I Watched ‘Padmaavat’ and Here’s What I Thought About It

*Spoilers Ahead*

Padmaavat – a terribly weak story line, an unbelievably savage characterisation of Khilji, regressive glorification of jauhar sati in this day and age - but certainly in no way damaging to the ‘Rajput pride’.

The last few months have seen much drama over the film Padmaavat. Karni Sena, a largely unheard of organisation, has been saying that the film distorts Rajput history and offends Rajput pride. Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the director, was attacked on the sets during the making of the film; death threats were issued to the leading lady, Deepika Padukone; several modifications were made by the Censor Boards. After all of this, Padmavati became Padmaavat. But despite the court orders, several states have decided against screening the film.

Many films are released which deeply offend me – films that are casteist, sexist and those having an ideology I don’t subscribe to. But I still don’t believe that they should be banned – I simply choose to not go and watch them. So I went to see Padmaavat with a sense of solidarity.

I spotted several police vans stationed outside the mall where the film screening was to happen, I wondered if they were due to the film being shown.

The film began. The canvas is pure Bhansali, and the expanse and imagery are just spectacular. Padmavati’s character is really well etched out – here is a queen who besides being exceptionally beautiful, is a very brave warrior, is really intelligent and is a very good strategist at times of conflict. Her husband, Maharwal Ratan Singh, the King of Chittor, appreciates her intelligence and listens to her advice in matters of the kingdom. Their love story is beautifully captured and the visuals of Chittor just go to show what a master storyteller Bhansali is.

At the other extreme is the characterisation of Alauddin Khilji – the man is shown to be a crazy, savage-like creature, who has a burning obsession with procuring anything of exceptional beauty for himself. Here is where the story line becomes weak.

I was unable to understand the particularly savage and gross depiction of Alauddin Khilji. He was the Sultan of Hindustan and one can understand his obsession for expanding his kingdom, but one just can’t understand how he gets so fixated on Padmavati. That, I feel, is the weakest link in the film.

Khilji - the man who vastly expanded his empire, developed his weaponry, built Hauz Khas, the 70-acre water reservoir in Delhi, whose court poet was Amir Khusrau - to be depicted as a crazy savage and a vicious womaniser seemed really extreme. It was such a contrast to the Alauddin Khilji played by Om Puri in the Doordarshan series Bharat Ek Khoj.

The depiction of Padmavati’s intelligence in making a strategy to get back her husband who was very slyly kidnapped by Alauddin Khilji is well crafted. Her authority as the Queen of Chittor and the respect she earns from the Commander of Chittor’s army are brilliantly scripted sequences. One really enjoys the craft of the filmmaker to make the story come alive.

Once it’s clear that the armies of Chittor cannot win against the mighty army of Khilji, Padmavati asks the king for her right to commit jauhar. Jauhar was a custom in some parts of India, where mass immolation was done by women when the defeat of their armies was certain. Women and children committed mass suicide by collectively jumping into a massive fire before the invading armies could enter the fort.

One understands that was a different time and age with very different norms, and death may have seemed safer than capture by an invading army.

But I just could not fathom the logic of the filmmaker regressively glorifying jauhar/sati like he did and showing it as the biggest defeat of Alaudin Khilji. This, at a time when women face violence in their everyday lives, day in and day out across the country. To me, honestly, it seemed like a huge waste of resources.

And lastly, I have to say that I just do not understand the reason for protests by the Karni Sena. The film in no way whatsoever demeans Rajput pride. Today, the filmmaker has invited the Karni Sena to view the film; they may watch the film together and decide that the film could after all be shown across the country.

(Rosa Basanti is a researcher and a documentary filmmaker.)

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