Padmaavat: An exercise in Islamophobia

Padmaavat—a Sanjay Leela Bhansali bollywood production has hardly anything that should have made Hindutva zealots run riot on streets. I got to see the movie in a Bradford cinematic theatre, during annual sojourn with my children and grandchildren living in England. Bradford has large Asian population, mostly Pakistanis. The rush to see the highly controversial movie was obvious. You had to have an advanced online booking to get in. We were in a packed hall. No surprises that the film netted 250 crore plus globally over first few weeks of its opening. The film unrolls fiction, rather than being a cinematic play out of historical facts. The fury of Hindutva zealots could only be explained on existent Islamophobia. From Aibeks to Mughals, Khiljis included, it is the same tale. The sultanate rule in India is taken to be a foreign imposition. And, it has resulted in wounded psyche, which refuses to fade away. Historical testimony bearing out that Aibek to Mughal inroad in India was not different from earlier Aryan immigration from Central Asia has failed to heal the wounded psyche. Even Dravidians fail to qualify as original Indians, being migrants like later day Aryans.
Given the wounded psyche, even the fictitious tale of the Sufi poet—Malik Mohammad Jayasi, dating back to 1540 A.D resulted in riot on the streets. Hindutva zealots took exception to a Muslim sultan—Alauddin Khilji falling in love with a Rajput queen, as depicted by Jayasi in poetic construction of an epic. Rajput queen—Padmavati, the consort of Rajput king—Rattan Sen/Rattan Singh of Chittoor is presented in colours of unimaginable beauty by the Brahmin of Chittoorgarh court. The Brahmin-Raghav Chetan enamoured by beauty and intelligence of Padmavati casts an evil eye. A series of unsavoury incidents leads to Raja Rattan banishing the Brahmin. It may be noted that Hindu Rajas as a norm had to have a Brahmin in their courts for advice on matters of state. Hence, banishing as exalted person as the court Brahmin was no ordinary event. Raghav Chetan planned revenge by stoking Alauddin Khilji’s passion. From here, we see Alauddin Khilji cast as a sensuous voyeur, leaving the care of the state, and planning an invasion of Chittoor to get hold of Padmavati.
The siege of Chittoorgarh fort yields no results, and Alauddin takes recourse to act as peacenik by seeking an invitation to visit Chittoor. Raja Rattan accepts after deliberations. Sultan Alauddin invites the Raja to return the visit. Treacherously, he imprisons him, and takes him to his court in Delhi. His freedom is subject to Rani Padmavati paying a visit to Alaudin’s court. Padmavati accepts and plans a rescue with the Rajput court faithfuls—Gora and Badal. Helped by the royal consort of Alauddin, incidentally the daughter of Jalaluddin Khilji, Padmavati manages to rescue Raja Rattan. In dramatic sequence of events, Alauddin fails to catch a glimpse of Padmavati. While the court faithful Gora is killed in the rescue attempt, Badal leads the rescue. The rage of Alauddin knows no bounds as he rushes to Chittoor and blasts the fort with his firepower. Forced to face Alauddin in an open battlefield, Raja Rattan challenges his rival to a one to one combat. In the combat Rajput valour wins the day. However, as soon as Raja Rattan poses to do away with Alauddin, Malik Qafoor—Alaudin’s trusted aid manages to get rid of the Raja by a volley of arrows. The Raja falls, fanatically portrayed Alauddin frenetically enters the fort. Before he could get Padmavati, the queen in Rajput traditions assigns herself to the raging pyre. The women of the Chittoorgarh fort join her in collective self-immolation—Jouhar, leaving Alauddin distraught.
The filmmaker—Sanjay Leela Bhansali constructs a plot of his own fantasy. Contrary to how the film was projected before the release—an insult to Rajputs, the film is full of Rajput valour. Raja Rattan is shown as virtuous, valorous, and a man of his word, whose word keeps up with the deed. Alauddin Khilji quite the opposite—vain and treacherous, whose word never matches his deed. He deposes his uncle-Jalaluddin Khilji, predecessor sultan by stabbing him in the back. This could be taken as usual practice of medieval times. Otherwise, the valorous spirit of Alauddin Khilji in historically authenticated. In a historical epoch, when the murderous Mongol hordes were subjugating the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, the Central Asian sultanates and getting as far as China and Russia in a flurry of conquests, one and only Alauddin Khilji held them at bay. This is recorded history, which the bollywood distorters of history, such as Sanjay Leela Bhansali would find hard to set aside. As many as six times during Alaudin’s reign, the vicious Mongols—the disrupters, virtually destroyers of civilizations tried to invade India. It was the military genius of Alauddin Khilji, who planned to repulse the invasions, time and again. He is credited with brilliance as a general, being tactful in warfare. Besides the troops he led were disciplined, there was quality in command.
There is a lot more to historicity of the Alauddin Khilji’s reign than the distortion of Sanjay Leela Bhansali would have us believe. The filmmaker has done a great disservice to the Indian society in general and to Muslims in particular by painting Alauddin Khilji in dark colours. The historical facts belie his fantasy. It is by planting ahistorical fantasies in cinematic art that weird perceptions on sultanate rule from Aibeks to Mughals are strengthened. And, since cinema is a powerful medium, such portrayals widen the social divide. The film censor board may stay with freedom of expression; however gross historical distortion darkening public perception needs to be checked. It may not be in public interest to play with facts.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

Dr. Javid Iqbal