Padmaavat: Bollywood film making the zealots crazy

Contribution by Bhavini Mistry

In 2017 protests erupted across India over the production of a Bollywood film based on a sixteenth-century historical poem called Padmaavat.

The story revolves around a married Hindu queen named Padmaavati and a Muslim emperor named Alauddin Khilji who becomes obsessed with her. The dispute in India arose from the fact that it is a story of forbidden love between a Muslim man and Hindu woman. Moreover, the story highlights conflicts between the two religions that are rooted since the 7th and 8th centuries when Islamic imperial expansion led to social and military conflict between them.

Since director Sanjay Leela Bhansali started filming, there have been numerous protests across India over accusations the movie is “distorting history”.  Critics of the film state that it promotes sati and jauhar which are outdated Hindu practices. Sati is the tradition of widows taking her own life by self-immolation after her husband’s death. Jauhar is the custom among the ruling class women of India of engaging in the mass sacrifice of going into the flames of a pyre in order to avoid capture, enslavement, and rape from invaders during a war in which defeat was certain.

In the historical poem, Queen Padmavati committed Jauhar after Khilji defeated her husband in battle which has been seen as protecting her honor and displaying her devotion to her husband.

The protests became violent as the December release date became closer with some vandalizing and destroying the film sets twice along with attacking the director. A Rajput caste group called the Karni Sena have been the most vocal towards their disapproval about the making of this film. They have partaken in protesting through vandalizing cinemas, burning Padmaavat movie posters, and threatening to chop off the main actress, Deepika Padukone’s nose as punishment for playing Padmavati in the film.

In addition, the Karni Sena protested alongside the Bharatiya Janata Party who claimed during the midst of the protests that there will be a reward of over a million dollars for anyone who would behead Bhansali, the director.

These protests against the release of Padmaavat eventually went to India’s Supreme Court which cleared the film’s release and challenged four of India’s states for banning the movie. However, this delayed its original release and the movie was not screened until January 2018.

India’s censor board that certifies Bollywood films had historians watch the film and alterations where suggested. These changes included changing the film’s name from Padmavati to Padmaavat along with editing some scenes. Despite the backlash, the film Padmaavat still endures, with many Bollywood actors have shown support for the film.

I personally watched this film with my family and thoroughly enjoyed it. I did not believe it to be offensive to the Rajput community as it is simply a filmmaker’s creative interpretation of a historical poem.

There were even multiple disclaimers at the beginning of the film stating that the movie does not promote sati or jauhar as well as they don’t mean to offend the history or characters of the story. Out of all the characters in the film, Alauddin Khilji is the only historical figure as the rest are merely fictional.

According to historians, Khilji was a cruel, bisexual ruler who did treat women poorly with violence and disrespect and treated them as his possessions. He believed anything that was truly beautiful was destined to be his. In my opinion, Bollywood actor Ranveer’s portrayal of Khilji was exquisite and dangerously convincing. To tap into such a dark character shows how good of an actor Ranveer is.

Padmaavat was not meant to be historically accurate. Similar to past Bollywood historical dramas such as Asoka, Jodhaa Akbar, and Bajirao Mastani, these films are meant to tell a story in a visually appealing way and not to be critiqued about the history it conveys. It is hard enough to take Padmaavat seriously as it is about a conqueror who declares war on a kingdom over a queen he has never met and bases his actions on what a vengeful priest told him.

Overall, Padmaavat was highly entertaining with astounding performances by Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh, and Shahid Kapoor and deserve to be praised. From the intense dialogues to the wholehearted humor, this movie should be applauded for the artistic expression of a captivating story that Sanjay Leela Bhansali brought to the big screen.

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