Padmaavat divides us at a time when we need to be most united.
Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Padmavat is a film based on a fictional epic poem about Rajput queen Padmaavati (Deepika Padukone). A period drama set in the 13th century, Padmaavat is about a Hindu/Rajput queen whose beauty inspires Sultan Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) to wage war on her kingdom of Chittor, in hopes of seizing her. The movie casually drops a disclaimer at the start that it is by no means meant to be taken as an accurate portrayal of historical events. In addition, the disclaimer asserts that the film is not attempting to glorify jauhar, the Hindu tradition of women collectively immolating themselves in order to escape "dishonor" from the hands of invaders in the face of certain defeat.
"Though we don't know for sure, Bhansali's Rani Padmavati seems like a glorified Rajput wife dedicated to her husband and Jauhar
These disclaimers almost seem to have been wasted. In spite of the attempts to calm the masses, like the disclaimer itself and a name change from Padmaavati to Padmaavat, the film has still been bubbling furiously in the pot of controversy. Extremist Hindus raced to clutch pitchforks and torches to begin their hunt on this perceived monster that was attacking their culture and history. Threats against the director and actors abound; Deepika Padukone and director Bhansali were even threatened to be beheaded by a political leader. Kanpur Kshatriya Mahasabha further declared a bounty of 2 million rupees (about $320,000 at this time) for Deepika Padukone's ears and nose. Still now, the anger goes unabated. The irony is, under banners of "historical accuracy" and "Rajput honor," extremists have given this movie much more credence than it deserves.
It must be said however that the movie was beautifully made. The clear cinematography, vibrant backgrounds, and fantastic effects were all lost unfortunately amidst the poor plot and self-aggrandizing of Rajputs. Aside from a few noteworthy scenes, the movie as a whole felt bloated, sexist, and boring. In addition, the final scene of the movie with Padmaavati leading the women of the city into jauhar left a sour taste in my mouth. No women, not even young girls or the pregnant, were exempt from the "honor" of jauhar. Instead of feeling awe and reverence for their actions, I could not help but feel sorrow and pity for not only the loss of all the women's lives but also for a culture that hailed such unnecessary sacrifice as admirable. I kept thinking that Queen Padmavati would have become a bigger heroine if she had just went with Khiji and spared the many lives of other women, children and the unborn. Please, don't cut my nose for saying this. The Rajputs, I guess, would rather kill all women than sending away one. What about Jodha Bai? Did they not give her away to Akbar like several others?
I was also nauseous of these so-called Rajputs' "aan, baan and shaan" in celebrating festivals, when the enemy is camping at your fort and is cutting away your water and food resources. What kind of battle strategy is this? Bhansali should have taken some lessons from Bahubali, for sure.
Horror stories of Sati where women were drugged, tied and poked and forced down on the pyre with sticks to keep them burning live are well documented facts
Hindu right-wing groups protesting the release of Bhansali's film in Rajasthan
History is multi-dimensional, never one-sided. No period or person, in reality, is black and white. But Bhansali, praised as one of the mature directors of India, failed to capture those nuances in depicting his version of Padmavat. He is consumed with a desire to showcase Khiji as complete evil and Rajputs as soulful (stupid and weak actually) and serene. Every scene felt placed specifically to comment on the glory of Rajputs. If it was not a scene straightforwardly praising the brilliance of Rajputs, then it was indirectly revering them through the contrasting barbarianism of everyone else. Alauddin Khilji and his men were displayed as savages, yet historically they were rich and cultured. The message seemed to be clear: if you were a Rajput you were great and noble and of us but if you were not then you were one of them. It is tragic to see such divisive storytelling, especially in this current period of turmoil and strife. Viewers can easily reassure themselves throughout the film with thoughts similar to "I'm like the Rajputs too. I'm noble and honest but the others keep cheating and lying to usurp me." It is extremely easy to look outwards at others and see them as beasts instead of inwards at us. Especially with the current political climate in both The United States and India feeding into deep-rooted cycles of hatred and anger, we need to keep love for each other at the forefront of our minds and hearts. We should not be thinking in terms of Rajputs versus others." We should be thinking rather that we are all noble heroes on the same side attempting to fight against the savages that exist in our own individual hearts. Perhaps by remembering today what we forgot yesterday, we can unite and believe in a brighter tomorrow.
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