Much Before ‘Padmaavat’, ‘Padmavati’ Was a 1923 French Opera

Bhansali got a standing ovation in Paris for his adaptation of the 1923 opera-ballet by Albert Roussel.

4 min read
Much Before ‘Padmaavat’, ‘Padmavati’ Was a 1923 French Opera

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The gift of hindsight gives many storytellers opportunities to reimagine the past. Padmavati’s antiquated tale seems to have captured the imagination of many artists who lent the story diverse interpretations.

Much before Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat, the legend recounted in Malik Muhammad Jayasi‘s poem Padmavat (1540) was a French opera in two acts by composer Albert Roussel, inspired by his visit to the Chittor ruins. The libretto, by Louis Laloy, is based on the scholarly book, Théodore-Marie Pavie's La légende de Padmanî, reine de Tchitor.

Composed during the first world war, Padmâvatî was first performed at the Paris Opéra on June 1, 1923. It reportedly acquired the reputation of one of the great neglected masterpieces of 20th-century French opera.


In fact, Bhansali himself had presented an opera by the same name on the Parisian stage in 2008, based on Roussel’s work.

Well, history does repeat itself.

Albert Roussel’s Padmavati

A poster/promotional material of the 1923 Opera.

Like any other magnum opus, this one styled as an opera ballet, was suffused with dance numbers and kaleidoscopic orchestral colours. Since Rajputana (now Rajasthan) left a deep imprint on Roussel, he weaved many Indian notes in the musical score, replete with a chorus of sopranos offers flowers to Ganesha.

Turning the dominant narrative on its head- the opera sees Rani Padmini murdering her own husband, and the king of Mewar, Rawal Ratan Singh, who pleads with his wife to give herself up to the Sultan and then preferring to commit Sati to protect the kingdom’s honour from the loathsome Khilji. The mood leading up to the climax - the elaborate ritual of self-immolation is set as ominous.

The recording of the opera was reissued a few years ago by EMI.
(Photo Courtesy: Opera Lively)

Bhansali’s Version of the Opera

A scene from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati opera. 
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

Bhansali’s operatic version in 2008 featured local actors, an original score, and the additions of a tiger, a python and an elephant, when it premiered at the Theatre Du Chatelet in Paris. The opera takes liberties and makes a departure from its original source when the narrative depicts Khilji killing Rani Padmavati’s husband, the king of Mewar.

The cast of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s operatic version of Padmavati.

He was the first Indian filmmaker to be commissioned by the distinguished theatre. Choreographer Tanushree Shankar and her dance troupe were roped in for the opera. He handpicked his team, which comprises the likes of his old art-director Omung Kumar, costume designer Rajesh Pratap Singh.

“There was an initial communication problem and I was sometimes exasperated by the French language. What we say in three words in Hindi takes three sentences in French. I’m seduced by the idea of performing for a live audience.”
Sanjay Leela Bhansali told IANS at the time of the premier of the opera.

Many Interpretations. Diverse Endings

The Rani Padmini-Alauddin Khilji story has also been the source of inspiration for many films - cinema is rife with the retellings.

In the Tamil film Chittoor Rani Padmini , starring Vyjayanthimala, Rani Padmini commits jauhar when she is asked by her husband and the king of Mewar to offer a glimpse of herself to Alauddin Khilji, while Raja Ratan Singh is secretly plotting to kill him.

The poster of Tamil film Chittoor Rani Padmini.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook)

Then came Maharani Padmini, starring Anita Guha as the queen which carries a narrative similar to Bhansali’s that ends in jauhar but in a stark departure, we see Khilji stripped of villainy. At the end of the film, he even regrets his actions and weeps.


Shyam Benegal’s Bharat Ek Khoj carries one episode based on Jayasi’s poem. Starring Om Puri as Khilji, it’s fascinating that the episode depicts Alauddin as a shrewd and ruthless aristocrat but not lustful. It completely omits the narrative of jauhar and ends where Raja Ratan Singh is freed from Khilji’s prison.


Sony Entertainment Television’s show Chittod ki Rani Padmini Ka Johur garnered very low TRPS and the channel had to pull the plug on the series before its six month run. Padmavati is permanently renamed Padmini by her husband, Ratan Singh in the show and the schemers in this tale are Ratan Singh’s wife and son.

(An image from the promos of the erstwhile show Chittod ki Rani Padmini Ka Johur)
(Image Courtesy: Facebook)

Source: Centre International Albert Roussel, Gulf News

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Topics:  Paris   Sanjay Leela Bhansali   padmavati 

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