Film controversy based on issues like history, culture and religion is not a new thing for Bollywood. Like Jodha Akbar (2008) and Mohenjo Daro (2016), Bhansali’s Padmavati too has fallen at the hand of controversy, but this time the ruckus created by the Rajput Karni Sena has been unparalleled. The Karni Senas have not only reached out to other states of India to spread the protest, but also have threatened to behead Bhansali and cut Deepika’s nose off.
The film Padmavati based on the ‘fictional’ epic of Malik Muhammad Jayasi tells us about the story of a supposed 13-14th century legendary Hindu queen who had been married to then Rajput King Ratan Singh, the ruler of Mewar and the last Rajput ruler of the kingdom before Alauddin Khilji from Afghan took it over. The epic in Awadhi language commends the virtue of Padmavati who sacrificed herself in her husband's funeral pyre to protect her honour from the invading Muslim emperor Khilji.
The central character of the film, Padmavati, also known as Rani Padmini in Rajasthan is unanimously revered and even worshipped in places of Rajasthan for her supreme sacrifice. The Karni Sena backed by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders has alleged that the film inappropriately represents reverent queen Padmavati and even portrays her in intimate romantic scenes with Alauddin Khilji - a claim which the producers of the film have always denied.
Multifaceted discourses and disputes have been coming out as the previously scheduled release date - the 1st of December approaches near. For Bhansali’s long lasted silence on the matter, be a PR stunt, or a mere case of ignoring the validity of the protesters’ arguments, the contention heated up even more. The dispute has gone so far that some of the historians and associates in support of Bhansali have started to raise question about the historical existence of Padmavati. Besides, public sentiment in Rajasthan has turned out to be a vital issue for the vote bank politics for both parties in power and opposition as India heads towards 17th general election in the coming year. Losing Karni Sena’s support may result into losing the seat in Rajasthan.
Back in January, when the tension started to build up around the alleged misrepresentation of facts in the film, notable Indian historian S Irfan Habib heightens it up by putting an argument that Rani Padmavati or Padmini is not a historical figure as there is no record of her existence before 1540s fictionalized epic Padmavat written by Jayasi.
But the Karni Sena furiously refuses it and claims that Arvind Singh Mewar is the 76th custodian of the Mewar dynasty and descendent of Rana Ratan Singh and Padmavati. M K Vishwaraj Singh, the former prince of the Mewar family, asked the government, in a letter, to save Chittod’s history and only to release it after its omission of the objectionable scenes. Again, the Karni activists also destroyed the mirrors of the Chittorgarh fort which were purportedly brought much after the fall of the Rajput but the film depicts it as the instrument of Khilji’s first view of Padmavati. According to Karni Sena founder Lokendra Singh Kalvi, the entire narrative that Khilji saw Padmavati’s face in the reflections of the mirrors is entirely fictional. They also demanded the removal of the mirrors former to the incident.
On the other hand, protests over the film’s release might not be so fired up had Bhansali given any public statement of mutual settlement. Throughout the entire outburst of last eight months, Bhansali had not made a single statement regarding this issue. The police detained seven hooligans even after the latter vandalized the set equipments and manhandled crew members but had to let them go as Bhansali refused to lodge an FIR.
What adds up more to this dispute is that, though the film Padmavati puts a disclaimer at the starting of the film that it is based on fictional story, in the application form of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), Bhansali’s team has skipped to specify if Padmavati is based on fiction or fact. CBFC chair Prasoon Joshi strikes out to Bhansali and his associates for such reasons. Joshi is also offended by the fact that the film has been screened to selected individuals before the certification of CBFC. On Friday, CBFC has sent the film back for its incomplete application.
Keeping in head about the upcoming general election of India, both BJP and Congress Party are trying to play safe on the matter of public sentiment. So, it has been getting increasingly difficult for Bhansali to resist the pressure. Esteemed economist and BJP leader Dr. Subramanian Swamy has been consistent in tacking the Karni Sena and has always come up with newer allegation against the Padmavati Brigade. He accuses the film to be produced partially by Dubai based producers and hence the film is intentionally distorting history and misrepresenting the Indian legend only to make Khilji great. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also voiced in favour of the protesters. Even the chief minister of Punjab from the opposition, Amarinder Singh also calls for a ban of the film in his state even if it receives clearance from censor board. Unlike side-taking critics and politicians, journalist Arnab Goswami has provoked a different question whether the whole event can be seen through conspiracy theory lens where each of these parties are taking part for respective publicities.
By remaining silent, Bhansali seemed to enjoy the free publicity stunt of the film which later had gone out of hand, and thus created this countrywide hullabaloo. So, it can be seen as a PR stunt gone wrong.
The Padmavati team has always dodged all the allegations and argued that it is a fictional film. In this era of hyper-reality, any historic meta-fiction has the potential to cause threats and create havocs to the existing history. Hence, both sides need to reconcile in order to resolve the problem.