Mumbai: The amazingly prolific and fearless Shyam Benegal definitely sees a deep-rooted political conspiracy in what is happening to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's "Padmaavat".
Benegal had filmed the story of Allauddin Khilji's violent obsession for Rani Padmavati many years back, and not a stir of protest had happened. Explains Benegal: "You must understand, this is not an issue of tolerance or intolerance. It is something else entirely.
"I've filmed the same saga way back in 1988 for my series 'Bharat Ek Khoj' on Doordarshan. Om Puri had played Allauddin Khilji. "The protests have nothing to do with the content of the film.
"I see a deep-rooted political conspiracy in what is happening to Sanjay Bhansali's film."
"This is nothing but an attempt to appease the Rajput vote bank. Why are no arrests being made when even school children are being targeted?" Benegal said. Interestingly, Benegal's vision of what transpired between Rani Padmini and Khilji was also based on the poem "Padmaavat" by Malik Mohammed Jayasi.
Explains Benegal, "Jayasi's beautiful 15th century poem is based on the idea of unattainable love. He talks of love as something that can be desired, never fulfilled. "The poem describes the mad infatuation of Khilji for the Chittoor queen. I was deeply moved by it. We shot the story exactly the way Jayasi described it in his poem.
"In the end Rani Padmavati commits 'Jauhar' along with hundreds of followers. I haven't seen Bhansali's film. But I presume this is exactly what transpires in it."
Bhansali was part of the "Padmavati" episode of Benegal's "Bharat Ek Khoj". "Bhansali was an assistant director in my Padmavati episode of 'Bharat Ek Khoj'. His sister Bela Sehgal and his brother-in-law Deepal Sehgal were also involved with the episode as editors.
"We shot the episode exactly the way it was described in Jayasi's poem down to the mass jauhar at the end...Now when Sanjay makes a film based on the same poem we have women with swords coming in front of the media threatening to commit jauhar to stop the film...," Benegal said.
"...My advice to them is, they must carry out their threats in front of live TV cameras. What TRPs that would amass, don't you think?" said the veteran filmmaker.
On a more serious note, Benegal wonders why the government is silent over these unlawful protests. "We've these strange men with their aggressive demeanour going on national television to issue open threats. The law enforcers know what exactly and who they are.
"Why are they not being arrested even when they openly issue threats against the director and his actors? Would Benegal hesitate in directing "Padmavati" today?
"Not at all," comes the prompt answer. "One doesn't think of these things while making a film. But again I repeat, what is happening to Sanjay Bhansali's film is no ordinary protest. It is something else, beyond my understanding."