Rarely has a film seemingly had to suffer such setbacks before even going into production.
But the road for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's magnum opus Padmavati has not been smooth.
The film — a historical retelling of the story of the life of Rani Padmini — has now run afoul of the Patidar Navnirman Sena.
A report in Ahmedabad Mirror, dated 20 September, has quoted Hardik Patel, the president of the PNS as saying that they wouldn't allow Bhansali to shoot or screen his film in Rajasthan and Gujarat, unless he assured them that Rani Padmini's portrayal would be historically accurate.
Rani Padmini, also known as Padmavati, was the wife of Raja Ratansen of Chittor. She committed jauhar (self-immolation) rather than submit to Aluaddin Khilji, who waged war against Chittor, seemingly because of his obsession with Padmini.
Apparently, the Rajput Sena had qualms about Bhansali's film, and how the queen — considered an icon in Rajasthan — would be depicted in it. They expressed their reservations to Hardik Patel, who in turn, promised to take up the issue.
Patel has told Ahmedabad Mirror that the PNS will protest against the film unless Bhansali is able to show that Rani Padmini's legacy is not damaged in any way.
Deepika Padukone plays Rani Padmini in Padmavati, while Ranveer Singh portrays Alauddin Khilji. Shahid Kapoor has been cast as Raja Ratansen.
Previously, Bhansali's Bajirao Mastani too had run into trouble with certain groups who took issue with his depiction of Peshwa Bajirao and Mastani. A controversy arose over the song 'Pinga' and the costumes worn by Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra, with descendants of Kashibai claiming that it was offensive to Marathi culture. In Madhya Pradesh, a suit was filed against the filmmaker for causing 'irreparable damage' to the descendants of Mastani. A portion of the film's royalties were sought to repair Mastani's grave.
It would seem that Bhansali has been aware all along that the film might prove to be a sensitive subject for some people.
In August this year, a report in The Indian Express stated that the filmmaker was being "extra-careful" with his research.
"With Padmavati, the period that would be tracked is the late 13th and 14th century. Unlike Bajirao, this one is set in an even older era. Bhansali and his team is eyeing every minute detail of the era, the Khilji dynasty and the culture of Mewar from where Rani Padmavati belonged. They want to avoid any unneeded confrontation as it happened during Bajirao Mastani when certain clan members stood up in arms against the portrayal of Bajirao,” a source close to Bhansali had told the paper.
Padmavati, the film, will not be the first time Bhansali has brought Rani Padmini's story to life. It was also the subject of a lavish opera that he adapted for the Parisienne stage in 2008, based on the 1923 work by French composer Albert Roussel. (Roussel himself was inspired by the queen's story, as told in Malik Muhammad Jayasi's epic 16th century poem 'Padmavat', and a visit to Chittor.)
With a reported Rs 180 crore budget, Padmavati is being pitched as one of the most expensive films to be made in Bollywood. Preparations are underway for the first song's shoot, for which an elaborate set has been constructed in Mumbai, with Deepika Padukone learning to perform the Rajasthani dance style of ghoomar.
Even before its latest controversy, Padmavati has been plagued with issues: Much has been made of a rivalry between the lead actors, Shahid and Ranveer, and there were a string of reports that presented the film's casting (for the male leads) as a game of musical chairs, until the names of Kapoor and Singh actually started work on the film.
Bhansali worked for over 12 years to finally have Bajirao Mastani — with a whole other cast than he had originally envisaged — see the light of day. We're thinking that if there's a battle ahead for Padmavati, he's well placed to do what it takes to bring it to the theatres.