The Big Story: Industry of hurt

As always in this country, the industry of hurt sentiments is doing well, even showing robust annual growth. In its latest project, it attempts to stall the release of Padmavati, a film directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Days after the Supreme Court refused a plea to stay the release, the Mewar royal family wrote to the Central Board of Film Certification reiterating the demand. Meanwhile in Surat, there were massive protests mobilised by the Karni Sena and other “Rajput and Hindu groups” who claim the movie has “distorted” historical facts. Adding to the clamour, Bharatiya Janata Party legislators from various parts of the country have set themselves against the film, making opposition to it a test of “patriotism”. This after the film sets were repeatedly vandalised and Bhansali himself attacked in January, even as the filmmaker gave anxious assurances that Padmavati was meticulously researched and the honour of the legendary queen had been left intact.

The movie is said to be centred on the story of Rani Padmini, or Padmavati, the beautiful queen of Chittor who immolated herself to evade the clutches of Alauddin Khilji, the marauding ruler of Delhi. While Khilji did lay siege to Chittor in 1303, the rest is not strictly history. The earliest mention of the queen is found in Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem, Padmavat, written around 1540. The poem takes inspiration from an earlier epic, though it replaces the cast of characters. It also draws on rich traditions of oral history and Sufi philosophy. Padmavati’s tale, then, is part myth, part allegory, part history and mostly joyful storytelling. Later, of course, it becomes vital to a warrior clan’s self-fashioning. The queen may or may not have existed and Khilji may or may not have had lascivious designs on her. The Khilji played by Om Puri in a 1980s Doordarshan series is a pragmatic but authoritarian statesman, very different from Ranveer Singh’s portrayal of a savage king of vast appetites. The Doordarshan episodes begin with the disclaimer that Padmavat is illustrative of the traditions of the time and cannot make claims to historical accuracy. Where did this nuanced understanding of events, shown even by a stodgy state broadcaster, disappear? Since when did Padmavati have to answer to the demands of history?

A troubling aspect of this recent episode is the ruling party’s tacit consent to the harangue, with some of its legislators even joining in. The BJP-led government in Rajasthan did little to protect the movie sets or crew from attack. A day after they were vandalised in March, a senior state minister even said that the film should be screened for and vetted by the Karni Sena. Meanwhile, Union Minister Uma Bharti’s offered solution is to form a panel consisting of historians, filmmakers, protestors and the censor board to resolve the controversy. Such a step would be conceding victory to bullies, to be saying that the arts must be policed and censored if they cannot please everybody. The government of a democratic country needs to send out the message that a filmmaker has the right to make the film he wants, just as audiences have the right not to watch it if they do not want.

The Big Scroll

Devarsi Ghosh writes on Om Puri’s Alauddin Khilji, more interested in Chittor’s jewels than in its legendary queen.

Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem is fiction, to call it established history would be to distort facts, writes Ruchika Sharma.


  1. In the Indian Express, Darryl d’Monte writes that Delhi has become the world’s air pollution outcaste, and its decisionmakers do no understand the consequences.
  2. In the Hindu, Reetika Khera argues that Aadhaar does nothing for the battle against graft.
  3. In the Telegraph, Manini Chatterjee finds that most Indians are ignorant of Kashmir’s history and what autonomy means in that context.


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