Padmavati: Calm down and lay off Bhansali, Rani Padmavati's character could be fictitious
The recent attack by 40 to 50 unidentified men who tried to vandalise the sets of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati and set it on fire is the second time in many months that the film has faced trouble. The last time the production faced opposition from an irate mob was during the film’s schedule in Jaipur where members of Karni Sena assaulted Bhansali and his crew over alleged distortion of facts in the film.
It is said that a newspaper interview of Ranveer Singh, who plays the role of Ala-ud-din Khilji in the film, where he said that he and Deepika Padukone, who plays the titular Rani Padmavati, share an intimate scene is what led to the initial protest in Jaipur. The Karni Sena claims that it had gone to warn the filmmakers against presenting wrong facts – Padmini is not revered for being their queen but for choosing death by Jauhar (self-immolation) over any exploitation be it rape or enslavement by invaders, in this case, Khilji. The Karni Sena’s opposition somewhere stems from Bhansali reportedly showing the very thing that did not happen – a romantic liaison between Khilji and Queen Padmini – by any stretch of the imagination and moreover, supposedly, celebrating it as well.
Things were said to have only gotten out of hand when someone from the film’s crew fired gunshots to scare Karni Sena. The former Royal family of Jaipur, who own the Jaigarh Fort where the film was being shot, too, stood by the Karni Sena. Irrespective of how things shaped up in Jaipur or inKolhapur where stones, laathis, and even petrol bombs were used to destroy the sets such actions are unacceptable and the miscreants should not be allowed to get away.
Bad luck seems to be a constant companion of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. If no one is protesting against his cinematic interpretation, more on that later, fate and what have you often go against him. There had been accidents on the sets of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Devdas, and Black where fires and other freak incidents destroyed standing sets and in one instance, Devdas, two members of the crew died. Bhansali's persona, too, has many fables attached. He is infamous for punishing his assistants; in one instance this writer heard a story where a leading studio almost blacklisted Bhansali as the sound engineer flew off his handle after Bhansali slapped one of his young assistants. The assistant’s fault - she apparently broke his concentration while he was listening to a mix.
When it comes to Bhansali's vision there has been some opposition or the other in some varying degree or the other. Great art is usually said to be the outcome of great pain or strife but in Bhansali's case, there is a great pain even when the art is lacking. This unique setting has also helped fuelled his aura, which, as luck would have it automatically demands his art to be seen from a similarly singular prism. Whether it is taking a leap of creative faith with fictitious characters such as Chandramukhi and Paro in Sarat Chandra's ‘Devdas’ by making them prance around to the beats of ‘Dil Dola Re’ in Devdas or indulging in unrivaled artistic liberty where historical and real characters or situations are altered such as making Kashibai and Mastani dance a la Madhuri Dixit and Aishwarya Rai in Bajirao Mastani, Bhansali’s cinematic vision is peerless. If with Devdas his artistic expression created his larger than life aura, it is the now this venerated ‘Sanjay Leela Bhansali’ aura that dictates his artistic expression. So, if this then requires something as big as making Peshwa Bajirao shake like a motorized head in ‘Dushman Chi Vat Lavli’ or imagining an intimate scene between Ala-ud-din Khilji and Rani Padmini so be it.
Protests against a work of art can range from an open letter to an open threat to attacking it the open. If passion running large makes all things Bollywood larger than life, passion in real life, too, can have the intensity. If on the one hand there is a Bharat Dabholkar like open letter response to Bhansali’s damning of reality while portraying Maratha history in Bajirao Mastani that practically reduced the filmmaker to an attention grabber, there is the Karni Sena like response as well. No one in the their right mind can ever condone the physical attack on anyone vandalizing a film set that results in not only monetary loss but also a threat to life but this writer, at the risk of being labeled ‘one of those’ or ‘extremist’ depending on how one chooses to address, believes that Bhansali was more than aware of the risk. One again, this in no way justifies the action of the vandals but consider this – certain figures are revered by people and when it concerns history that people are proud of, a filmmaker, for the want of a better expression, cannot get away with anything in the name of creative license. The reported depiction of Ala-ud-din Khilji and Rani Padmini in an intimate scene would no doubt be a grave concern for Rajputana pride and being a matter of faith the opposition is only natural.
Faith cannot be so brittle that a film could threaten it but perhaps there is a deeper point here that is going unnoticed. Following the attack on the Padmavati crew in Jaipur, there is the argument being made that Rani Padmini is a figment of imagination and her existence is a matter of debate among historians. Moreover, Rani Padmini is a character that was first written in an epic poem named Padmavat by the 16th-century Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Therefore, it is not sacrilegious on Bhansali’s part to then imagine a romantic scene between Khilji and Rani Padmini (even if it supposedly is not there, or a dream sequence or such) and brush away any reality associated with the horrors of Jauhar. In the book Ashes of Immortality: Widow-Burning in India Catherine Weinberger-Thomas suggests the whole Padmavat may be considered an illustration of the idea- quite prevalent in Sufi traditions – that love, suffering and death being inseparable and only be adequately expressed through the language of fire. Weinberger-Thomas also adds that the final scene of Jayasi’s work where queens Padmavati and Nagmati ascend Ratansen’s pyre would have had the historical background in the mass immolation (Jauhar) of the Rajput women together with Queen Padmini during Ala-ud-din Khilji’s 1303 invasion of Chittorgarh.
By the same argument there is equal evidence or lack therefore of Christ but Martin Scorsese, who was raised Roman Catholic, had to incur all kinds of opposition from the Church when it came to his adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ. The U.S. Catholic Church declared the film morally offensive and the filmmaker even with his celebrated status had to scrounge around for funding. There were similar scenes at the time of the release ofThe Da Vinci Code and in India, the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) had decided to go on a fast unto death if the then government didn’t take action against anti-Christian movies. The general secretary of CSF, Joseph Dias, had added that there was “no way of saying what could happen” if the movie released considering the tempers that were running quite high.
The Da Vinci Code and in India, the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) had decided to go on a fast unto death if the then government didn’t take action against anti-Christian movies. The general secretary of CSF, Joseph Dias, had added that there was “no way of saying what could happen” if the movie released considering the tempers that were running quite high.
The manner in which both Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his film have been attacked is deplorable and the perpetrators ought to be brought to book. Strangely Bhansali never lodged a complaint with the police after the Jaipur attack and according to the Superintendent of Police, Kolhapur there is a reluctance to file an official complaint this once as well. It is understandable that Bhansali might not want to fan the matter any further lest it gets uglier. There are other ways to protest against Bhansali or any filmmaker and violence in any form is simply unacceptable. But is it time for both – the protesters as well as the filmmaker – to meet at a middle path? For the protesters it would be better to take legal recourse, oppose the film, and ask for a review, etc. and for the filmmaker to meet with the figureheads and present his side. There is a genuine concern amongst the believers, however irrational they may appear to the other side, that the visionary filmmaker who could make Kashibai and Mastani dance in perfect synchronization wouldn’t care two hoots for a queen who led hundreds of women to death over being slaves or worse to a plunderer.