Padmavati: The symptom of sinister maladies

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, director of upcoming period drama ‘Padmavati’ was allegedly attacked by the members of Rajput Karni Sena, a Rajput organisation from Rajasthan. The assault is the logical culmination of tension which was escalating since the day Bhansali had announced that any such movie on Padmavati is in pipeline. As usual, the progressive and socially conscious colleagues of Bhansali from Bllywood have started showing solidarity with Bhansali and praising his audacity for not compromising with artistic freedom. The unfortunate thing in the saga is the fact that people can neither sense audacity of Bhansali nor his right of artistic freedom in this context. All which they can sense is the upcoming glorification of a mass murder in romantic aspect while a possible denigration of Rani Padmini in the upcoming movie. As little details are available about the script, it won’t be wise to debate and discuss the content of the movie but grapevine conversation tells us that movie depicts the obsession of Alauddin Khilji over the beauty of Rani Padmini of Mewar. The relevance of this movie is not restricted to this context only rather it’s the part of the grand design of Bollywood to push its ideological narratives through movies on the name of artistic freedom and creative liberty. A deeper analysis reveals that how Bollywood movies have been an effective propaganda tool to reinforce the ideological narratives of some particular ideologies.

Bollywood has always been known for producing movies which promote class struggle, romanticized narrative of Hindu-Muslim conflict, the dramatized ‘evil’ of Hindu society with little exception and glorification of Islamic tyrants from the history. Mughal-e-Azam, a historical fiction directed by K. Asif, tells the story of love affair between Salim (Jahangir) and Anarkali (a slave girl). The movie has been such a commercial success and affected the people’s opinion about Jahangir and Anarkali in such dramatic yet profound way that nobody even questions that whether Anarkali ever existed or not. In reality, there is no evidence of existence of Anarkali from a reliable source and it’s nothing more than an apocryphal story or folklore. The story of Anarkali is neither recorded in Akbarnama nor in Tuzuk-e-Jahangiri. It was first mentioned by an English traveler and trader William Finch in 1608 but evidences show that his story was nowhere close to the truth. The tempting question in this context is why Bollywood picked to make a movie on a narrative which has no historical record yet calls itself a historical fiction. The movie achieved its objective of planting image of a non-existing entity in people’s psyche. Cinema is one of the most effective methods of propaganda. Cinema blends emotions with sensations, which leaves deeper imprint on people’s mind than written texts. Human brains are wired in such a way that we register and preserve deeply emotional experiences and visually stimulating events for a far longer period than any written memory. Directors of cinema exploit this fallacy of our brains to advance their propaganda in the guise of artistic freedom.

The second important movie in this context is Jodha Akbar, directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar and released in 2008. There are several narratives about the existence of Jodhabai but not a single credible evidence to affirm the existence of Jodhabai. The history of Mughal emperor Akbar was recorded by three historians in that time period-Abul Fazal who wrote Akbarnama, Abdul Qudir Badayuni who wrote the Mutakhabutawarikh and Nizamuddin Ahmed wrote the Taqbat-i-Akbari. None of them mention any character named ‘Jodhabai’ as depicted in movie Jodha Akbar. In Akbarnama, there is a reference of Akbar marrying a Rajput princess of Amer but with different name. In Jodha Akbar, Bollywood hit the bull’s eye for which they always look for in their warped world of secularism and liberalism. Here was a story in which a Rajput princess was marrying Mughal emperor Akbar. What can be a better story than this to promote the myth of communal harmony between Hindu and Muslims? A story which depicts Akbar as a concerned lover, not an Islamic tyrant. This movie reinforces the myth perpetrated by secular historians that Islamic invaders were not the tyrants of highest order rather the secular ones who didn’t differentiate between his citizens on religious lines. It was also an attempt to whitewash the brutality committed by Islamic invaders on Hindus. In their romantic world of Hindu-Muslim harmony, a Muslim king was marrying a Hindu girl. What can be the more convincing proof than this to establish the magnanimous character of Akbar? This story was a perfect antithesis of the obscure narrative propagated by ‘communal’ Hindus that they had faced brutality of Islamic invaders. The attempt of reinforcing a certain ideological narrative was successfully carried out by Bollywood.

In the coming years, the myth created by Jodha Akbar will take the central importance among the masses when they’ll form opinions about Akbar. People never bother about historicity of Anarkali anymore and almost the same thing will happen with the story of Jodha Akbar. In other way, this movie also serves as an incentive for Hindu girls to fall for Muslims boys in order to strengthen the secular fabric of India. Coming to circa 2017 now, Bhansali was allegedly beaten by people for portraying Padmini in wrong way. Why would have Bhansali thought about making a movie on obsession of Alauddin Khilji over Padmini and call it a period drama? What is the relevance of fanatic obsession of Alauddin Khilji who was a mass murderer? People are pointing out in social media that if Bhansali believes so deeply in artistic freedom, he should also make a movie on homosexual affair between Khilji and Malik Kafur. However, the creativity of Bhansali comes to a standstill on this issue. In all the likelihood, the movie will be completed with some variations and a new myth will be established. Rani Padmini committed Jauhar (self-immolation) to save her honour from a fanatic like Khilji. She is the epitome of courage, bravery and self-respect. Bhansali is trying to play with the story of such martyr who has been embedded in people’s conscience in Rajasthan. After the release of movie, the mass murderer Khilji will lose its prominence from the narrative and people’s psyche while the aesthete Khilji will become the central figure. It’s the classical psychological trick to shape the mind of masses by exposing them to only certain kind of truth and obscuring other. In this process, the others get suppressed over time and the magnified one becomes the ‘history’. If we try to sketch a comparative analogy of Bhansali’s effort, it will be similar to a filmmaker trying to show the obsession of ISIS terrorists for Yazidi girls. No sane person in their right sense will ever defend such sinister act but there are plenty of people to justify the nonsense of Bhansali.

In the decades of 50s and after, Bollywood’s infatuation for the standard doctrine of Marxism i.e Class Struggle was portrayed in every other movies. There used to be an evil and cunning industrialist, sucking the blood of poor worker or a mischievous landlord harassing a poor peasant. The hero was the revolutionary man from the worker’s class who rebelled against this injustice. Their infatuation with the narrative of class struggle lasted till 1980s, then people started rejected it. The rise of Dawood Ibrahim changed the course of Bollywood in completely different direction which is well known to almost everyone. Bollywood’s love affair with Dawood can be estimated from the fact there are at least 12 movies such as Company, D-Day, Once Upon a Time in Mumbai, et al. If someone tries to look at the number of movies centred around any Hindu warrior, zero will be the answer because Ashoka is the hero of secular narrative and Bajirao Mastani was more a love story than the tale of valour of Bajirao. The Urduphilia of Bollywood has touched to a new height over the period which is unprecedented in nature. Anyone will lose the counts who tries to count the movies in which Hindu priests are portrayed as the most evil persons while pastors of church being the epitome of forgiveness, compassion and goodness. The inherently anti-Hindu characteristic of Bollywood is the reason that people like Bhansali gets the liberty to do anything as long as it’s about denigrating Hindu culture and heroes while speaks nothing about the brutality and horrors of Islam and Christianity. People should identity the subtle propaganda being pushed under the guise of artistic freedom rather than showing sympathy with the likes of Bhansali. It’s time for Hindus to be assertive and conscious about their identity. Padmavati is one among the many examples of Bollywood’s infatuation with secular narrative. The sinister maladies require a commensurate treatment. Maybe, it’s the ripe time for such treatments.

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