UPDATE: The Controversy Around Padmavati

Update: Today it was announced that Padmaavat, formerly Padmavati will e released on January 25. The announcement came online and aa the front page of the Delhi Times. Along with the date, the producers included several disclaimers, chief among them that the film does not and never did insult the Rani or show her on screen with Raṇveer Singh’s Khilji. Let’s hope ṭhag after all this drama, the film’s quality makes the risk of seeing it worthwhile.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati may be one of the most controversial movies of the year and it has not even come out yet. Viacom has pushed back the release date indefinitely and Deepika Padukone has been threatened with mutilation! To many people in India, this furor is confusing and absurd, but for those of us outside the know it can be downright impossible to understand. Here, I humbly present my layman’s understanding of the issues based on what I have read online and heard from my Indian friends.

Many believe that Padukone is meant to portray the pseudo-historical Queen Padmini and they believe that her portrayal is a grave disrespect both to this queen and her culture. 

Padmavati is based on legends about the Rajput royalty, the people that ruled Rajasthan for centuries. According to the stories, the Muslim sultan of Delhi comes to Rajasthan because he has heard about their beautiful queen and wishes to see her. In the legend, the sultan’s armies and the Rajputs clash, killing the Rajput king. Rather than have her honor besmirched, Queen Padmini joins her husband on his funeral pyre.

There’s no telling if this is the direction that the movie will take, since it is not technically based on an actual historical figure or event. I for one hope it does not. However, that technicality does not matter to those who are outraged. Their main complaint is that the movie seems to imply a romantic, or even sexual, relationship between the Sultan and Padmini. The production company has stated that this is not the case and confirmed that Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone share no screen time in Padmavati. Protesters are not convinced.

They are also offended that the song “Ghoomar” (the video for which was released last week) shows the Queen dancing to a song that would typically be performed by poor, nomadic minstrels. In fact, it’s an affront to show her dancing at all. The honor of wealthy, powerful women means that they are above such indecent exposure and even having a fictional woman that resembles Padmini dance is supposedly a grave offense to her memory.

Meanwhile, there are more potentially problematic issues that need attention. 

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Padmavati is in far more danger of stoking anti-Islamic sentiment than it is soiling the honor of a centuries old queen. Ranveer Singh’s portrayal of Khilji in the trailer seems to depict a wild, lustful, self-absorbed, carnivorous, madman. His main goal is the tainting of a great Hindu dynasty.

Also, if this film follows the legend, it will end with Deepika Padukone burning alongside Shahid Kapoor on his funeral pyre. The practice of sati is extremely contextual and one that many Indians in the past have worked hard to end. I am hoping that the actors, writers, producers, and others found a more appropriate ending for the queen. Especially if they want to defend the idea that she is not at all historical.

Padmavati seems to be on track for a December 1 release in the US and I will be anxious to see how these characters are, in fact, portrayed.

What do you think? Will you go see Padmavati when it comes out?

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