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Padmavati engraves ‘chop, chop’ culture into Indian ethos 

Dr. George Jacob.

What is Padmavati?

Padmavati is an Indian epic period drama film directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, based on the epic poem Padmavat (1540) by Malik Mohammed javasi. The film features Deepika Padukone in the title role as Rani Padmavati, alongside Shahid Kapoor as Maharawal Ratan Singh and Ranveer Singh as Sultan Alauddin Khilji, with Aditi Rao hydari and jim Karbh in supporting roles. The film was scheduled for release on December 1 2017.

The film is based on the legend of Rani Padmini, a legendary Hindu Rajput queen, mentioned in Padmavat, an Avadhi language epic poem written by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540. According to Padmavat, she was the wife of Ratan Sen (called Rawal Ratan Singh in later legends), the Rajput ruler of Mewar. In 1303, Alauddin Khilji, the Turko-Afghan ruler of the Delhi Sultanate, laid siege to the Chittor Fort in Rajputana. According to Padmavat, Khilji led the invasion motivated by his desire to capture the beautiful Rani Padmavati, who is said to have committed Jauhar (self immolation) along with all the other women of the city to protect their honor. The men of the city stormed out of the city in a final mortal sally to kill as many of the enemy before falling.

Who is Padmavati?

Padmini, also known as Padmavathi was a legendary 13th- 14th century Indian queen. The earliest source to mention her is Padmavat, an epic fictionalized poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi in 1540. The text , which features elements of fantasy, describes her story thus: Padmavati was an exceptionally beautiful princess of the Singhal kingdom(Sri Lanka). Ratan Sen, the Rajput ruler of Chittor heard about her beauty from a talking parrot named Hiraman. After an adventurous quest, he won her hand in marriage and brought her to Chittor. Alaudhin Khilji, the Muslim Sultan of Delhi also heard about her beauty, and laid siege to Chittor to obtain her. Many events occurred during the siege, till the Fort was finally taken. Meanwhile, Ratan Sen was killed in a duel with Devpal, the king of Kumbhalner, who was also enamored with Padmavati’s beauty. Before Khilji could capture Chittor, Padmavati and her companions committed Jauhar (self-immolation) to protect their honor. After her sacrifice, the Rajput men died fighting in the battlefield.

Several subsequent adaptations of the legend characterized her as a Hindu Rajput queen, who defended her honor against a Muslim invader. Over the years, she came to be seen as a historical figure, and appeared in several novels, plays, television serials and movies. However, while Khilji’s siege of Chitor in 1303 CE is a historical event, the legend of Padmavati has little historical evidence. Moreover, most modern historians have rejected its authenticity.
Who is Allaudhin Kilji (1296-1316)?

He was the second and the most powerful ruler of the khalji Dynasty of Delhi Sultanate. He was a nephew and a son-in-law of his predecessor jalaluddin, against whom he successfully revolted and killed to consolidate power in Delhi. Over the years, he successfully defended his kingdom against the Mongol invasions. His forces even ransacked the Mongol territories in present-day Afghanistan. Khilji subjugated the Hindu kingdoms of Gujarat(1304),Ranthambore(1301), Chittor(1303), Malwa(1305), Siwana(1308), and Jalore(1311).these victories ended several Hindu dynasties viz; Paramaras,Vaghelas,Chahamanas of Ranastambhapura and jalore. A fact which must have fuelled the Hindu rightwing anger against the advances made by a ‘Hindu-basher’ like Khilji, to win the heart and love of the honorable Hindu queen Padmavati, who went to the extent to commit self-immolation to safeguard her honor and that of the other women of Chittor!

The controversy.

From the very beginning, this movie has been in the eye of a right-wing ‘cyclone’ that wrecked havoc to peace and public order in this nation. On January 27, 2017, an angry mob of Rajput Karni Sena workers, a far-right nationalist group, assaulted the film’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and vandalized the sets of the film during its shooting.

Why? Because they believed that in his movie, Bhansali attempted to ‘distort history’ with a dream sequence no less. This dream sequence supposedly features Rani Padmavati and Khilji being intimate.

