In 1303, Sultan Alauddin Khalji, a Turkish Muslim, and his army set off to Chittorgarh to defeat the Rajput Hindu ruler, King Ratan Singh. In The Wonder that was India, vol II, S.A.A. Rizvi chronicled the fight. After a valiant and trying battle, the Rajputs were defeated and King Ratan Singh submitted to the Sultan. According to Rizvi, the King’s family members were not harmed, but the heads of the villages were slaughtered by the Sultan.
In 1540, Malik Muhammad Jayasi wrote a poem titled Padmaavat. The poem is based on Chittogarh’s siege, but the story largely fabricated. In his poem, Jayasi told the story of a fictional Queen who marries King Ratan Singh. Historically, it is accepted that the main reason for Sultan Khalji’s attack was because he wanted dominance. However, the poet created a version in which Allauddin Khalji attacked the fort in order to kidnap the beautiful Queen Padmavati.
Rizvi’s account states that the King’s family was spared, but in the fictional poem, all the men died at the hands of Khalji and all the women committed suicide, preferring self-immolation (jauhar) over ‘dishonour.’ The poem was a warning of what desire can do to a human being—Khalji ended up conquering an empty kingdom.
The character of Padmavati became popular in Northern India over the years and thus, the fiction became perceived as fact, as many people believe that Queen Padmavati did actually exist.
In 2017, more drama surrounded Chittorgarh as protestors were up in arms over an upcoming movie about the history of the fort.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is well known for his penchant for creating movies based on history. He often shies away from austerity in favour of grandeur and brilliantly designed sets and costumes. His last period film, Bajirao Mastani, garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success, earning it a place in cinematic history.
For his next film, which was widely anticipated, Bhansali chose the story of Chittorgarh’s siege as the setting. However, rumours surrounding the film spurred fanatics on into a rage.
The film Padmaavat supposedly tells the story of Sultan Khalji’s attack on the fort, but it mostly focuses on the character of the fictional Queen Padmavati.
A group of radicals were angered over the rumour that the film will showcase an erotic scene between Allauddin Khalji and Queen Padmavati. These people firmly believe that Padmavati was a real queen and that in her depiction lies the honour of the Rajputs. Some of the protestors believed that an erotic scene (which hadn’t even been confirmed yet, as the movie was yet to be released to cinemas), even in a dream sequence, between Ranveer and Deepika’s characters would be a distortion of history. Sadly, too many of them think that Padmaavat is a documentary of sorts, and not a film about a fictional queen from a poem.
Because of the outcry, the creators of the film came forth with a spoiler—no such scene is in the movie and it was never planned on. The film was even shown to a select number of journalists and interested parties at a pre-screening and no grievances were noted.
But still, the extremists were not satisfied. The groups protesting the movie refused to let up. The main groups involved in the protest are the Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Mahasabha, the Kshatriya Samajh and the Rajput Karni Sena—claiming to be a representative of the entire Rajput community.
The sets of the film were first attacked by the Rajput Karni Sena, an incident that sparked a series of dangerous protests from other fringe groups. They demanded a complete ban on the film, which was then titled Padmavati, and as a result the original release date of Dec. 1st was delayed (a new release date has been set: Jan. 25th). The Rajput Karni Sena organised a sit-in protest, effectively blocking the entrance to Chittorgarh.
The protests took a more dangerous turn when the protestors began crossing the lines of the law. Cinema halls near Chittorgarh were attacked, and effigies of the actress and director were burned. A member of a group called the Kshatriya Samaj placed a bounty of fifty million Rupees on the heads of Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Deepika Padukone—the director and star of the film. Following that, Suraj Pal Amu of the ruling party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) doubled the bounty. Another person from the Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Mahasabha is offering ten million Rupees to any person who succeeds in burning the actress.
One incident is particularly alarming—a body of a man was found in Jaipur and near the body was a sentence that read: ‘We do not only hang effigies, Padmavati.’ However, no concrete evidence links this incident to the protests.
The film itself was not the only cause for protest. Since Bollywood releases film songs before the actual film release, the makers of Padmaavat released a song titled Ghoomar. In this song, Deepika Padukone, in the role of Padmavati, performs a Rajasthani folk dance. Critics of the song are furious because according to them Rajput queens never danced in front of anybody. Again, the fact that this film is based on fiction has escaped them.
Another point that is angering the uninformed and slightly patriarchal masses is that Deepika’s midriff can be seen during the song. This apparently shows complete disrespect to the Queen—a queen who only exists in fiction. Despite numerous explanations and authoritative sources, they have yet to understand the difference between fact and fiction.
If only these men showed the same vehement respect towards real women that they do towards this fictional queen.
Even though many have fought against it, Padmaavat will be released. And if we’re going from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s track record, we can expect something amazing.
A stellar cast, amazing songs, grand sets, and a brilliant director…Padmaavat is definitely going to be something, alright.