The controversy surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati is the latest evidence of the fact that communal extremists would go to any extent of brutality to take advantage of any opportunity coming their way to keep the flames of vengeance and hatred burning in the society.
The extremists have come out against the movie that is yet to be released stating that it shows the legendary warrior Rajput queen Rani Padmini in bad light. Though the director had made it clear with a video evidence that the film does not wrongfully portray Rani Padmini, they are of the obstinate stance that the movie cleared by the Censor Board would not be permitted release. Rajput Karni Sena Chief Lokendra Singh Kalvi has threatened to chop off Deepika Padukone’s nose. Padukone dons the role of Rani Padmini in the film. Thakur Abhishek Som, the extremist leader of Sardhana Chaubisi in Uttar Pradesh announced a bounty of Rs 5 crore on the heads of Bhansali and Padukone. Suraj Pal Amu, BJP media coordinator in Haryana, has announced to double the prize money of Rs 5 crore announced by Som. The BJP which rules the Centre that should rein in the agitators and the states which are rife with the controversy, adopts a stance against the film which works in favour of the BJP extremists. Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje as well as the governments in UP, Haryana and Maharashtra have demanded not to release Padmavati without due revisions. The BJP wrote to the Election Commission to postpone the release till after the Gujarat elections. And Viacom 18 Pictures, the producers of Padmavati have postponed the movie’s release date following the uproar.
The legendary character Rani Padmini/Padamavati was introduced by a Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi (1542 CE) hailing from Awadh through his epic poem Padmawat. Padmavati was an exceptionally beautiful Sinhala princess of Sri Lanka. Ratan Sen the Rajput King of Chittor heard about Padmavati’s beauty from a parrot. He won her hand in marriage and brought her to Chittor after overcoming several obstacles. Alauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi also heard about Padmavati’s beauty and laid siege to Chittor to possess her. While Khilji led his troops to Chittor, Ratan Sen died in a battle with King Devpal of Kumbhalner who also was smitten with Padmini. The legend says that Padmini who came to know of Khilji approaching the palace along with her companions committed self-immolation to protect their honour. Historians who document the siege of Chittorgarh by Alauddin Khilji as taking place in 1303 CE however see Padmini as a myth. The Hindutwa extremists going on a rampage attacking Bhansali, vandalizing and torching the shooting sets and issuing death threats against the team for the past one year are stating that the movie was based on the poem by Jayasi which mentions a romance between Khilji and Rani Padmini. The latest demand by Karna Sena is not only that its release should be deferred but that it should ever be released.
It is clear that this battle is being waged by the Sangh Parivar by projecting in the forefront the Karni Sena, Sarva Brahmin Sabha, Bharatiya Kshatriya Samaj and some from the Rajput royal family. Hence the revision of the 'inam' by the BJP leader in Haryana. And there are those like Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhere, Deputy CM of UP Kesava Prasad Maurya and Umaa Bharati pitted against the film. Now that the Supreme Court has refused to interfere in the matter on the grounds that the clearance for release is granted by the Censor Board, the communal fanatics are adamant that they will get the film withdrawn by the Centre. They cannot allow a film telling the tale of a Muslim Sultan and a Hindu queen. Instead of relishing the romantic charm of the film, without differentiating between legend, story, poetry and history, and mixing history and imagination, the Sangh parivar is solely interested in igniting a spark of communalism thus keeping aflame their politics of hatred. And that is why they are frantic after the head of a prostrating Bhansali. But what would surprise an onlooker is not the BJP government which despite all this controversy and imbroglio tacitly approves it, but the Congress which has taken up the speculations of the assailants. Desperate for electoral alliances against the BJP, the Congress is yet to figure out where to hit Fascism when it raises its ugly head. Although those like Shabana Azmi and Shyam Benegal have come out against the move to spread the communal fire to filmdom, the move has not won sufficient backing from Bollywood. It is by capitalising on such alarming silence and confusion, that Fascist terrorism draws muscle to see that its will alone prevails. This urge to dictate anything from the dining table to the big screen has to be recognized as a move to slit the head of democracy. Hence the need for protests and opposition against it to be intensified.