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Good Rajputs, Evil Khilji: Sorry Bhansali, ‘Padmaavat’ is Divisive

Issues surrounding the representation of the Muslim ‘Other’ in the film have resurfaced post release.

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(The Quint’s Take: A woman’s 'honour' is not a public commodity, and the crime of rape doesn't lessen her. Practices like jauhar/sati are condemnable. The Quint supports actor Swara Bhasker’s view as expressed in her open letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali – questioning the glorification of Jauhar in the film ‘Padmaavat’.

We at The Quint, have received several letters from our readers responding to Swara’s letter and expressing their views about the film. We are sharing these letters here without endorsing or supporting them. These letters are entirely readers’ opinions.)

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmaavat was finally released on 25 January. The film saw full-to-the-brim theatres but received mixed reviews from critics.

Debates about the ‘historical accuracy’ of the film and artistic freedom exercised by Bhansali continue, while those surrounding the representation of both women and the Muslim ‘Other’ in the film have resurfaced post release.

Riya Gupta, a research scholar from the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, reviews the movie, in the light of these debates.

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Is Historical Accuracy Even an Issue?

Riya Gupta: The question of historical accuracy does not arise because Padmaavat is based on historical fiction. I can give you an example of historical accuracy. Before the movie was released, the posters depicted Rani Padmaavati (Deepika Padukone) standing between two pillars.

One of the earliest posters of Padmaavat.
(Photo Courtesy: Amazon Prime Video)
A friend pointed out the (Buddhist) motifs on the pillars. Queen Padmavati belonged to a Sri Lankan kingdom (the Singhal kingdom) and is portrayed in the movie as a practicing Buddhist. This is what judging historical accuracy entails.
Riya Gupta, Research Scholar, JNU
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Alauddin Khilji, the 'Beast'?

Riya Gupta: Ranveer Singh has acted and danced brilliantly as Alauddin Khilji. But Khilji's depiction is so beastly that I cannot help but cringe.

Alauddin Khilji, the ‘Beast’?
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube Screengrab)
You already come from a society where polarisation exists between religious groups and people already have misconceptions about Islamic rulers. Whenever people speak of a Muslim ruler they would think of a ‘lustful beast’. You have fed them an image and that’s where the problem lies.
Riya Gupta, Research Scholar, JNU
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Malik Kafur: Military General vs Paramour

Riya Gupta: Historically, there has been some evidence where it is noted that Khilji was killed by a military-general (Malik Kafur) who was close to him and was also his love interest.

Khilji was killed by a military-general (Malik Kafur) who was close to him.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Riya Gupta: I liked the way Malik Kafur was introduced. He is a military-general who kills two people to enter Khilji's service. In another sequence, he flirts with Khilji.

I liked how they tried to balance his (Kafur’s) ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’. The problem, however, is that later in the movie his role as a military general takes a backseat and he is shown in a stereotypical manner.
Riya Gupta, Research Scholar, JNU
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Islamic Identity and Violence

Riya Gupta: The movie reminded me of an article written in 1990 by famous historian M Athar Ali. He wrote about the question of identity and the idea of 'intrusion of Islam'. He says that this question is important because it has started feeding rival interests.

The Khiljis in Padmaavat.
(Photo Courtesy: YouTube Screengrab)
Ali writes that this question will not go away, and it’s true that it hasn’t, but he hopes that the ‘violent expression’ of Islamic identities will go away. What we see is that 27-28 years later, this violence hasn’t gone away. I think it’s high time that we start seeing history objectively along with art and media.
Riya Gupta, Research Scholar, JNU
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Camera: Vivek Das
Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj

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