New Delhi: Panipat is only the latest in a series of Bollywood films that have caused concern in Afghanistan over their depiction of Afghans.
In April this year, the Afghan embassy in a written communication to the Indian government had expressed concerns about the portrayal of Afghans in other Bollywood films such as Kabul Express (2006), Padmaavat (2018) and Kesari (2019), ThePrint has learnt.
Kabir Khan’s Kabul Express centered on the characters of two Indian journalists making their way through war-torn Afghanistan. Based on the legend of Indian queen Padmavati, the story of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period-drama Padmaavat featured 13th century Afghan king Alauddin Khilji as a scheming ruler. Based on the Battle of Saragarhi, Anurag Singh’s period film Kesari was about the 1897 battle between 21 soldiers of the 36th Sikhs of the British Indian Army and 6,000–10,000 Afridi and Orakzai Pashtun tribesmen. It was criticised for its inaccurate portrayal of the Afghans and their motivations.
In the April letter, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs brought to New Delhi’s notice that these films had an “undesirable depiction” of the Afghans, highly-placed sources in the government said. Ashutosh Gowariker’s Panipat, which created controversy last week after the release of its trailer, had prompted the letter from Afghanistan.
Slated for release on 6 December, Panipat is based on the Third Battle of Panipat between the Maratha Empire and the Ahmad Shah Abdali-led Durrani Empire in 1761.
The concerns raised by India’s strategic partner were discussed nearly a month later with India’s film certification body, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), said the sources.
According to an office memorandum from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry dated 21 June, the CBFC told the government that it was committed to sensitising filmmakers on the concerns raised by Afghanistan. It also shared the concerns with all its regional officers who are responsible for examining and certifying films in different languages across the country.
Sources in the CBFC said it also communicated to the government that it would discuss the issue at its next board meeting and suggested sharing Afghanistan’s concerns with film associations and the makers of Panipat.
The Embassy of Afghanistan declined to comment. However, Afghanistan’s Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs H.E. Idrees Zaman reportedly met India’s ambassador to Kabul, Vinay Kumar Sunday over the issue.
‘You never know’
Speaking to ThePrint on condition of anonymity, an I&B ministry official said such issues have been flagged time and again by various communities in case of historical films.
“You never know whose sentiment will be hurt by what piece of available history,” the official said, citing instances of Padmaavaat and Jodha Akbar (a 2008 film by Gowariker based on the life of Mughal emperor Akbar), which were embroiled in massive controversies before their release.
Last week, ThePrint reported the Afghanistan embassy’s letter to the Ministry of External Affairs over the depiction of Afghanistan founder, king Ahmad Shah Abdali, in Panipat. The embassy said the film might provoke emotions of Afghans which others may exploit to harm the relations between India and Afghanistan. It also sought a meeting with I&B Minister Prakash Javadekar.