Rani Padmini’s Narrative Will Be Lost to the ‘Grand’ Padmaavat
As ‘Padmaavat’ is set to release, a Rajput woman laments that it may overshadow the oral histories she grew up with.
Historians, politicians, art critics, extremists and filmmakers have all locked horns over the narrative of Rani Padmavati. But when noise levels surrounding an issue increase, some voices are reduced to mere whispers and eventually vanish.
To prevent these voices from being drowned out, one needs to talk about the real people who have carried forward Rani Padmaavati’s story in their culture. These are not the extremists burning the cinema halls, but the ones who have grown up listening to the story, whose voices have been overshadowed by the hue and cry over the matter.
Among Rajputs, Padmavati is a household name. As I have been listening to this story since I was a toddler, it never occurred to me to question it. For me, Padmavati is a ‘living being’, in flesh and blood. The historical documents and claims cannot change the fact that the story is a part of our oral culture. It is transferred from one generation to another with assertions of truth.
Therefore, historians do not help my understanding of the situation by claiming that the queen never existed. They do not offer a solution, as for me and many others, she did exist; history cannot alter the fact.
The Burden of ‘Borrowing’ from Tradition
Growing up listening to a particular story, ensures that it gets under your skin. We listen to it, live it, discuss it, and are eager to see people acknowledge and address the fact that we know the story. So when ‘someone’ dances on the screen with numerous nautch women, I see it as a joke on the many years of oral history that has been a part of my upbringing.
While I believe in women’s freedom, the concept of dancing still remains far too ‘modern’ by Padmavati’s standards or even that of my mother’s. But various people have claimed this oral tradition and have presented their own interpretations.
The issue surrounding the movie is a clash of different interpretations. It is the fight between the subaltern voices and the dominant ones, with the former refusing to surrender to the latter.
The narrative is not a historical document neither a representation of any of the oral traditions. Rather, Padmaavat is an artistic venture that fuses the past and present, to make it suitable for the contemporary audience.
The problem with this glorified adaptation is that it seeks to usurp both the historical version and the oral tradition.
‘Truth’ in the contemporary, internet-based world is not essentially dependent on evidence. It rather is a function of the number of ‘views’ and ‘likes’. In Padmaavat’s case, excellent direction and cinematography, and great outreach, ensures that this version becomes the ‘truth’.
Making Viewers out of Tellers
As the film is set to release, the Karni Sena and historians’ claims to the story of ‘Padmavati’ will be relegated to the background, and what will remain is an artistic narrative, which is likely to be dubbed as the ‘truth’ by a large number of people.
Like any other WhatsApp forward, the film will become an unquestioned narrative. It will be not an assessment of life or culture or history, but will merely become a part of the ‘hundred-crore club’.
In the midst of the story’s market value, what will happen to the oral interpretations of the story that are different from the written document? Hundreds of years of storytelling will also, in all likelihood, succumb to one grand singular narrative. The story that my little cousins, nephews, and nieces have been told will change; they will not ‘live’ it, but rather, will be viewers of its ‘grand interpretation’.
The on-screen adaptation of any such story sidelines the number of other stories that have grown and evolved over time, and historians are not doing justice to these umpteen alternative histories by discrediting them.
Save the Many Faces of Rani Padmavati
Such is the case with all the epics that have been translated in the visual medium. Facts may have been a solution in a completely logic-based universe, but that isn’t the world we inhabit. We are people who believe in our stories and worship our television and film actors because they embody that heart-felt fiction.
The problem that we are dealing with hence, is not the lack of historicity in the script rather the homogenisation of a narrative that excludes its plurality. It translates into a “one nation-one visual culture-one story-one history” case, thus sidelining the diversity we stand for.
Historical and political causes may not form a great resource to do justice to the multiplicity of the narratives of Padmavati. Historical causes are rooted mainly in a canonical understanding of history which imposes an idea of factual, logical or an objective past which is sufficient to summarily reject a narrative if it does not stem from a ‘historical truth’.
Political causes too are generally a majority-bias and so fail to do justice to a narrative as organic and alive as that of Padmavati.
What we need then is a certain location from where the co-ordinates of the many lives and narratives – all fictional – of Padmavati can be heard and told. The protests and anxieties of those who have been in eternal dispute with the film, or the more logical voices, will not be soothed by censor board cuts or historical claims.
They need their voices to be heard, which are not part of the written text, grand movie or historical documents.
The point is not to embrace ‘factual history’ or respecting multiple narratives, but to understand that there lies a whole culture of sharing stories that shape our psyche and ethos.
(The writer is a PhD student at the Department of Sociology, Delhi University, and tweets @anshuchirping. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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