Bhansali’s Padmavati fiasco – what it is and how it started

History is always a contentious issue. Some want it depicted their way and others just want to know the truth. While limited to scholarly and historic texts, history may well be preserved objectively, but when history crosses into the realm of drama and popular culture, the legacy emanating out of them sometimes threatens to overshadow the reality.

On Friday, Sanjay Leela Bhansali was roughed up outside Jaigarh fort in Jaipur by members of Karni Sena sena, who claimed that Bhansali had distorted the history of Rajashtan by allegedly depicting romance between Islamic ruler Alauddin Khilji and Rajput Queen Padmini. Bhansali was roughed up while he was shooting for his upcoming film Padmavati at that fort.

To very loosely describe history, in the year 1303 Alauddin Kihlji decided to attack Chittor of which Padmini was the Queen. Historians claim that his intention behind the attack was his infatuation for the queen. Khilji won the battle and rather than getting captured by him and his forces queen Padmini chose to commit Jauhar that is self-immolate herself in order to protect her honor.

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Even if one considers the claim that Padmini was a fictional character who first appeared in Malik Mohd Jaisi’s poem Padmavati in 1540 – 200 years after the actual events – she has over time become a symbol of women committing Jauhar in order to spare themselves the tyranny of Sultanate rulers. Furthermore, the claim of Padmini/Padmavati being a fictitious character itself is disputed, however, we are agreeing to that for the sake of argument.

Coming to the film and the controversy around it, Deepika Padukone plays the role of Queen Padmini and Ranveer Singh plays the role of Khilji. Just back in around November 8th there were reports in the national media which claimed that there was to be no romance between the duo. The reports cited historical inaccuracies arising due to the same and that Bhansali was very sensitive towards people’s sentiments.

The episode could have been avoided but the regional media clearly didn’t get the message and ran reports of Deepika and Ranveer romancing and warring in Vaishali.  This report was carried on November 8th by widely circulated Dainik Jagran group which has higher penetration and influence among the masses and could have possibly led to many people believing that a Bollywood filmmaker was planning to twist history in such a manner where the Queen they so revered was being depicted having a romance with a man who was actually responsible for her death. It remains to be seen as to from where the Karni Sena got their information. Also, some Rajput groups had tried to get in touch with Bhansali to get clarification, but it is not clear if there was any communication back from the filmmaker.

However, one can not blame people for believing that history could be twisted, for it has become fashionable to gloss over the crime of tyrants and portray them as acceptable mainstream characters. this was evident after how Tipu Sultan’s birthday was celebrated by the Karnataka Government, the Taimur episode or how effort was put in to normalize even Aurangzeb.

Now, Deepika and other actors have claimed that there is no distortion of history. But it remains to be seen how the movie portrayed Khilji. Would he depict Khilji indulging in usual tyranny like collecting 50,000 slave boys, 20,000 women and children, ensuring that countless women committed Jauhar, imposing jizya (poll tax), kharaj (land tax), kari (house tax) and chari (pasture tax) on Hindus, etc.?


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