Bollywood blockbuster wows Lankan audience | Sunday Observer

Bollywood blockbuster wows Lankan audience

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s controversial Hindi film ‘Padmavat’ is screened at MC Colombo, MC Jaffna, Capitol, Cine City and several other cinemas. The film features Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh.

Nearly 10 months after the film ‘Baahubali – 1’ juggernaut took centrestage, the much awaited ‘Padmavat’ is now being screened. “Padmavat’, earlier titled ‘Padmavati’, Bhansali’s magnum opus, dedicated to Rani Padmini, believed to be a Sri Lankan princess, has created so much of controversy in India that nobody thought it would be released so soon.

According to legend, Padmini (Padmavati) was a princess from Sinhala Desh (Sri Lanka) married to a Rajasthan prince. She is said to be the daughter of a Sri Lankan king named “Gandharvsen.” However, there is no historical record about a king by that name. A controversy arose in India about the characters in the story that were not properly depicted. It was pointed out that disrespect had been shown to Padmini who has now been elevated to the status of a goddess. She was considered the epitome of beauty, valour and virtue.

Lindsay Harlan, a retired Professor of Religious Studies in the United States in her book ‘Religion and Rajput Women: the Ethic of Protection in Contemporary Narratives’ said, Padmini was worshipped as a goddess. She points out that in popular legend it was Padmini’s heroism which saw her plan to rescue her husband after he was captured by the invader Allauddin Khilji, the Sultan of Delhi, who was originally from Afghanistan.

Prof. Harlan further says, “In going out to war, Padmini disregarded female customs and performed the duties of male soldiers.” Padmini’s heroism comes out not because of her fulfilling the codified role of the ‘Pativrata’ (faithful wife), but her departure from it to assume a more urgent role. Even in comic books in the ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ series, Padmini is depicted as the perfect model of Indian womanhood.

Nagalingam Kumarakuruparan, an Indian entrepreneur says, “The root of the controversy around the film is the fact that there is not a single authentic document describing the life and times of Padmini.” The director, however, has claimed that the movie is based on the poem ‘Padmavat’ composed by Malick Mohammad Jayasi, a Sufi poet who lived in 1540 AD.

He wrote the poem in Parsi (Persian) script. According to Bhansali, what has been shown in the film is not derogatory of Padmini.

Although some authorities believe that Jayasi wrote a fictitious story, Satyanarayana, a retired Professor of History at Osmania University, Hyderabad says, “The movie is based on historical events. Allaudin Khilji invaded Chittor of Mewar in 1302 AD.”

Bhansali has directed many other super hits such as ‘Jodha Akbar, Devdas, Rasleela Ramleela’ and ‘Bajirao Mastani.’ His latest film ‘Padmavat’ opens with Prince Ratansen of Mewar who comes to know about the beauty of Padmini. He falls in love with Padmini even without seeing her. Then the Rajput prince crosses the seven seas to win her over. Thereafter, Padmini along with her nephew crosses the Palk Strait and arrives at Mewar in Rajasthan. At the time of her marriage to Prince Ratansen she was only 18. She lived in the Fort of Chittor and was popularly known as ‘Chittor Rani Padmini.’

Rajasthan is the land of Rajputs or Kshatriyas (warriors). Rajasthan lies in the dry part of North Western India. Rajputs were descendants of warrior clans who were once thrilled to see the clash of steel, the wind that whipped past and the steeds that strained at the bits. Bards sing of valour, love and great battles of the past. Poet Jayasi picked the story from the bards and the story would have existed in the collective memory of the people of Rajasthan. Ratansen’s coronation took place in 1302 AD. However, his kingship was short lived. His troubles started when Princess Padmini’s fame and beauty reached Mohammedan Emperor Allauddin Khilji. He was determined to have Padmini in his harem although he had abducted many young princesses from conquered territories.

Eventually, Khilji invaded Chittor, and though beaten back, he made another attempt to capture the territory and the princess. On hearing the sad news, Rajputs from far and wide rushed to defend Chittor.

Then Khilji changed his tactics. He sent word to the Rajputs that he would be satisfied with the mere sight of the princess and pleaded that he might be considered a brother to Padmini. On his word of honour he was allowed into the Fort of Chittor.

Padmini was not willing to meet him. Ratansen allowed Khilji to have a glimpse of the reflection of Padmini in the royal pond. Khilji found that the reflection itself was bewitching. Thereafter, a siege of Chittor began the likes of which had never been witnessed before. The city remained secure as long as its defences were fortified. However, there was no end to the tragic news pouring in. One by one, the best warriors of Chittor fell in the battle ground. The siege lasted six months and Ratansen realized that Chittor could not be saved.

Paying no heed to his wounds, Badal, the nephew of Padmini, announced to all the princesses that they were fighting an unwinnable war. Then the code of honour was announced and a great fire was lit for the sacrifice. Husbands and fathers bade farewell to their wives and children promising that they would meet them in heaven.

According to Kumarakuruparan, a Hindi film titled ‘Padmini’ was produced by Walli Saheb of the Punjab Production Company in 1948. His wife Mumtaz Shanthi and Ashok Kumar acted in the main roles. Ghulam Haider directed the music.

The film was based on a novel written by Rangalal Bandyopadhyay in 1858. A Tamil film titled ‘Chittor Rani Padmini’ was produced in 1964 with Vyjayanthimala playing the lead role.

Kumarakuruparan wrote an article to a local newspaper on ‘The legend of Sri Lankan Princess in Rajasthan lives on’ in 2012. He tried to persuade a few Sri Lankan film producers to make a movie on Princess Padmini. However, they probably did not take his idea seriously.

In 2015, he says, a Mumbai-based production house known as Viacom 18 Motion Pictures in which Indian business tycoon Mukesh Ambani has a major share went ahead with the production of ‘Padmavat’. Director Bhansali started shooting the movie in 2017.

Now, the uproar over the release of ‘Padmavat’ has died down in India. The film has received the go ahead from India’s supreme Court’. What is more, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is reported to have made inquiries about the delay in screening the film in Sri Lanka.

‘Padmavat’ will remain in our collective memory for many more years to come.