Padmavati: The Annals and The Furore
‘Padmavati’- this name has been flashing across news debate screens, newspapers, social media, and practically wherever one accesses news from. The debate is regarding a film made by eminent Hindi cinema director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, largely based on the composition ‘Padmavat’ by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. The film stars Deepika Padukone in the titular role, Shahid Kapoor plays her husband Rawal Ratan Singh while Ranveer Singh plays Alauddin Khilji. The controversy started when certain elements, including the Shri Rajput Karni Sena (a Rajasthan-based group) claimed that the film distorts historical facts and shows Queen Padmini in bad light. Some objections were also raised citing that Rajput honour was threatened because the film allegedly showed a meeting between Queen Padmini and Alauddin Khilji. All this, when the film has not even been watched nor has the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) certified it.
Malik Muhammad Jayasi wrote the Awadhi epic ‘Padmavat’. It is said that he started composing it in 1521 CE and finished it in 1540 CE. As per the epic, Queen Padmavati is a manifestation of divine beauty and hails from Simhala Dweep (Sri Lanka). She marries Chittor’s ruler Ratan Sen who has to face many hardships to win her over.
Jayasi was a Sufi poet who had settled in village Jayas (now in Rae Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh), since this region was witnessing great activity of the Sufis of the Chishti silsila. In an article in the The Hindu, it was pointed out that ‘Padmavat’ is held in high regard as a love poem in the tradition of Sufi mysticism (premakhyan) and Ratan Sen is supposed to be the symbol of soul that strives to unite with the divine, cosmic lover Padmavati. They may not be historical characters although Jayasi has introduced a few historical characters like Sultan Alauddin Khilji as a villain. It is true that Khilji attacked Chittor and defeated its Rajput ruler but contemporary historical records do not mention either Ratan Sen or Padmavati. Padmavati is also referred to as Padmini in conformity with the traditional Indian classification of women into four categories – Padmini, Chitrani, Shankhini and Hastini –Padmini being the most beautiful, the most virtuous and the most ideal.
Renowned Hindi scholar, Hazari Prasad Dwivedi, has cited the prevalence of a long tradition of such love poems that were based on folk tales. Most of them were named after their heroines such as ‘Ratnavali’, ‘Padmavati’, ‘Vasavadatta’ and ‘Kuvalaymala’. In the 9th century CE, Kautuhal wrote a long love poem ‘Leelavati’ in Prakrit while in the 10th century CE, Mayur penned a poetic work ‘Padmavati-katha’. In ‘Prithviraj Raso’, there are stories of Prithviraj’s marriage with Padmavati, Hansavati and Indravati etc. According to Dwivedi, the story of Padmavati had already been in circulation for many centuries when Jayasi decided to pick it up for his epic poem ‘Padmavat’ (http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-fridayreview/source-of-the-story/article20496381.ece).
Moreover, while Padmavat is perhaps one of the few premakhyan to be based upon a historical event- Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji’s siege of Chittor, in 1303- writing more than 200 years after the event, Jayasi’s work is said to bear little resemblance to surviving historical accounts of the siege and instead appears to draw in details from contemporaneous events and places (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-many-padmavatis/article20492672.ece).
For those who are not aware, this is not the first time that the tale of Queen Padmavati has found its way to the silver screen. There was a Tamil film made on the same subject as Padmavati in 1963 titled, Chittoor Rani Padmini. The film stars Vyjayanthimala as Rani Padmini. Tamil actor Sivaji Ganeshan portrayed Maharawal Ratan Singh and M.N. Nambiar played Alauddin Khilji. In 1964, Jashwant Jhaveri made Maharani Padmini, where Anita Guha played the character of Rani Padmini, Jairaj portrayed Maharawal Ratan Singh and Sajjan as Alauddin Khilji. There was a silent Bengali film released in 1930 titled, Kamonar Agun (Flames Of Flesh) directed by Dinesh Ranjan Das and Dhirendranath Ganguly [https://www.cinestaan.com/articles/2017/nov/20/9364/maharani-padmini-1964-once-upon-a-time-before-bhansali-s-padmavati].
And not just films, the Padmavati story has been captured as part of television series as well- several episodes of Shyam Benegal directed Bharat – Ek Khoj (1980s) or Chittod Ki Rani Padmini Ka Johur (2009) [http://www.timesnownews.com/entertainment/article/did-you-know-before-deepika-padukone-this-actress-played-rani-padmini-on-screen/125360].
In view of the above, one cannot help but question why Bhansali’s film is being singled out for protests in this way. Of course, back in the day there were not so many routes through which rumours could be spread or fringe elements could fan fire. But this is little consolation seeing the scale at which the protests are ensuing.
While this is the factual side of things as they stand, one must also be aware of the legal aspects involved. As per Section 3(1) of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 (“an Act to make provision for the certification of cinematograph films for exhibition and for regulating exhibitions by means of cinematographs”), the CBFC, constituted by the Central Government, is entitled to sanction films for public exhibition. Section 5B of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 contains the principles for guidance in certifying films. Section 5B 1. states, “A film shall not be certified for public exhibition if, in the opinion of the authority competent to grant the certificate, the film or any part of it is against the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or involves defamation or contempt of court or is likely to incite the commission of any offence.
The petitions brought before the Supreme Court in this regard have also been rejected with the Apex Court opining that a ruling on a film is the prerogative of the CBFC.
Most of all, it is the Constitutional values and the Fundamental Right under Article 19(1) (a) guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression that seems to be ambushed. Artistic expression is being muzzled in the garb of protecting ‘history’, when most of the objections are unsubstantiated. The people associated with the film have been threatened with dire consequences by many protestors, including a bounty being offered by a UP-based organization for beheading the actress! This reflects rather badly on the state of law and order to begin with, let alone the impact the film’s release might have on it.
What makes the debate fallacious is that groups are calling for a ban on the film without it having been viewed or released- basically, without the protestors having actually seen what they deem might be objectionable.
At the time of writing this piece, the controversy over the film continues to rage, so much so that the release of the film has been postponed from its initial set date of December 1. While there is no doubt that law will take its course and hopefully, render a true judgment on the film and its exhibition, one cannot help but wonder why the powers that be are not taking a strict stance against the evident bullying going on…