Members of the Rajput community protest against the release of the upcoming Bollywood movie 'Padmaavat' in Mumbai on January 12, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Danish Siddiqui

The over-hyped anguish, vandalism and terror in the name of Padmavati seem not to be settling down even after the release of the movie based on her life, be it on the ground or on the Indian television channels. There may not be single person in the country unaware of the rampant protests over the movie Padmaavat by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a renowned Bollywood filmmaker.

Based on Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s 16th-century epic work, the movie portrays real-life historical characters, the Rajput king of Mewar, Ratan Singh, his wife Padmavati and the second and most powerful ruler of the Khilji dynasty, Alauddin Khilji.

Although the characters might belong to the past, there is little or no historical evidence of the desire of Khilji to possess Padmavati. But since we Indians base our emotions not on facts but on provocations, almost the entire north of the country was literally burning over the issue of disrespect to Rajput valor, under the leadership of an extremist Rajput terror gang, as it must be rightly called.

There were threats of violence and, amusingly, jauhar (a Hindu custom of mass self-immolation by women in parts of the subcontinent to avoid capture, enslavement or rape by foreign invaders when facing certain defeat during a war), which never happened.

The maximum credit for the outcry against the movie definitely goes to the ruling party for backing the protests, and also to the opposition party, which maintained silence while preparing for the elections in 2019. The only losers in this drama were the people of India, who every now and then inadvertently become victims of cheap politics and bizarre displays of logic. The person who gained most out of the hoopla was Bhansali, who got free public relations and soaring box-office receipts for his movie.

My emotions in the cinema oscillated between anger and amusement over the appeasement of Rajputs displayed in the film, while the country was burning for precisely the opposite reason. It was disappointing not to see quality content amid the beautiful sets, pretty women and lavish clothes.

It was also disappointing to see a renowned director like Bhansali doing a blatant black-versus-white portrayal of Khilji versus the Rajput king. The brutal and savage depiction of Khilji is just obnoxiously belligerent, and the depiction of Ratan Singh as the sweetest, cutest thing on Earth is hard to digest.

The human memory forgets actual history but carries on with the depiction of history in creative popular media, which has the power to discredit and wipe out the real context of history

I am sure Muslim kings would have eaten meat, but not as savagely as shown, biting into a portion as big as an entire chicken in one go. Even animals would be offended if shown in this manner. Always dressed in gloomy shades of black and gray, Khilji is shown as a monster out of a horror movie, while the Raja of Mewar is the fairytale prince, always noble and genteel in all his deeds. It’s amusing to see the smart politics behind the Rajput protest in brainwashing people into pathetic logic.

I am confused at the intent of the movie, which was to make a period film or a fairytale drama on the triumph of good over evil, where the villain has to be a monster and the hero the savior with no blot on his character or actions. Using historical figures and portraying them as black or white have repercussions in the long run. The human memory forgets actual history but carries on with the depiction of history in such creative popular media, which has the power to discredit and wipe out the real context of history. In the ongoing scenario, an exaggerated portrayal of a Muslim king can create flawed imagery enhancing the bias and suspicions for the Muslim community.

The movie is based on a 13th-century context, which kind of justifies the regressive sexist depiction of women, by glorifying acts of jauhar in one of the most lavish sequences in the film, showing the age-old cultural hypocrisy of controlling and owning the sexuality of women. It is disappointing to see the insensitivity of such a big director in bringing 21st-century women back to an age when the burning of women was considered an act of pride.

The disclaimer claiming not to support sati (widows’ self-immolation) or jauhar seems to fall short of the vivid and majestic depiction of the latter practice in the film. This was unexpected from the director, who proudly uses his mother’s name as his second name.

Padmaavat remains to me an overhyped film, more to be viewed for its visual grandeur and lavish sets.

Atiya Anis

Atiya Anis is a communication professional, exploring creative writing as a medium of self-expression and an attempt at inculcating the culture of inquisitiveness on events around us.

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