Bhansali vs Benegal: The 80s Padmavati Karni Sena Would Have Loved
Did Padmavati, portrayed by Seema Kelkar in the 1988 show ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’, match the fringe groups’ narratives?
Much before the furore over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati – an upcoming Rs 180 crore magnum opus – came a much simpler tribute to the Rajput legend.
Directed by Shyam Benegal, Chittor ki Maharani Padmavati’s story was part of a 53-episode series titled Bharat Ek Khoj, also written and produced by the Hindi film veteran. The 1988 Doordarshan show based on Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India is where Padmavati made her seemingly first appearance on national television.
The series covered the 500-year-long cultural history of India up until independence from the British in 1947. The 26th episode, called ‘Delhi Sultanate Part III - Padmavat and the Tughlak Dynasty’, was entirely based on the history of Chittorgarh and Rani Padmavati.
The response to that episode was nowhere close to the death threats recieved by Bhansali or the bounty on the head of the film’s leading lady. So why did the Karni Sena or any other political fringe group not raise objections to the episode or the series? Did Benegal’s Padmavati honour the ‘goddess queen’ up to Rajput standards and did not distort history?
While the 45-minute episode was surely not as glamorous as Bhansali’s upcoming film, Benegal’s Padmavati seems to fit the fringe’s narrative better.
The Portrayal of Rani Padmavati
Keeping with the times, Bhansali’s Padmavati played by Deepika Padukone is naturally more glamourous, while Shyam Benegal portrayed a more subtle version of the queen played by Seema Kelkar.
The episode portrays Padmavati being one of the reasons for the siege of Chittor, but not the only one. However, many fringe groups are opposing Bhansali’s film on the basis that Padmavati wasn’t the reason behind the siege at all.
Depiction of 'Ghoomar'
The depiction of ghoomar in Benegal’s Padmavati did not show Rani Padmavati dancing to the song, a fact pointed out by the Karni Sena and many Rajasthan royals that queens never took part in the dance.
The episode shows Queen Padmavati being a mere spectator to the ghoomar being performed by the dasis to please the gods and help them in the war. While Benegal’s ghoomar gave the dance form a more religious colour, Bhansali’s elegantly choreographed ghoomar shows Rani Padmavati dancing with her dasis.
Bhansali’s Padmavati has been accused by fringe groups of ‘indecent clothing showing her midriff in ghoomar’. Moreover, Deepika romancing Shahid in the song ‘Ek Dil Ek Jaan...’ without a ghoongat (veil), with flying hair and dupattas might have further irked the fringe.
Benegal’s Padmavati, doesn’t have a single scene which depicts the queen without her ghoongat, the dressing style many Rajputs take pride in.
Khilji and Padmavati's Alleged Romance
The fringe groups have accused Bhansali of distorting history by showing a ‘dream sequence’ between Padmavati and Khilji, which is ‘deeply humiliating’ to Rajput honour.
Denying any such allegations, Bhansali has clarified that Deepika and Ranveer do not have a single scene together. In Shyam Benegal’s show as well, Khilji just gets a glimpse of Padmavati in the mirror, as the legend goes.
Glorification of Khilji
While Benegal’s Khilji played by Om Puri has been portrayed as a lustful and treacherous ruler, fitting the narratives of the fringe groups, many say that a superstar like Ranveer Singh playing the character of Khilji glorifies the tyrant ruler and increases the ‘fan following’ of Alauddin Khilji.
Portrayal of Rana Ratan Singh
Bhansali’s alleged portrayal of Rana Ratan Singh, played by Shahid Kapoor, as more of a romantic than a ruler, especially in the song ‘Ek Dil Ek Jaan...’ has drawn a lot of criticism. Benegal’s Ratan Singh, played by TV actor Rajendra Gupta, is shown fiercely trying to protect Padmavati’s honour by saying ‘Hamari mahilayein pradarshan ki cheez nahi hain (Our women are not items of exhibit).’
Bhansali and Benegal, both notable directors of the Indian Cinema, have portrayed their own versions of Padmavati, more or less sticking to historical facts and fictions.
Despite issuing a clarification, speculations are being drawn and judgements are being passed against Bhansali and his film merely on the basis of a 3-minute trailer and baseless rumours.
There might be certain narratives, both in Benegal’s and Bhansali’s versions, that do not match the perspectives of the fringes and they are totally entitled to their opinion. But the fringes are surely not entitled to violence, death threats and badmouthing.
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