The debate around the film Padmavati can never be confined to the honour of Rajputs or the people of Rajputana. It touches every Indian’s sense of honour and, cutting across party lines, people believe that the film tries to brutalise a memory they have cherished for generations. Censor Board chief Prasoon Joshi’s criticism of Sanjay Leela Bhansali trying to bypass the Board through selective previews of Padmavati speaks volumes about the “not so noble” motives of the director.
Equally unacceptable are the threats to Deepika Padukone which doesn’t add grace to queen Padmini’s honour.
The movie must be screened after it has passed the Censor Board and we must trust the Board. It is appointed by the government which represents our feelings. But the debate has gone beyond the domain of the film, with Hindutva-haters using it as an opportunity to hit out with their fossilised arguments.
The secular defenders and Hindutva opponents of Padmavati are reacting without authoritative knowledge of the story depicted in the film. So why is Bhansali not coming out with the “facts” or the exact plot of his magnum opus? Or is he enjoying the controversy because it could ensure the success of his film at the box office? Should considerations of money-making be allowed to reign over matters of conscience?
Padmini’s jauhar and Khilji’s attack on Chittor are indisputable historical facts. Playing with those facts is like playing with the character of Joan of Arc. Beliefs have a great influence on our lives and faith. Like the belief that the Quran was revealed and Jesus was born to a virgin, Mary.
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is not a Rajput but in his parliamentary speeches and poems, he has spoken of the great valour and the recourse to jauhar by Padmini to save her honour from the advances of a barbaric and lustful Alauddin Khilji. And the great poet Pradeep, whose popular song, aao bachhon tumhe dikhayen jhanki hindustan ki, has a powerful line — “jahan hazaron padminiyan thee kood padee angaron pe” — which speaks of the tradition of Rajput queens embracing fire to save themselves from the brutalities of the invading Muslim armies. Some secular scholars wrote in a way that suggested that perhaps yielding before Khilji would have been a better choice. Their arguments are beyond shocking.
Padmini is revered, so much so that people do not remember the King of Chittor but everyone knows of Padmini’s jauhar as a symbol of the importance for women of their honour. Mothers name their daughters Padmini. Khilji is never connected with anything chivalrous or majestic — he is a hated bigot with animal instincts. Padmini had a choice. To throw herself into the fire or live with Khilji. She knew her decision would, for years to come, show the strength in making life-choices. She could never imagine that instead of looking at her act as a metaphor for bravery, some people would call it cowardice. Her decision was the decision of a powerful, unyielding woman. Dividing the protestors as Rajputs and others is a ploy that British used to colonise us. Khilji’s gang in Bollywood represents insensitivity towards its own soil.
Another example of how symbols usually linked to Hindus are used to demean them is a recent article in The New York Times about saris. NYT’s intellectuals didn’t know that the sari is popular among women in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and even Pakistan. But what appeared in the NYT was addressing the “Hindu-ness” of the garment and the so-called rise of militant Hindutva was linked to the nine-yard-long piece of grace.
Secularists have come to habitually denigrate Hindus in the name of a weird “freedom”. Like the use of “sexy Radha” in Bollywood songs, Durga labels on whiskey bottles, Ganesh on toilet covers and Laxmi on shoes — and now Padmavati. We must now produce historical facts to prove that Radha, Durga and Ganesh appear as reverential icons in our historical records, maintained at Harvard — and certified by the likes of Wendy Doniger and Audrey Truschke, the ultimate guide for colonial slaves.
If Bhansali has the power to make millions watch his film, he should realise he has a responsibility to respect a peoples’ collective memory. His depictions on celluloid shouldn’t make India look as regressive as Saudi Arabia, where women got the right to drive in an era when women from India are sending satellites to Mars.
Bhansali is using the limelight for box office gains. Films are one of the biggest influencers of any society. During the world wars, movies were based on highlighting the courage of the soldiers to inspire citizens. Shabby portrayals and glorifying Khilji will instil the sense that “bad men are majestic” in young minds. Everyone needs a hero and Rani Padmavati is one. Art can be presented in any form. But Khilji’s knife cannot be used to recreate the history of a peoples’ memory.
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