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19 November, 2017 11:15:23 AM
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The ‘Padmavati’ controversy

Objections are being raised on Deepika’s portrayal and the Ghoomar dance that she has performed
Kumkum Chadha
The ‘Padmavati’ controversy

Well known film actor Deepika Padukone is under threat. She has been given special security by the Mumbai Police after she received threatens from the Karni Sena, a fringe group in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Padukone has been threatened with dire consequences similar to Lakshman’s revenge on Shurpanakha. In the epic Ramayana, Lakshman, Lord Ram’s brother, had chopped off Shurpanaka’s nose and sent her to Lanka.
"Rajputs never raise a hand on women but if need be, we will do to Deepika what Lakshman did to Shurpanakha," said one of the group leaders protesting against the release of the controversial film Padmawati, wherein Deepika Padukone plays the lead and title role. They have also threatened to gather in huge numbers running into lakhs and call for a Bharat bandh on December 1. "Our ancestors wrote history with blood we will not let anyone blacken it," one of them said.
Leaving nothing to chance, the Mumbai Police swung into action and threw a security cover around Deepika both at her home, office and places of shooting.
The film due to be released on December 1 has run into trouble for its content because of a portrayal of a romantic relationship between the queen and Emperor Alauddin Khilji.
Padmavati stars Deepika Padukone as the Queen, while Shahid Kapoor plays Maharawal Ratan Singh and Ranveer Singh plays Alauddin Khilji.

The influential Rajputs of Rajasthan vandalized the sets soon after shooting began. Its director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, too, was attacked.

The film is based on the legend of Rani Padmini of Chittor. Critics, mostly Rajput groups, have slammed it on grounds that the film  misconstrued facts and has shown Padmawati in bad light.  

Bhansali meanwhile has  denied the allegations several times over. He went to the extent of  releasing  a video clarifying that his film does not distort history.

Unconvinced, the protestors have called for a ban on the film and threatened to lay siege on the fort where Padmawati lived. They also went on a rampage destroying shops and vandalising the ticket window of a cinema hall that was screening a trailer of the film.

Padmavati is based on the story of Rani Padmini, who performed jauhar to evade capture from Alauddin Khilji and his army after they breeched the fort of Chittor. Jauhar is a hindu custom of self immolation by women in several parts of India to avoid capture and enslavement by foreign invaders in the event of defeat during a war.

The movie is said to be based on the epic poem Padmavat written by Sufi poet Malik Mohammad Jayasi way back in 1540.  

Protests have spread to as many as eight states from political groups to national parties to royals, pitching in and speaking against the film. They are veering towards imposing a ban on the film.

It all began in Jaipur when Sanjay Leela Bhansali started shooting for his period drama. Members of Karni Sena, a fringe political group, attacked the sets and even slapped Bhansali alleging that the film had romantic scenes between Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, who play Rani Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji respectively.

Bhansali reached out to these groups and protests died down but once the  film’s promotions started, hell broke loose.

Ironically, even as the furore refuses to die down, there is little evidence in history about Queen Padmawati’s existence.  

What, however, has irked the protesting groups is the romantic liaison between the Queen and Emperor Allaudin Khilji. Charged with distorting history, Bhansali and his crew are under attack.

The Padmawati- Khilji romance is only one part of the story. Objections are also being raised on Deepika’s portrayal and the Ghoomar dance that she has performed. This is on two counts: one that it shows the Queen as a “painted doll” and thus lowers her dignity and two that Queens never dance in public. There are allegation that the Ghoomar dance is not performed the way it is shown in the film and also it is performed by Deepika wearing indecent” clothes wherein “her midriff is showing”.

Fringe groups, Rajput caste leaders and politicians apart, even the royals are enraged at Bhansali’s attempts to show royal women in poor light.

Maharajkumar Vishvaraj Singh, of the Mewar dynast, has stated on record that the Ghoomar song has transgressed limits of decency and ignored cultural sensitivities. He termed it as an “artistic and historic fraud” to portray an incorrectly attired courtesan-like “painted doll” in the song.

Added Heena Singh Judeo, of Chhattisgarh's former royal family,  "History has witnessed that none of the Rajput maharanis has ever danced in front of anyone, and they cannot play with history."

Divya Kumari, whose grandfather was the last ruler of Jaipur, also said "The women of Rajasthan are very upset with this film made on a queen who is the epitome of sacrifice."

"Rather than highlighting Padmini's sacrifice, the film-maker has sought to highlight the romantic angle in this film," she said. Diya Kumari, also a  BJP MLA, said that she will not allow  any distortion of the valiant history of Rajasthan.

On another count, the glorification of the negative character of Alauddin Khilji is also causing heartburn. A minister went as far as saying that "glamourising Alauddin Khilji's character was akin to praising those who carry out acid attacks on girls".

Letters have been shot off to the government to take corrective measures.

Irrespective, the issue is how far can a movie maker go? How much dramatic license is he allowed and finally how much can he unleash his imagination and let fiction override facts?

One argument is that cinema is entertainment and facts can be a casualty particularly if there is a disclaimer loud and clear. The other is that in this particular case Padmawati’s existence in itself is in doubt and she is more a fictional character and hence any allegations of “tampering” are a bit of a

stretch.

Equally it is being argued that even while one is dealing with fiction one has to tread with caution. For instance, there are several legendary figures in our religion and epics including the existence of God but one draws a line and handles them with kid gloves keeping religious sensitivities in mind. So also when one is dealing with national symbols and the nation.

It is no one’s case to say that there should be a moratorium on imagination but even creativity has to be in the realm of limits and decency. This is not to suggest that Bhansali has committed violations because to be fair the film has not been released and hence a pre judgment is not only unfair but also premature. But if promotional bits are anything to go by, tempers are surely running high.

The answer does not lie in a ban or chopping scenes. Neither does it lie in dictating what can or should be included in a film. That remains the domain of the film makers and its creators. But yes a self restraint and self censorship keeping sensitivities in mind are surely in order.

It is at this point that one must stop and question the role of politicians and more importantly the governments. Should the governments back fringe elements and should thinking minds fan passions? Should ministers speak out of turn? It is this that is more worrying than the protests or anger that is taking its toll.

Governments and legislators need to step in to cool tempers and not ignite passions. In the present case, the honour of Padmawati that Bhansali has allegedly toyed with, has seen roles being blurred and decision makers and the general masses, in this case fringe elements, speaking the same language. In the process the elected representatives and rulers conveniently forgot  that there is a fine and delicate balance between those who govern and those being governed. This perhaps  is the reason why the clamour is louder than ever before and party affiliations and ideology are getting the better of administrative responsibility and commitment.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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