On November 8, ten months after the assault and vandalism, Bhansali clarified that Padmavati has been made keeping in mind ‘Rajput honor’, and that there was no ‘dream sequence’ in the movie, to quell rumors which landed the film in trouble in the first place, well ahead of its slated release on December 1 2017. All hell broke loose much before the release. Theatres screening the film were vandalized by marauding mobs. Arson reigned. Mobs ‘concerned’ about the Rajput honor that was allegedly dented by Bhansali through his film spearheaded mindless violence and conflagration that bestowed dishonor to India on a larger scale and perspective. Anarchy by right-wing forces and their stooges spilled to the streets, while the ruling BJP government in Rajasthan, which bore the brunt of anti-Padmavati’ extreme sentiments chose to look the other way. To top it all, These rightwing goons threatened to chop off the nose of actress Deepika Padukone who played the role of the queen who upheld her honor by committing self-immolation before an army advancing to capture her beauty. Director Bhansali also was threatened to have his head chopped off for outraging Rajput women’s honor by setting up a romantic sequence between the advancing khilji ‘in heat’, apparently advancing to capture the beautiful Padmavati. Thus a ‘chop chop culture’ came to be firmly engraved into Indian ethos, and even public life, and nobody cared- so it seemed. The BJP governments in Rajasthan and the centre, who apparently seem to ‘stand for Hindu sentiments’, whatever form that might take looked on as mute spectators. Their intentions were clear right throughout the controversy.

Interestingly, none of these protestors and their instigators had ever watched the movie. Not once. Not one! They acted on plain rumors and incitement to create unrest for short-term gains. The BJP in power in Delhi who saw red in political violence against its cadres in distant Kerala by leftist forces were unmoved by, and saw nothing wrong in the marauding mob that took the state of Rajasthan hostage in the name of some character that existed in the 15th or 14th century, and whose very existence is being question by many historians! After the fuss over the Taj Mahal and celebrations of Tipu Sultan’s birthday, the ‘history diggers’ that the BJP and it’s wreak less goons have famously become, saw another opportunity to further its ’mission rectify history’, which the party has decided with resolve to master, making itself the laughing stock to this part of the world, and India!

Many BJP law makers and sympathizers lend credence to this fact by fanning the flames surrounding a mere film:

• BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj blamed Bhansali of making money out of an attempt to disgrace a Rajput queen and added that it is hurting the sentiments of Hindus ‘I condemn this and urge Bhansali to make a film on Prophet Mohammed which will let him know about his stature’. The true intentions of the BJP in spearheading this campaign against a nonexistent righteous queen, to make an opportunity to fan communal tensions and disharmony thus stands exposed.
• Chintamani Malviya, a BJP MP aired his grievance about Bhansali through a face book post, by writing ‘people like Bhansali do not understand any other language. People like him understand only the language of shoes. The country will not disrespect Rani Padmavati. We will not tolerate any distortion of our history’. The man does not even realize that history itself is unsure of the existence of Rani Padmavati and ‘the act of honor’ attributed to her!
• Vipul Goel, BJP MLA from Faridabad and cabinet minister of Haryana government wrote to Union Minister of Information and Broadcasting, Smriti Irani, ‘glamorizing Khilji’s character was akin to praising those who carry out acid attack on women. One cannot be more silly!
• BJP MLA Raj Purohit too opposed the movie and demanded its ban. ‘The film is against the tradition of Rajputs and goes against Indian history. It hurts the sentiments of women’, he said.
• BJP member Arjun Gupta urged Home Minister Rajnath Singh through a letter to try Bhansali for treason! He also sought for a ban of the movie. These guys ought to understand that historically on every occasion that a film or a book has been banned, the banned art form has gone on to be mega hits, with ticket sales, number of theatre days turning out to see windfall! Padmavati the movie thanks to the controversy and the confusion racked up, will go on to be a blockbuster hit when and if it is released.
• Union Minister Uma Bharti firmly warned by tweeting ‘no non-sense with Indian woman’s pride-past, present or future’. The likes of madam Bharti must realize that with Indian women including girl children being raped, harassed and molested to satiate the sexual urge and ‘drive’ of sex-starved Indian men, with women being burnt for dowry, and the girl child being trafficked to satisfy dark and animal pedophilia, Indian women’s’ pride exists no more. That commodity is a thing of a distant past. It is nonexistent at the present time! It is no more a part of Indian culture as once it was.
• In addition to politicians, Rajastani Royals have also expressed their disapproval on the movie. Divya kumari, whose grandfather was the last ruler of Jaipur, and who is also a BJP-law maker added fuel to the fire by saying ‘our sentiments have been hurt. ‘Rather than highlighting Padmavati’s sacrifice, the filmmaker has sought to highlight the romantic angle in this film’. So what? Let us for a moment imagine that Padmavati and klhilji really were involved in an amorous relationship in the 14th century. What consequence does that relationship have in this 21st century? People have to be more realistic. That they are hell-bent on stocking trouble for the sake of creating trouble for trouble’s sake is clear as day light.
• Where does this politically created controversy lead this country and Indians in this 21st century?

