Sanjay Leela Bhansali‘s Padmaavat opened to brilliant numbers, but the movie has had a turbulent journey before reaching the box-office. In case you have not been following Bollywood news all of 2017, then I’ll just give you a quick recap – problems began on the sets of Padmaavat when a religious organization called the Karni Sena decided that they don’t like the way Rajputs are being portrayed in the film. This is while the shoot of the movie was still on. How did they come to this conclusion is something you and I will never know. Whatever the reason is, the goons burnt and destroyed the sets twice and even assaulted SLB during one of the attacks.
When the first trailer of the movie dropped (and instantly went viral), protests began in different pockets of the country. The self-proclaimed “custodians of culture” started issuing death threats to the film’s leading lady Deepika Padukone and filmmaker Bhansali. Theaters were forcibly shut down, rangolis were destroyed, a bounty was announced for their beheading. Plans to chop off Deepika’s nose were also made. Padmaavat‘s release date got pushed and the prolific cast had to go into hiding. All of this, for a movie which none of these offended people had watched.
After editing scenes and dialogues and covering Deepika’s torso in the Ghoomar song with VFX (don’t even get me started on that), the film finally released during the Republic Day weekend this year. The box-office returns of Padmaavat are enough to show how badly Indians (and the world) wanted to watch this it. But that didn’t stop this joke of a sena to pelt stones at a school bus full of children to show how offended they were. It was shameful and disgusting.
Again, this was a movie which actually glorified Rajputs and their ethics. The hero of the film was a proud Rajput king played to perfection by Shahid Kapoor, who sticks to his moral code even when his life is hanging by a thread. His and his rani Padmavati‘s ‘Rajput-ness’ has been so glorified that a large section of viewers believe that the film showed jauhar in a positive light. A strong character like Padmavati willingly gave up her life and convinced over a hundred women to commit suicide as well. All of this, to avoid becoming sex slaves of Alauddin Khilji, whose sole obsession of attacking Chittor was to get Padmavati for himself.
While the film is loosely based on the epic poem Padmavat by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, back in 2008, Sanjay Leela Bhansali had already directed a version of this literature for the opera in Paris. This rendition of ‘Padmavati’, was a 1923 opera ballet written by Albert Roussel, and it received a standing ovation on its premiere at the Theatre du Chatelet. Both, the poem and the opera had different interpretations of the events that transpired between Ratan Singh, Alauddin Khilji, and Padmavati. Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s version had another Rajput king propose to Padmavati when Ratan was captured in Delhi. After Ratan learned of this, he challenged this king – Devpal to a single combat, which results in the both of them killing each other.
The opera though is my personal favourite. As per an article on Scroll.in, events in the plot take a rather different (and a far more interesting) turn. Khilji and Ratan plan an alliance instead of going to war, for the welfare of their respective kingdoms. To successfully settle the truce, Ratan offers to give away his wife Padmavati to the sultan. After learning that her beloved husband was ready to hand her over, Padmavati stabs Ratan to death to spare herself from rape and sexual slavery. After knowing what she has done, her priests summon the “pale daughters of Shiva” Parvati, Gauri, Prithvi, and Uma first and then the “dark daughters” Kali and Durga, to lead the queen to her death by force, in order to atone the crime she has committed. “Agile Kali” and “serpentine Durga” dance an “undulating dance” during which they try in vain to drag Padmavati into the fire. After a rough-and-tumble pantomime, in which the goddesses seize her by the flanks and she trips and topples them, Padmavati, at last, ascends the pyre of her own free will. At this point, she has perhaps very little tragic dignity left to recover.
Now that gives quite a fierce edge to this Ranisa doesn’t it?
This is not the first time a Bollywood movie has been made on the tale of Rani Padmavati though. Even in the 1963 Tamil film – Chittoor Rani Padmini, starring superstars Sivaji Ganesan and Vyjayanthimala, the queen commits jauhar after killing her husband. She takes this step as she is asked by her husband to offer a glimpse of herself to Alauddin Khilji, while Raja Ratan Singh is secretly plotting to kill him.
In 1964, there was a film called Maharani Padmini which also ends with the jauhar, but the movie tries to humanize Khilji and by the end of the film, he actually regrets his actions. On television, Shyam Benegal’s television series Bharat Ek Khoj, Khilji (played by the late Om Puri) was a shrewd, practical and smart man, who was not interested in the queen, all he wanted was the kingdom and its riches. And finally, in 2009, a TV serial made for Sony TV tried to bring the story of Rani Padmini and Raja Rawal Ratan Singh to life, but the show came to an abrupt end within six months of its airing due to low TRPS.
So there – one story, various interpretations. The story of Padmavati always ends in death, but some of them give her far more agency than the watered-down version we saw (but undoubtedly loved) this year. Had SLB been given a free reign, had he been allowed to follow the vision he had in 2008, would he show Padmavati actually kill her husband?
Sadly, I can’t even imagine how the violent fringe groups prevalent in our country would respond to a story like that. I guess there are some things we will never know.
Which version would you prefer to watch? Tell us in the comments below!