Padmavati-A journey into cinematic offence
(Article written exclusively for India Today)
The upcoming historical film Padmavati, directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, has been facing a lot of flak for offending the Rajput community. Their gripe being that the film may have distorted historical facts. Back in my school days, one did not have to make a multimillion dollar film to distort historical facts. All we did was toggle between active and passive voice during the history exam and make up new facts, to add to the length of our answers and eventually ace the exam. Example-
Emperor Akbar had the hots for Birbal's wife.
Birbal's wife was chilled out about Akbar's hots for her.
History, as we all know, can have different interpretations for different people.
They conveniently leave out the interesting bits while teaching the subject at school. For instance, which king had an extramarital affair with whom and how many. Did the ministers have a WhatsApp pigeons group to communicate and collaborate on plans to assassinate the king? What was the sick leave policy like for the palace workers?
It was only during a recent trip to Hyderabad that I genuinely felt guilty after visiting palaces. In terms of heritage, all we have for the future generations is fidget spinners, USB data dongles and memes.
However, even if you leave the historical technicalities of Padmavati aside for a moment, I think the director is doing a splendid job at introducing different parts of Indian history and, more importantly, the monuments of importance. As seen over the years, if anything is to be of relevance to Indians, it better have something to with Bollywood.
For example, I'd like to believe that Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamun built his tomb for far greater reasons and the original plan for it was not to serve as an aesthetic background for Katrina Kaif's dance sequences many centuries later after his death. But who gives a damn? Right?
It's been a long time since I have taken offence to anything. My issue being which historical figure should I show my allegiance to? Should it be Tipu Sultan, Akbar, Rani of Jhansi or Shah Jahan? For whom should I burn the theatre down?
Shah Jahan would be a strong contender, I suppose. By cutting off the hands of the very workers who built the Taj Mahal, he was, in a way, the pioneer of the concept of copyright protection.
To extract finer details from the filmmaking fraternity, Rajput community leaders have requested Padmavati's director to show the movie to them before releasing it. Some have even sought prior clarifications.
"Is there any dream sequence between Deepika (Rani Padmini) and Ranveer (Alauddin Khilji)?"
"Is there any love scene between them?"
"Is there any scene where they go to rescue a puppy and fall in love with each other and the puppy?"
"Hmm... Will check and get back to you on this."
Cinema, like all forms of art, should not be viewed too critically. For example, in Devdas, another Sanjay Leela Bhansali film, did Paro (Aishwarya Rai) keep the lamp burning while waiting for her love Devdas (Shah Rukh Khan) for more than a decade? I don't know. If she did, it would definitely qualify as the most pointless contribution to global warming. If you're hell-bent on ruining the planet, at least do it in a befitting manner — with fancy SUVs, fireworks etc.
Coming back to Devdas, the lamp scene and dialogues do make the scene look dramatic, so one can excuse technical intricacies. Likewise, filmmakers should be allowed a bit of artistic liberty when it comes to delivering high quality movies for a global audience.
One may agree or disagree with the content of a film and it's perfectly fine to do so. At the end of the day, it's just another form of entertainment one would watch to kill time on the weekend, nothing more.
We all may have our wish lists of characteristics that make a perfect film and it is okay if cinema can't match up to our whims.For example, I would love to see someone making a violent film based on the children's show Teletubbies. Say a movie titled Return of the Tinky Winky with the characters roaming about with chainsaws, machetes, AK-47 and some Gangs of Wasseypur dialogues to go with it.
What the fate of this upcoming film will be, time alone will tell. Off to defend Shah Jahan's legacy! May the best protester win.