It isn’t clear yet whether Sanjay Leela Bhansali will return to Rajasthan to complete the shoot of his latest period drama Padmavati, based on the legend of Allauddin Khilji’s obsession with the mythical queen Padmini. The National Award-winning director was assaulted by members of the Rajput Karni Sena at the Jaigarh Fort near Jaipur on January 27. They claimed that Bhansali’s version of the story is offensive and misleading. The director has since returned to Mumbai. What is clear is that the November 17 release gets to keep its title.
“We have been talking to the Karni Sena, and its leader, Lokendra Singh Kalvi, has stated at a press conference that he is perfectly okay with the title, so that is great headway,” Shoba Sant, CEO of Sanjay Leela Bhansali Productions, told Scroll.in.
Padmavati has been co-produced by Bhansali’s company and Viacom18 Motion Pictures. The movie is based on Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s sixteenth-century epic poem Padmavat and stars Deepika Padukone as the Rajput queen, Shahid Kapoor as her husband Ratan Singh, and Ranveer Singh as Khilji. Padmavati, better known as Padmini, is a fictional figure, who has inspired several previous movies. It was also the source for Albert Roussel’s 1923 opera Padmavati, which was re-imagined by Bhansali in 2008. The opera is the basis of the film adaptation.
Letters of protest
Trouble started brewing for the ambitious production in November, when news articles claimed that the movie contained a dream sequence between Khilji and the object of his desire. “We said at the time that there was no dream sequence or romantic sequence in the film, and I sent out a press release through our official publicity agency,” Sant said.
Next, caste-based organisations from across India started writing protest letters to the company. Sant and Bhansali met representatives of 19 such organisations, which are spread across Gujarat, Delhi, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, in Mumbai. The producers assured the representatives that there was nothing offensive about the film.
The Rajput Karni Sena was not among these organisations. “They claim that they wanted to meet Sanjay but that he didn’t meet them – but the fact is that my number is freely available, and if anybody has co-ordinated with me, we would surely have met them,” Sant said.
Since there were numerous representation from a range organisations, it was impossible to deal with them individually, Sant said. To deal with the situation efficiently, she asked Giriraj Singh Lotwara, the president of the apex body Shree Rajput Sabha Jaipur, to co-ordinate on behalf of the various groups. “He assured us that he would take care of all the organisations,” Sant said. “We have not played with the facts – we have historians working on the film. We are not staking claim to any history, all we want to do is make a great story. We want to portray the courageous woman that Padmavati was.”
Permissions were in place
The Padmavati shoot had all the necessary permissions from the Rajasthan government. “We had receipts for the Jaigarh Fort and permissions from the Forest Department – which is probably how the attackers knew where we were,” Sant said.
Although the Rajasthan government hasn’t publicly condemned the attack or arrested the attackers, Sant said that the local police have been “very good” with the film crew. “I am assuming that everybody has been too busy to react,” she said.
Although the police have assured the crew of protection should they wish to resume the shoot, it’s too early to do so, Sant said. “We are all shaken, and we are not sure what we are doing next. We have to come to some kind of solution soon.”