What is its fallout and its intentions?
• When other nations of the rest of the world move on with matters that really do matter and are of consequence to them, and contribute to their development (by ‘development’ is meant constructive steps put in place by governments that auger the quality of life of the nation’s citizens in terms of education, basic amenities, health, security, freedom of expression, freedom to live as they want within the law of the land) positively. Instead, what we behold here is India wrestling with a fantastical character, who is supposed to have existed in India of the 13th –14th century. India would look rather silly and even outlandish among the comity of other more sensible nations!

• The entire controversy unfortunately showcases the innate weakness of Hinduism, which is, apart from being a religion is actually a way of life on a wider perspective. This is a pity! The violent protests against a mere film was spearheaded, orchestrated and led by fringe Hindu groups, possibly at the behest of their political ‘elder brother’- the BJP, doing a great disservice to Hinduism. They were led to do so because they felt threatened. They possibly assumed that a great religion like Hinduism stood threatened or rendered weak by a mere film that talks about a person whose very existence is questioned by historians. Other religions have been blemished by ‘art forms’ like films, books and theatre. The musical drama film directed by Norman Jewison ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, and the book ‘The Da Vinci Code’ by Dan brown were considered blasphemous by the Christian religious heads and the Church. Despite these, nothing untoward happened to Christianity and for that matter, and more importantly, Christ because of that faith’s innate strength to ignore and outgrow blasphemy. Equanimity of the ‘faithful’ and refusal to be provoked by the irrelevant speaks of the faith’s strength. The ‘Padmavati ‘ruckus exposes the weakness of Hinduism, bringing great disrepute to that great faith, unfortunately. Simply because it fell into wrong hands. The self-appointed ‘custodians’ of Hinduism, unfortunately showed the faith in extremely bad light to the more civil and sensible world outside India. When will they ever learn, if at all? As if the controversy kicked up by them on the Taj issue and Tipu Sultan’s birthday celebrations were not enough to blemish Hinduism, these goons who actually care two hoots for Hinduism chose to threaten to chop off Deepika padukone’s nose and Bhansali’s head. What a shame!

• Prime Minister Modi’s supposed trump cards- Demonetization and imposition of GST have fallen flat to achieve their purported ends. They have come under the scanner to take a lot of flak from nonpartisan economists. Padmavati came as a Godsend to the rightwing forces to distract India’s attention from the economic blunders committed by Modi and his finance Minister. Through the movie, they chose to kick up nonexistent dust to cloud the citizens’ visibility of the central government’s economic disasters!
• The film also served as adequate fodder to nourish the all-important and crucial Assembly elections in Gujarat, the victory of which was the matter of prestige for the Prime Minister and BJP’s President. Rightwing goons were egged on to fuel passions that might garner important Hindu votes in that crucial state.
• As an excuse to create national uproar over the film, the honor of bharatiya nari (Indian woman) was cited ad nauseum. The mischief mongers felt the honor of Indian women was being sullied by producing a film like Padmavati. What about the countless women and girl children being raped and violated across the entire nation on a daily basis? Are these protestors blind to such mindless acts of nauseating violation of womanhood? Why don’t they raise a whimper against such crimes? Padmavati exposed their hypocrisy and crocodile tears for the dishonored and violated Indian woman of today.
• From henceforth, every ‘protest’ by the BJP and its sister concerns will be taken with a pinch of salt and scarce credibility. Every protest will be viewed by more sensible citizenry with a great degree of suspicion.
• The controversy has furthered the polarization of Indians along religious lines, which is so evident among colleagues in places of work, among friends, neighbors, and the common man.
• Through this controversy, the extreme rightwing forces of India have managed to engrave a ‘chop chop culture’ into Indian ethos. By threatening to chop of an Indian actress’ nose, and a film director’s head, Tagore’s words:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake
Have been rendered a prayer in vain, and an empty jargon, sadly!

Dr. George Jacob is a consultant surgical gastroenterology at the Lakeshore Hospital, Kochi, Kerala.

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