji never romanced with Padmavati, or was it visa –viz. The Rajput defeat is played down and perhaps if we go deep into the original history, there should be also be a case of Rajput betrayal.
Indian take their cinema seriously while the world thinks otherwise. When it is serious spectacle with a good storyline and a message tagged along, I too take such works seriously. Cinema in India is also an effort on adult education. Hrishikesh Mukherjee through his film ‘Anand’ made it possible for cancer ridden patients to tackle the disease with a straight face. We saw in ‘Ghar’ the face of a rape effect, and in ‘Pink’ the limits of bad male conduct, in ‘Julie -2’ the problem of casting couch in the entertainment industry, in ‘Page -3’, the real world of Indian journalism, in ‘Ardh Satya’, the dilemma of the ordinary policeman, and more.
Film ‘Padmavati’ is not a lesson in Indian history; it is based against the background of some community traditions and more essentially drawn out from a character mentioned in a long poem written seven hundred years ago, by a Muslim poet, Jayasi. We know well that the act of sati was often practiced in many parts of north India for various reasons. Often women feared falling in the hands of Muslim warlords roaming the countryside; women became destitute at the demise of their husbands. Widow marriage was very rare and suicides by being consumed by the fires of the pyre were given a glorious end for women: men never walked into similar fires for their dearest wives! And William Bentinck put an end to all this confusion.
The Hindu –Muslim communal conflict is on, beginning with the Muslim invasions into this area from the 8th century onward. Religion did not play any role, only avarice. It was a local Rajput king of west Rajasthan who sided with Mohammad Ghaznavi to help him raid the Somnath Temple and lay waste the better part of Kathiawar. We have very conveniently overlooked the role of this Hindu king in the raid on the Shiva temple, we so revere today.
In the present case of film ‘Padmavati’, hopefully, avarice will play its role again and Rani Padmini will be allowed to walk into the flames with her other 16,000 Rajput women, as narrated in the poem of valour. Sanjay Leela will pay for his sins in misadventure with Rajput history, and we will be allowed to see one more great film of the 21st century in 3-D, and in peace!!!
*The writer is a veteran film historian and author.