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Posted at: Nov 11, 2017, 12:54 AM; last updated: Nov 11, 2017, 2:27 AM (IST)

Padmawati: Misadventure on the sand dunes

As the premiere of Padmawati nears, some Rajput clans are against its release even without seeing it, which again is not yet censored.
Padmawati: Misadventure on the sand dunes

Gautam Kaul
Veteran film historian and author

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 20 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 landmines. 

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 organised 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 wants nothing of it and some members located as far as in Hyderabad in Telangana have publicly sworn 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 the neighbouring 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 filmmakers to take their inspirations from the characters of Indian history, and particularly from north Indian history. Our lack of education in the history and reliance on fables, dant-kathas and grandma tales have contributed to our film troubles. 

Thunderbolts have struck selectively. For instance, a film like 'Rani Roopmati' made repeatedly in the past, involving the romance of Muslim king Baaz Bahadur with a Rajput princess of south Rajputana in the medieval times, had aroused no notice or protest. The fort of Mandu, off Indore, is testimony to their love. Its music, composed by Kalyani-Anandji, was a chartbuster of the year. Love jihad was existing in its royal splendour and without public protest. Today, this has acquired a different tone.

The protest this time against Padmawati should also include the present campaign of love jihad waged politically in the country. There can be no other excuse, for otherwise, the theme of Padmawati 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 Padmawati was made. Marked in the film certificate as 'Rajputani', it featured Veena as Padmawati 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 storyline 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).

Indians take their cinema seriously while the world thinks otherwise. 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 'Padmawati' 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 700 years ago by a Muslim poet, Jayasi. We know well that sati was often practised 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 Muslim invasions into this area in the 8th century. 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 that we so revere today.

In the present case of 'Padmawati', 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 the 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.


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