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Padmaavat: A Disservice to History

Debate on precise and honest representation of history through films and literature can’t be more relevant than now.

Amidst the outcry of Rajput community across India over the recently-released film, Padmaavat; we need to take a serious look at the history. Bhansali made sleazy efforts to distort it; not from the point of view of the much-debated and much-hyped mythical character, Padmaavati or Queen Padmini, but from the perspective of a real and the greatest Sultan of Medieval India –Allauddin Khilji. Bhansali tried to weave a narrative based on the contrast of the godly Hindus with barbaric Muslims. But the director, despite his appeasement policy, failed to earn the brownie points even from the Rajput community. People with dark sense of humour can easily, and in all fairness, pick on the bad track-record of Rajputs in battle fields.

The real question is to what degree we are accountable for the truthfulness and accuracy of what we depict on screen and on paper. Filmmakers and writers aren’t only storytellers, they develop a discourse which ultimately becomes part of our history. Jayasi’s epic, Padmaavat, written in 1540 and creating mayhem in 2018, is a perfect example of the responsibility which creative people must shoulder with historians.

Padmaavat, an Avadhi tale of love also called the “Avadhi Masnavi” secures a very unique place in history both for its literary merit and for its cultural and political penetration in Rajput clan. Written in 15th century by Malik Mohammad Jayasi, this epic saga of love narrates the story of Khillji, Queen Padmini, and Rana Ratan Singh. Aziz Ahmed, in his paper, Epic and Counter-Epic in Medieval India, said Jayasi’s masnavi, completed in 1540, was the imaginative recasting of historical events with spiritual connotations. But Jayasi qualifies for his poetic license and recasting by closing his Awadhi epic with the following line:

I have made up the story and related it.

That explains all for the poet. That’s the qualifier which grants him the liberty to beat the rap in romancing with history and spirituality at the same time. But, in Padmaavat—the movie, Sanjay Leela Bhansali cannot get away with the distortion of a great and “real” historical character— a Muslim ruler. In Padmavaat-the masnavi, story is mostly about love, spiritual quest and least about war. But in movie, it’s all about war between good and evil—a war between the demonic Khilji and godly Rajputs.

It’s 2018 now. Visuals build socio-political narratives and culminate into historical crescendos. In all fairness, do we really have to worry about the disputed character of Padmaavati, Queen Padmani, I think, no. It is the character of the Great Sultan of Delhi, Alluddin Khilji, whom we need to pay due homage to. The character of Alluddin Khilji portrayed by Ranvir Singh appears to be a primitive predator harassing an ethereal beauty.

Sultan of Delhi, Allauddin Khilji, was depicted in the worst conceivable manner. From visuals to verbal rhetoric, it’s a great disfavor to the finest medieval Indian king. A very manipulative homework must have been done to distort the image of a Muslim Sultan who saved India six times from Mongol invasions.
In movie, he appears to be more like an Aric of Dacia instead of a king who was a warrior and a man of great economic sensibilities.

Let me dish out few facts from history for you:
Allauddin Khilji successfully fortified India from Mongol invasion for six times from six different points:
1. Jaran-Manjur(1297-1298)
2. Sivistan (1298)
3. Kili (1299)
4. Delhi (1303)
5. Amroha (1305)

Finally, in 1306, his forces attained a conclusive victory against the Mongols near the Ravi riverbank, and in the following years, his forces captured the Mongol territories in present-day Afghanistan.
Now let me explain what it means to be saved from Mongols. Allauddin Khilji saved India from homicidal Mongols who destroyed the infrastructure of wherever they attacked. They were in the habit of leaving the occupied lands as wastelands. They committed genocide in Baghdad, Persia, and Russia.
Khilji, not only a great  warrior but was also an economic genius. He fixed the prices of grain market thus avoiding any inflation for years to come. From transportation to supply-chain management, he streamlined everything and closely monitored against the hoarders. From groceries, to salves, to whores, everything had a fixed-price. Thanks to Khilji!

It was literally called the wonder of his time to control the prices.

Now against the king of such administrative and economic sensibilities, imagine the lusty- kohl-eyed barbaric Ranvir Singh; shredding meat apart from the bones in Padmaavat. Take into account that Khilji was the one who patronized Amir Khusro in his court. An unruly man with a taste for Khusro’s spiritual poetry and music! Does this combination really sink in? For me, no.

It’s not the mythical Queen Padmini whose character was assassinated or the Rajput pride but the gross misrepresentation of Alluddin Khilji whose character was smeared and berated. Indisputably, Allauddin Khiliji, the greatest of all rulers from medieval India, was dishonored and blackened through this film.

Hence, Padmaavat, is a great disservice to history. Film medium is an art of persuasion and goes deep into our socio-cultural and political system. Directors should understand the impact they create upon masses through their work and while dealing with period-flicks must remain true to history if they claim it to be serious, as Bhansali did.

Padmaavat—a historical risqué with shallow cinematic moments does not work for those who have flair for both history and literature.