I watched Padmavat and lived to tell the tale..

Movies pass by me like water under the bridge. I watch the trailers pass by and wave them goodbye, unless men and women in spandex or metal make a call. Padmavat was destined to be one such movie that I couldn’t care less about.

So when ‘just’ a movie starts to disrupt the contemporary narrative of the nation leading to a real law & order situation, while driving a neat wedge in its conscience; it’s time to take cognisance, ponder and wonder what the hell just happened.

Ever since the goons of Karni Sena started torching public property, making threats and then hurting people, I was aghast what kind of pride could actually be hurt that you resort to vandalism?

Manuscript of Jayasi’s Padmavat, 18th century

I had to sample it first hand and know for myself. I read up on the said characters beforehand- Padmavati, Ratan Singh and Alauddin Khilji. Not to mention I did my share of research on the eponymous work by the Sufi poet Malik Mohammed Jayasi.

My feeble attempt at reviewing the movie..

Cometh the D-day, I strolled into the nearest theatre and managed to sit through. As expected, I left the theatre happy. Why not? My premonition that it would be a lavish dud was spot on. The narrative builds up quickly, before disintegrating into mindless bouts of a caricatur-ish portrayal of Khilji, and almost idiotic purrs of the so called Rajput pride from the opposite number. What I found most despicable was the apparent apathy with which jauhar and sati were glorified. But I am not here to review the movie in its entirety.

The Premise

Let me just take a step back and talk a little about the setting of the story in Jayasi’s Padmavat, incidentally written more than 200 years after Khilji, his empire and Rana Ratan Singh had ceased to exist.

In the book, Rana Ratan Singh of Mewar hears about the ethereal beauty of Padmini of Singhala from her now estranged companion parrot! Don’t be surprised, talking birds are a big hit in Indian mythical fiction. Remember Panchatantra, Hitopadesha? Closer still, Dadi’s Stories?

Padmavati- 18th Century painting

He sets off for Singhala, gets defeated, but eventually manages to convince the king into marrying his daughter to him- a king from a far away arid land!

Our parrot is still out there somewhere, and word spreads about Padmavati’s pristine beauty. Another Rajput ruler mounts an attack on Ratan Singh, gets defeated and goes away humiliated. Meanwhile, our Rana expels one of his advisors Raghav Chetan for fraud. Raghav Chetan goes to Khilji’s court, and ends up telling him about this once in a generation beauty. And lo & behold Khilji’s got an opportunity to lay siege to Chittor. The stalemate continued for long, at the end of which Alauddin offered a fake peace treaty to Ratan Singh and thereafter deceitfully captured and took him away to Delhi. Padmavati asked Ratan Singh’s trusted deputies Gora and Badal for help, who immediately marched to Delhi, gained entry faking that Padmavati had arrived with her entourage, and freed Ratan Singh.

Meanwhile, another neighbouring Rajput King Devpal, had gotten enamoured with Padmavati. Him and Ratan Singh got into a duel, leading to Ratan Singh’s demise. Padmavati committed Sati on the pyre of her deceased husband. Later Khilji besieged Chittor again, defeated the forces and entered the fort, only to find all the women inside had committed Jauhar.

Khilji returning after the siege and women of the fort committing jauhar- a painting from 1725

Fast Forward..

Getting back to the point, set in 14th century & penned in the 16th century, this love story spread far and wide. later it grew into multiple tales through the 18th and 19th centuries, eventually shaping up as a story of Rajput valour. The emphasis on Shringara Rasa changed to Veera Rasa! Readers of Hindi would understand this.

Was Padmavati a real character? Contemporary Muslim court historians do not mention her, but they do mention Ratan Singh and the siege of Chittor by Alauddin Khilji. Unfortunately there are no known contemporary Rajput written renditions. They are all later day ones, post Jayasi’s poem. If she were central to this siege, she would have found a mention, isn’t it? But never mind. In our land, oral renditions can be as authentic if unproven.

Now did the movie stay true to Jayasi’s poem, or to later day renditions? I would say a bit of both, and Bhansali has all the rights to tell his version of the tale.

Did Bhansali insult one community against the other? Depends on the lens we see it from. He did show the Muslim ruler as savage, not because of ruthlessness in politics and war, but elsewhere in the way he eats & behaves, almost like a man right out of cave. The movie even showcases Sultanate forts and palaces as dull and dim, as opposed to the shiny citadel of Chittor. Subtle semantics I would say. Rajputs are shown to be following the righteous path to the h. It’s white and black with no shades of grey.

Put on another lens, and Rajputs come across as idiots, who keep mouthing monologues of pride to veil their incompetence. Now who do you think is being insulted? Or is it history as it unfolded?

The point is whether or not it’s history, it sure is one man’s dream in putting up the dazzling sets & weak story together, and another man’s mind at dissecting it, even destroying it, on paper. We don’t need a sword to fight nowadays. We don’t need flimsy reasons to cry hoarse. Our pride isn’t so thin as breakaway ice. Or is it?

There is so much in this country to be proud about, than celebrating women dying on their husbands’ pyres, whether voluntary or compulsorily. You can’t change history, but you can surely stop glorifying what is definitely regressive to our modern sensibilities. And doesn’t Bhansali glorify Sati? The grandeur with which Padmavati leads the women into fire in the movie smacks of patriarchal apathy. Such a heart-wrenching moment is reduced to a barely veiled cacophony of red on the screen. Don’t make movies if you can’t show pain as it is. That’s an insult to the audience too. But guess we have a thick skin.

Padmavati committing Jauhar- 18th Century Painting

Instead of introspecting why we still glorify such regressive practices, we resorted to hooliganism over outdated concepts of a clan’s pride. It was deeply saddening.

Conspiracy Theories hold Sway..

The movie set me thinking, even leading me to believe some conspiracy theories. Some blamed the producers who would have arranged this shit to gain publicity, others pointed fingers at the ruling party as this would allow them to divert people’s minds off more important issues of the economy and job creation. Yet others blamed the opposition for making people believe in the incompetence of the govt regarding the economy and job creation.

Whether there is any truth to these or not, what’s certain is that our overbearing population has large enough segments ready to commit shit, because they have nothing better to do. It’s sad and deeply sadistic. It’s a sad comment on our great composite culture.

Let’s not hide reality. Let’s not create flimsy notions of reality either- whether you are a rich filmmaker or a jobless goon on the street..

We have so much going for us. We are such a nuanced nation. Let’s not undermine our greatness..


Note: All the images in this article have been sourced from the web, and do not belong to any particular publication.

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