by Sumera Reshi

After much hullabaloo, Padmavati was released on January 25, 2018. The film tells the story of a 14th-century Hindu queen and a Muslim ruler and Sanjay Leela Bhansali has been more than artistic and creative in directing a story which has no clue, no record in the annals of history.

A shot from the movie

Often period filmmakers take artistic liberties to dramatize events as well as personalities in order to create a saleable and sellable piece of entertainment. Actually, entertainers are artistic entrepreneurs and they wish to earn utmost profits even if they have to mutilate history at their own will. There was so much of debate & discussion going on about the movie Padmavati aka Padmavat before it hit the screens. Before Padmavat could strike the theatres, it knocked the streets.  It sparked violent riots in parts of India and it initiated a bitter debate on history, especially on the character of Alauddin Khalji.

Bhansali has been very cruel to Khalji and depicted a warrior Hindu Rajput queen “Padmavati” fighting the advances of a Muslim Sultan “Khalji”. Kudos to Bhansali who artistically created and conceptualized grandeur of sandstone palaces, glittering costumes and enthralling music in a profoundly distracted narrative. Sanjay Leela Bhansali disregarded history by presenting Khalji who is a historical figure as a cruel, despotic and erotic while as exhibited Padmavati which is a fictional character as decent and respectable.

The worst is when people lost their cool before finding the truth. Bhansali basically handed over the stick to the people especially right-wing supporters who thronged to lash Muslims. In reality, Padmavati movie is based on a 16th-century verse written by Sufi poet Malek Muhammad Jayasi who in his poem glorified the sacrifices of Padmaavati, pursued by Sultan Alauddin Khalji who had vandalized the Hindu kingdom of Chittor and killed Padmavati’s husband. Most of the historians believe that Jayasi’s Padmavati was a fictional character about whom he had written in 1540, 200 years after Khalji’s death.

Image of actors playing lead role

Bhansali captured Jayasi’s imagination and his fantasy was none other in comparison to Hollywood’s blockbuster “Troy”. Nonetheless, Bhansali broke all the records of Hollywood by turning a fictional character into flesh and bones and a symbol of beauty and valor and projected a real sultan as a philistine and brute with a ravenous libido.

If Khalji wasn’t brute then what was his character as a king? Let us delve into the lanes and bylanes of history. History reveals that Khalji was a powerful king who ruled Delhi from 1296 to 1316. He was an astute administrator whose tax and revenue collection system was followed by the Mughals and the British till the 19th century. Khalji was so much caring that he himself looked at prices of essential commodities on day to day basis and built granaries to fight inflation. He didn’t ruin the honor of Hindu queen of Chittor instead his great contribution to India was that he saved India from Mongol invasions. Khalji was a true leader, a real patriot that he defeated Mongols six times during his 20-year rule. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan and later by his son, the Mongol tribesman devastated Eastern Europe, Russia, China, Central Asia, Persia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Kashmir in order to expand beyond boundaries. “Mongols left a trail of destruction and every living thing even cats and dogs were killed”, said an American historian, Jeremiah Curtin.

Character of Aladdin Khilji in the movie

And it was Khalji who put the full stop at the expansionism mindset of Mongols, however, Bhansali showed Khalji inexorably chasing Hindu queen and consuming food as beasts. How is it possible for a king to be a womanizer and at the same time chase his goal for expansion and conquests? Either Khalji could have been an adulterer or a great leader, not the both. Historian believes the Delhi Sultanate under the regime of Alauddin Khalji followed a Persian court etiquette and it was unlikely for him to put hands on the food without cleaning them. Alauddin Khalji according to historians had a dream a la Alexandre the great. He dreamt of a big empire as was Alexandre’s. Therefore, Padmavati is not a true account of the history rather a brazing imagination of a director whose plots often ablaze streets, tear hearts and of course make himself to top the headlines.

A shot from the movie

Disregarding Khalji’s contribution and disrespecting history, Bhansali, however, exhibited his glowing tributes to Rajput bravery and honor. Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavat tried to flare an Indian society which is already in chaos, divided into religious and regional lines. Indeed cinema is a great medium were artistic people can educate the masses rather try to bind them together but then people in the entertainment industry have to behave well, restrain caution. Artistic people can’t be entertainers as well as entrepreneurs at the same time. Either be one to excel, else your message could lead to anarchy.

(Ideas expressed are authors own)




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