Padmavati triggers stir in Bollywood

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By 2017-11-16

By Pankaj Yadav

She was an austerely beautiful Sri Lankan princess who later became a popular queen in India after marrying a king who ruled parts of the present western State of Rajasthan in the 14th century. Tales of her beauty have been narrated in poems and also find mention in books. Today, the Lankan beauty has created quite a stir in India's film industry Bollywood. Thanks to the film Padmavati, dedicated to the princess who, it's believed, originally hailed from Ceylon.

While some people say she was merely a fictional character, others strongly believe that the legend of Padmavati is actually a historical fact.

History has it that Queen Padmavati was married to King Rattan Singh of Chittor, an area which today is part of Rajasthan. When the tales of her beauty reached the then ruler of Delhi - King Ala-ud-din Khilji, he decided to win her from King Rattan Singh and laid a siege on Chittor in 1303. The Chittor king and his army were miserably defeated. Now Ala-ud-din Khilji's path to get Queen Padmavati was cleared. On hearing that she would be taken away by the Muslim king, the queen along with hundreds of other women present in the palace committed suicide by jumping into a huge fire. Thus, the legend hasit that she saved her 'honour' along with that of other women present inside the palace.

Dream sequence

Now, the controversy in film revolves around a 'dream sequence' showing some intimate scenes between Ala-ud-din Khilji and the queen. The Rajputs, the community to which King Rattan Singh belonged to and who look up to Queen Padmavati with must respect and as an icon who once saved their 'honour' by jumping to death, are enraged over the false display of the queen's character in the film. They relate the queen to their honour and have been demanding a ban on the release of the film, scheduled to be released on 1 December.

The agitation called by the Rajput community has received huge support from different quarters, including the two topmost political parties of the country – the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the main opposition Indian National Congress (INC).The political class has openly demanded to ban the film, for its portrayal of Queen Padmavati in a defamatory role, though the ulterior motive is not to lose the Rajputs' vote-bank in recently held polls in northern state of Himachal Pradesh and the forthcoming polls in western state of Gujarat, bordering Rajasthan.

The 'Shri Rajput KarniSena', a self-claimed army of Rajput youths in the country, took the onus on themselves of protecting the dignity of their former queen. The Karni Sena activists vandalized the sets of the film, assaulted its much-celebrated producer Sanjay Leela Bhansali and even burnt down the film's posters alleging distortion of historical facts. The matter reached the country's Apex Court – the Supreme Court of India, which quashed a petition demanding a ban on the release of the film saying the film certification board was yet to give its verdict. The topmost Court said the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had the statutory powers to examine the film before it was released for public screening, and the court could not interfere when the CBFC had not cleared the film.

Famous poem

The character of Queen Padmavati finds mention in the famous poem Padmavat, believed to be written by renowned poet Mallik Muhammed Jayasi in a local language Awadhi which is mostly spoken in central and northern parts of India, even in some parts of Nepal adjoining India. The poem is traced back to 1540, over 200 years after Ala-ud-din Khilji's death. Thereafter, the character of Queen Padmavati is presented as a true tale in the Rajputs' adaptation of the poem Padmavat in the form of folk songs now famously sung in the State of Rajasthan.

The poem Padmavat begins with a fanciful description of the kingdom of an island called Sinhala, which is present day's Ceylon.

Jayasi describes the princess as a 'perfect woman' whose beauty was such that even a goddess would be envy of. In the poem the princess has a talking parrot named Hira-mani, one of the closest confidantes of the princess. The parrot narrated the princess' beauty to Chittor King Rattan Singh. Mesmerised by the beauty, as described by the green bird, the King set out on a mission to marry the princess and finally accomplished the mission after a series of tough battles.

Now, there was a mole named Chaitanya in King Rattan Singh's palace who instigated Ala-ud-din Khilji against King Rattan Singh, and also largely described the Sri Lankan beauty to him which led to the Delhi King's strong liking for her, and finally ending up laying a siege on Chittor.

While the release of the film remains under a cloud, the controversy has actually led to the beauty of the Sri Lankan princess becoming a talk of the town across the nation, thanks to a Bollywood film! No wonder, today, incidentally another Sri Lankan beauty Jacqueline Fernandez is quite a craze in the Indian film industry!

Pankaj Yadav is a New Delhi-based senior journalist. Has worked with international news organizations like KYODO NEWS, KUNA, ANI/REUTERS. Email – [email protected])

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