The ongoing controversy around Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming film Padmavati has divided some of the country’s chief ministers. The movie, which is based on Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem Padmavat, was set to be released on December 1 but its co-producers Viacom18 Motion Pictures decided to “voluntarily defer” its release amid widespread protests.

Padmavati, starring Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor, has repeatedly faced trouble from Rajput and Brahmin groups, who allege that the movie has distorted “historical facts” and fear that the movie has a romantic scene between Khilji (played by Singh) and Rani Padmini (Padukone) as a dream sequence. Bhansali, however, has denied having such a scene.

Trouble began on January 27 when members of the Rajput Karni Sena beat up Bhansali and vandalised the movie’s sets in Rajasthan, forcing him to shift the shoot to Maharashtra. On March 15, the sets were again ransacked and burned, this time in Kolhapur. Since then, several groups have threatened to stall the release of Padmavati.

The Bharatiya Janata Party governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat have either said that they will ban the film or want “objectionable content” in it to be removed. Punjab’s Congress government has also opposed the film. But the governments in Maharashtra, Karnataka and West Bengal have supported the film and its makers.

What some chief ministers have said about Padmavati:

  • Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje wrote to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, and urged it to ensure that Padmavati is not released without the changes that have been demanded by various groups. She wanted a committee comprising historians, film personalities and the aggrieved party to sit down and discuss the screenplay of the film.Then, suitable changes can be made to ensure the film does not hurt anyone’s sentiments, Raje said.

The censor board should also analyse the possible results after release of a film rather than just giving its certificate to a film...Filmmakers have a right to make a film as per their wisdom, however there is also a need to take care of law and order, morality and if their attempt is not hurting sentiments.   

  • Madhya Pradesh’s Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the film will not be released in the state as it has distorted facts. “The insult will not be tolerated,” he said. He also announced that a memorial will be established in Bhopal to display Rani Padmavati’s valour and sacrifice, and the people working for the betterment of women will be conferred with the “Rashtramata Padmavati Puraskar”.

An Indian woman can turn herself into ashes to protect her honour. And a film on a character which is worshipped by people should not be distorted. If the character is fictional then there is no resistance, but if facts get mutated, it will not be tolerated.

  • Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath said the ban on the film in Uttar Pradesh will remain, and that his government has already expressed its reservations to the censor board. He accused Sanjay Leela Bhansali of “habitually hurting religious sentiments”. He said that if those who want Bhansali beheaded are wrong, then he is no less responsible.

Nobody has the right to take law into their own hands, be it Sanjay Leela Bhansali or anybody is. And I feel that if those giving death threats are guilty, then Bhansali is no less guilty of hurting people’s sentiments – which he has developed a habit of. Both sides should face action equally.

  • Punjab’s Amarinder Singh was the first Congress chief minister to support those protesting the film. He said that those who are protesting have the right to do so as no one can accept the distortion of facts and history.

I have myself studied history and even been to Chittor. Cinematic licence does not give anyone the right to twist historical facts. Those feeling hurt by distortion of facts had the right to protest. The protests were a justified recourse in a democratic system.

  • West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, extended support to Padmavati, and called the controversy around the film an attempt to destroy freedom of expression in the country.

The Padmavati controversy is not only unfortunate but also a calculated plan of a political party to destroy the freedom to express ourselves. We condemn this super emergency. All in the film industry must come together and protest in one voice.

  • Karnataka’s Siddaramaiah said that he “condemned the intolerance and hate perpetuated by the Bharatiya Janata Party” and stands with actor Deepika Padukone. He also asked his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar to take stringent action against those threatening Padukone for her role in the film. He added that the Congress government in his state would provide security to Padukone and her family.

These sort of threats, especially towards women, are yet another sign of growing intolerance and bigotry in the country.