By Ram Puniyani
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s unit filming the period drama, ‘Padmavati’ was recently attacked in Jaipur by the notorious Karni Sena. The attack was carried out in protest of the alleged dream sequence involving the Muslim king, Allauddin Khilji and Rajput princess, Padmavati.
Known for claiming to preserve the Rajput honour, the Karni Sena believes that Bhansali’s film is an insult to the Rajput community.
Interestingly, the film happens to be in the shooting stage, and the fact that the Karni Sena has no access to the script means that the mere rumour of this dream sequence was reason enough to launch the attack.Sanjay Leela Bansali was slapped on the sets of his next historical drama ‘Padmavati’, planned to be released in November 2017 | Photo Courtesy: Huffington Post
The state authority took no action to condemn this move and what’s worse is that the BJP-VHP leadership threatened the making of the film as well. Hence, it was no surprise that Bhansali decided to pack up, especially since the Karni Sena vandalised cinemas during the screening of ‘Jodha Akbar’ involving a different Rajput royal.
The original tale
The popular narrative of Padmavati and her Jauhar (sacrifice) is said to be based on the fictional work of Malik Mohammad Jayasi, a sufi saint of the sixteenth century, written two centuries after the reign of Khilji.
[su_pullquote]This immortal classic was written as a metaphor for the futility of power.[/su_pullquote]
The tale of ‘Padmavati’, a classic of sorts, revolves around the love story of Ratan Singh, the king of Chittor and Padmavati, the princess of the fictional Simhala Island. Guided by his beloved pet-parrot Hiraman, Ratan Singh pursues the princess and the lovers unite. According to the legend, Ratan Singh dies in an attack carried out by the king of Kumbhalner. Meanwhile, Khilji, smitten by Padmavati’s legendary beauty, attacks her kingdom to find that the princess and her ladies have committed ‘Jauhar’ or mass immolation. This immortal classic was written as a metaphor for the futility of power.
The Rajput belief — fact or fiction?
Over the years, this narration has been reduced to a simplistic tale where Padmavati remains a symbol of Rajput honour and Khilji represents the infinite lust of an Islamic invader.
The construction of the past by the Rajput community has been greatly influenced by the present political scenario. The community’s version of this narrative moves along the communal view of history where kings were seen as vehicles of their religion—that power could be the central motive of most kings is bypassed by this perspective.
In contemporary times, it is this orientation that forms the core of community memory—an orientation constructed over a period of time.
The aim of the community’s construct is to display the Rajput valour where rulers defended their kingdoms from Muslim invaders and the Rajput women committed immolation, lest they would be defiled by the lusty Mughal kings.
Unfortunately, this view doesn’t fall in line with historical accuracy, where most Mughal-Rajput interaction was the fulcrum around which political alliances were forged and Rajput daughters married the Mughal princes in particular to strengthen these bonds.
Distorting history — The cost of comfortA poster of the film ‘Jodha Akbar’- directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, which was also vandalized by the culture-vigilantes in the past | Photo Courtesy: Pinterest
There are broadly two representations of the Rajput princess. First, the quintessential woman who commits Jauhar to save the community honour—the brave woman who captures the mass imagination and second, the girl who marries into a princely family with the purpose of maintaining political power.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]Today, any historical memories relating to such inter-caste matters are wiped away.[/su_pullquote]
The film, ‘Jodha Akbar’, chose to present the latter—to present the marriage of a Rajput princess to a Mughal king as a political pact between two ruling families. Today, any historical memories relating to such inter-caste matters are wiped away, as they do not fit within the constructions of community honour, making these communities rather uncomfortable.
Intolerance and Democracy
With ‘Padmavati’, the matter has been taken one step further. The vigilantes of ‘community honour’ have attacked an entire unit on the basis of a rumour, a dream sequence involving a Hindu woman and a Muslim man, a thought that causes deep discomfort in the minds of the likes of Karni Sena.
There is no doubt, that such intolerance has grown unchecked over the last three decades. In India, artistic freedom is controlled by the ruling right-wing where Hindutva politics are fast gaining ground. Filmmakers have felt the wrath of these groups with increasing intensity — our political system meant to uphold the right to freedom of expression has been reduced to a mere bystander.
The fact is — the Hindutva ideology does not cater to diverse presentations of the past, or to the creative freedom of artists. The state is failing the test of ‘democracy’ time and time again.
Ram Puniyani is a former professor of biomedical engineering and former senior medical officer affiliated with the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.
Featured Image Source: Flipboard.
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