Millennium Post

Historic fact or artistic expression?

In the context of the Padmavati film controversy, Sayantan Ghosh finds out the roots of the cause and explains the correlation of history and historical fiction, which eventually gave rise to the present agitation.

Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) was not at Jaipur and neither was Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) when the sets of the upcoming Padmavati at Jaigarh Fort was first attacked. Director of the said Bollywood film, Sanjay Leela Bhansali was assaulted at the set during the vandalism.

Members of the Karni Sena allegedly attacked and vandalised the sets on Jan 27, this year. The Karni Sena members accused the makers of the film for 'distorting history.' "We have learned that the filmmakers are portraying the film as a love story between Alauddin Khilji and Padmini, which is a blatant distortion of history. That is why we stopped the shooting and told the makers that we won't let them continue unless they make changes," said Narayan Divrala, district president, Karni Sena.
Who is Padmavati?
Rani Padmavati or Padmini was a 13th-century Sri Lankan princess who was exceptionally beautiful. Later, Ratan Sen, the Rajput ruler of Chittor, heard about her beauty from a talking parrot named Hiraman and after an adventurous quest, he won the hand of the princess in marriage.
Historian Irfan Habib said, "Padmavati is a fictional character and in the history of India we have not found her. The earliest source to mention the queen Padmini or Padmavati is in the poem 'Padmavat' written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in Awadhi language. It was written nearly in 1540AD." Habib explained that even though Persian historians in later history had mentioned Padmavati, the story is totally different from that of 'Padmavat.'
The story of Allauddin Khilji and Padmavati
Allauddin Khilji was the second and the most powerful ruler of the Khilji dynasty of Delhi Sultanate. He captured the throne of Delhi in 1296 AD by killing his uncle and then ruler Jalal-ud-din Khilji. Over the next few years, he carried out expeditions in north and south India. He also conquered kingdoms of Gujarat, Ranthambore, Malwa, Jalore, and Devagiri and amassed a large amount of wealth.
Historian Irfan Habib explained, "According to the story, Allauddin got to know about Padmavati from Ratan Sen's dismissed musician Raghav Chaitanya. Chaitanya reached Khilji's court in Delhi and informed the Sultan about queen Padmavati's unparalleled beauty. Fascinated by her description, Khilji made his way to Chittoor in order to acquire her."
He further said, "Khilji's request to see the queen was turned down as Rajput culture forbade women from meeting strangers. Khilji then waged a war against Chittor but failed to capture the fort. In the meanwhile Ratan Sen was killed. Khilji again invaded Chittor and marched his way inside the fort looking for Padmavati. However, Padmavati and several other women had by then sacrificed their lives by performing Jauhar (self-immolation) to get away from Khilji."
According to the historian, the story of Padmavati and the character became so special and sacred, because of she her sacrifice in Jauhar to protect the honour of the Rajput tradition and the family.
Did Padmavati and Khilji ever meet?
The main controversy around the film is that Bhansali has kept a dream sequence between Khilji and Padmavati. In the literature, the two never met face to face. "Padmavati didn't want to have a face-to-face meeting with the Sultan. So mirrors were arranged in the palace in such a way that the Sultan could see the queen's reflection, without the queen having to meet him in person," said Habib.
Bhansali and his conflict with history
Controversies regarding the distortion of history by Bhansali has a long list. The director has a fascination with history and historical fiction. Critics have noted that the representation of historical characters is not the main problem, but his films are based on some historical fictions and myths involving characters about whom there is little information in documents, which eventually gives rise to an agitation.
The first controversy of this kind began with his film Goliyon ki Raasleela Ram-Leela which was an adaptation of Romeo-Juliet written by William Shakespeare. The Allahabad high court banned the romantic saga in Uttar Pradesh before its release. The Lucknow bench of the court comprising justices Devi Prasad Singh and Ashok Pal Singh passed the order to ban the film on a petition filed by Maryada Purshottam Bhagwan Ramleela Samiti, Bahraich. The petition had contended that the film was hurting religious sentiments of Hindus and its title 'Ramleela' was giving a wrong message to society as Lord Ram's Leela (act) had a great impact on Indian society.
The next controversy came up with his film Bajirao Mastani which was based on the relationship between Bundelkhand's princess Mastani and Maratha Peshwa Bajirao Ballal. The descendants of Peshwa Bajirao and Mastani have accused the makers of misrepresenting the historical characters. It started when the now famous song, 'Pinga' was released, featuring Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra who play the roles of Mastani and Kashibai, Bajirao's first wife, respectively. A petition has been filed stating that the song 'Pinga' is offensive to Marathi culture. A descendant of queen Kashibai, who wished not to be named, claimed that Kashibai suffered from an arthritis-like ailment at a very young age and was bed-ridden for most of her life. She also suffered from asthma, and hence it was highly impossible for her to have danced with Mastani.
History vs historical fiction:
Amid the political controversy regarding the film Padmavati, the question of distortion of historical facts has come up. The critics of the issue have repeatedly noted that the director has distorted facts but the point which the other side made is that this film is based on a historical fiction and not on history.
The definition of historical fiction says, "Historical fiction is defined as movies and novels in which a story is made up but is set in the past and sometimes borrows true characteristics of the time period in which it is set. A novel that makes up a story about a Civil War battle that really happened is an example of historical fiction."
To explain this, historian Harbans Mukhia observed that the story of Padmavati, like many others, has undergone several mutations. Ramya Sreenivasan has traced the wide circulation and mutation of the story from north India and Rajasthan to Bengal from the 16th to 20th century in her magnificent book, 'The Many Lives of a Rajput Queen.'
Veteran lyricist Javed Akhtar had said that a lot of history had been written during that time. There are a lot of records available of that time but there is no mention of Padmavati in them. He further explained the issue with the example of Jodha Akhbar, the film and noted that the film was also made on the basis of historical fiction which may or may not have any connection with reality. "Stories get created. Don't misinterpret films for history and history for films. You watch cinema to enjoy it. If you are interested in history, then read it seriously," Akhtar said.
The agitation involving Padmavati
The main political allegation is that in this film the director has maligned the image of the queen and tradition. "The sad part is that the film is getting free pre-release publicity and that a commercial and inauthentic venture like this is using my family's name. It's not just a question of incorrect portrayal, which is established from the trailer and the 'Ghoomar' song itself, but also the fact that you're using my family's name for the commercial pre-release publicity of your film, free of cost... And the national media is talking about it. That's my problem," said Baijiraj Trivikrama Kumari Jamwal, daughter of Mahendra Singh Mewar in an interview, a descedent of the royal family.
Meanwhile, Arjun Gupta, a member of CBFC (Censor Board of Film Certification), has voiced strong opinions against director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, saying that he should be tried for "treason." Gupta had also written a letter to Home Minister Rajnath Singh about the matter.
Various political groups have also threatened actress Deepika Padukone who have played the role of Padvavati in the film. Lastly, Sanjay Leela Bhansali has issued a statement saying, "This movie embroiled in so many controversies because of some rumor. The rumor is that in the movie, a dream scene has been filmed between Rani Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji. I have already rejected this claim and also given a written proof of this. Today, again, I am reiterating through this video that in our movie, there is no such scene between Rani Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji that would hurt the sentiments of anyone."
History has its own respect for every character. Writers and directors try to put stories in front of the audience with their creativity. Before the release of the movie while the politicians and some people are shouting against the movie, the director, and his team are still hopeful of the film's release. Talking to Millennium Post, the team of the Bhansali Productions said that every question raised till date will be answered through the film.

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