Shyam Benegal on his interpretation of Padmavati: 'We were not telling history as historians approach it'
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Shyam Benegal recalls how he approached his interpretation of Padmavati's story in an episode of Bharat Ek Khoj.
In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, filmmaker Shyam Benegal recalls how he was not concerned about the veracity of the literary work on which he based his TV episode on Padmavat and the Tughlaq dynasty.
"We were not telling history as historians would approach it, we were looking at the cultural history, political history, economic history of the country. We were also looking at the mythological rendition and poetic balladic rendition so you get the sense of who we are," said Benegal.
Fifteen years ago, Benegal directed and produced an episode of Bharat Ek Khoj, a historical drama TV series based on Jawaharlal Nehru's book The Discovery of India. The 26th episode of the series revolved around what is the focal point of debate in the country today — Rani Padmavati of Chittorgarh.
In that episode set in the early 14th century, a priest, who is ousted by Maharawal Ratansen of Chittorgarh, approaches Sultan of Delhi Alauddin Khilji and incites him against the ruler of Chittorgarh by luring him to the beauty of Ratansen's wife Rani Padmavati. Khilji falls prey to the priest's crafty ways and declares war against Chittorgarh.
While offering truce to Ratansen, Khilji puts forward a stipulation that he needs to have a close look at Padmavati. Ratansen complies only if Khilji does so through a mirror, respecting the age old Rajput tradition of purdah. Khilji, played by Om Puri in Benegal's version, is left awestruck by Padmavati's beauty.
When Firstpost approached Benegal asking him if he had any reservations against presenting the contentious interpretation of history, given the current backlash that Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film Padmavati is facing, the veteran filmmaker clarified that they explicitly stated their source.
"I haven’t seen Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film, so it is very difficult for me to draw comparisons. I don’t know what kind of rendition he has done and what his sources have been. Has he gone by history, literature, or has he fictionalised it? I went not just by history but also literary work written at that time, the folk tales, ballad of that period...We were looking at the entire cultural spectrum apart from political theory," said Benegal.
"We’d drawn our source material from Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s sixteenth-century epic poem Padmavat. Jayasi was a sufi and he had given a sufi rendition to the story of Padmavati, her husband Ratan Sen and Alauddin Khilji, and that was known as Padmavat. It is a very beautiful ballad. We had based our story of Padmavati on Padmavat because it is a work of great literary merit," added Benegal.
However, Bengal confessed that he did not have apprehensions about the accuracy of the literary work. "Now, in history, whether there was such a person or not was not something that concerned us. We were concerned with the fact that there was a literary work which dealt with the story of Padmavati, her husband, and Alauddin Khilji, who saw an image of her in a mirror and fell in love with her. And, of course, she committed jauhar with other women. We based our story on that ballad. But when you visit Chittorgarh fort near Udaipur, there you have this particular chamber where they used to have mirrors and the reflection could be seen faraway in another pavilion. The local guide over there would say that this is where the image of Padmavati was seen by Khilji," he said.
"Also, the Maharana of Mewar has said that she belonged to their family, so obviously such a person did exist. But as far as we are concerned we were not concerned with the veracity of that. We were only concerned with the literary merit of work written in medieval India which was related to sufi bhakti tradition," Benegal added.
Watch full episode of Shyam Benegal's Padmavat below.
With inputs from Seema Sinha.
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