Padmavati controversy: A dream-fantasy that became the nation’s nightmare

Who started the fire?  Well, technically it’s that ingenious journalist who on that one bored afternoon some months ago, decided to write a desk piece on how Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB) has shot a dream sequence between Rani Padmavati and her invader and tormentor Alauddin Khilji. 

Who started the fire?  Well, technically it’s that ingenious journalist who on that one bored afternoon some months ago, decided to write a desk piece on how Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB) has shot a dream sequence between Rani Padmavati and her invader and tormentor Alauddin Khilji. 

Somebody’s dream-fantasy has now become the nation’s nightmare.

That no such sequence was shot, has ceased to matter over the months as the fire rages on over SLB’s film and its alleged insult to the Rajput community.

So my question again. Who started the fire?We could go back to the 14th century when, according to folklore, Rani Padmavati jumped into the leaping flames with her female entourage to avoid falling into the hands of the lustful Allauddin Khilji.

You have to see how Sanjay Leela Bhansali has shot the climactic sequence of ‘johar’ where the Rani, played with mesmeric grace by Deepika Padukone—yes, the same actress whose nose now faces the potential prospect of an impromptu cosmetic surgery—jumps into the pyre.

 I’ve seen the sequence.  It’s the most magnificent ode to self-annihilation  I’ve seen in cinema anywhere in the world. Jumping into the pyre is nothing new to my dear friend Sanjay Leela  Bhansali. When he decided to make Devdas the purists were baying for his blood for showing Paro and Chandramukhi dancing together.  During  Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram Leela, the protesters(no longer purists, mind you ) wanted to know how SLB can use mythological names in such a romantic context.

Leela cannot be romancing Ram. Durga can’t be sexy.

During Bajirao Mastani, the Maharashtrians were very suspicious, much more so than the self-appointed Rajput representatives who are currently demanding,  among other things, SLB’s head.  What they actually want is to watch the film and get selfies clicked with Deepika Padukone. But the Padmavati team is in no mood to oblige.

“We won’t show the film to the goons even if they promise to stop the violence in return. No bargaining with anti-socials,” says a Padmavati representative.

  Sanjay, in the meanwhile, tries to remain calm as the storm gathers more and more momentum. He has disconnected his phone  number and we converse on a  number given only to his mother, sister and a  few very close friends. We speak about everything except the disturbances. We sing the songs of our idol Lata Mangeshkar to remind one  another of a world of beauty and harmony that no longer exists. The television is not played at SLB’s residence to ensure his mother doesn’t get disturbed by reports of the violence that her son has managed to whip all across the country for no fault of his.

But Sanjay’s mother knows what’s going on. “Why are they talking like this about my son?” she asks me in a voice of smothered anguish, as she doesn’t want her son to know that she knows.

 I have no answer. Why is there countrywide violence and death threats to the filmmaker for a  film that has not one single objectionable shot that would offend the Rajputs or any other community?

“Am I insane to hurt the  very sentiments  that my film eulogizes?” SLB asked me.But who’s listening?

Padmavati actually started playing in my friend’s  head fifteen years ago soon after he completed  Devdas.

I remember the day he excitedly called to share  the  idea with me.“Do you know about the legend of Rani Padmavati? She was a warrior and a true patriot. She fought off the advances of Aalluuddin  Khilji when he resolved to possess her. She wouldn’t even allow him a  glimpse of her person. He had to look at her in a mirror reflection.That’s how pure she was of spirit. What a  braveheart!” Sanjay raved.

I  was in raptures, as I am every time  SLB shares a  story or a song with me. (By the way, my favourite unfilmed scripts of SLB are Hamari Jaan Ho Tum a film about a child bride that he once wanted to make with Alia Bhatt and Heera Mandi which will feature a bevvy of divas from Rekha to Tabu to Kareena in a Kotha chronicle).

Padmavati was special from the start. Back then SLB wanted to cast Aishwarya Rai as Padmavati.But before the movie came the opera of Padmavati in Paris that wowed the western world. It was only a matter of time before SLB got down to putting his dream project on celluloid.

Little did he know that someone somewhere had other plans. We still don’t know why the controversy erupted. It’s like a fierce bloodied battle for a land that doesn’t exist. The imagined insult to the Rajput community has been used a sounding board to launch the most intense hate-mongering campaign I’ve seen against any film in any language.

What will the Karni Sevaks do when they realize they have slipped up badly and oops, Padmavati is not an insult to the Rajputs but a dazzling homage to their courage and valour? Will they say sorry? 

Nana Patekar never said sorry for shouting at SLB after he saw Ranveer Singh dancing as  Bajirao.

“How can you show our Maratha warrior dancing? You should say sorry,” Nana screamed at SLB(probably unhappy that he didn’t get to play Bajirao).

SLB remained calm as Nana spewed vitriolic. The filmmaker then said, “This is how my Bajirao is. If you don’t like it that’s your problem.”

And he disconnected the phone.

Matters are not that easy to solve this time. The protesters refuse to calm down even when THE Arnab Goswami(yes the very same, one and only) declares he has seen Padmavati and has found nothing objectionable in it.

This is a Kafkesque conflict brought out of the creative world into the streets. The mob won’t be pacified even when they realize they are wrong. They will still have SLB’s head, Deepika’s nose and Ranveer’s ….errrr…whatever.

(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)

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