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HomeOpinion'Padmavati' trailer gives legitimacy to patriarchal notions of women's bodies

‘Padmavati’ trailer gives legitimacy to patriarchal notions of women’s bodies

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The trailer of the film Padmavati is rooted in the practice of using pop-culture to give legitimacy to patriarchal notions of women’s bodies and caste stereotypes.

The recently-released Padmavati trailer’s portrayal of Delhi’s Turkic ruler Alauddin Khilji shows a caricature of a menacing figure who savagely eats meat, wears furs, and resides in gloomy, dark spaces. The Rajput characters are shown in brighter, softer lighting. By contrast, the use of low-lighting, shadows and harsh sounds for Khilji typecasts him as the film’s stock villain.

The problem, however, is that some versions of history show varying accounts of Khilji’s reign from Delhi between AD 1296 to 1316. Historical accounts discuss how Khilji and his armymen defended Hindustani territories from Mongol invasions, and how his rule set up an economic system with benefits for peasantry.

Narratives of tyranny mark how we remember Aurangzeb or Khilji’s rule today, but as historian Audrey Truschke puts it, “Condemnations of Aurangzeb and other medieval Indian rulers stem not from a serious assessment of the past but rather from anxieties over India’s present and future.”

While we must recognise many of the wrongs committed by such rulers, it is also necessary to be mindful of how popular culture and myth-making depict India’s Muslim kings. Atrocities, conquests and violence are features of all monarchies and empires, including Hindu ones.

The dominant depiction of Khilji is also a testament to our times, where the Muslim man is impaled as an alien ‘Other’, out to impinge on a (Hindu) Rajput woman’s ‘honour’. A cursory glance at such relationships in Bollywood movies shows how inter-faith romance is more acceptable when the woman is Muslim, such as Ishaqzaade or Gadar, but when the man is Muslim it often has the context of terrorism as in Kurbaan, or My Name is Khan.

In the times of the right-wing’s “Love-Jihad” bogeyman, the sub-text is evident. For the Hindu man to win over the Muslim woman marks a conquering, in a deeply patriarchal notion, of the supposed ‘Other’.

In Veer-Zaara, the Pakistani Muslim Priety Zinta’s character ultimately gives up her life in Lahore to live with Veer in India. The controversy over any hint of a potential dalliance between Khilji and Padmini shows not just cinema’s tensions, but also our collective anxieties when it comes to a romance between a Muslim man and Hindu woman.

History shows that Khilji captured Chittorgarh from its ruler Ratan Singh in 1303 AD, but the legend of Padmavati is said to have emerged only around the 16th century after Awadhi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi composed a poem titled Padmavat. The Rajput re-appropriation of this poem, which actually narrates the fall of Chittor, has focused on caste consolidation by stressing on themes of Rajput ‘valour’ and ‘honour’.

The poem talks of Khilji’s army defeating the Rajputs only to find out that Rani Padmini, and other Rajput women have committed mass self-immolation (Jauhar) by then. Today, these anecdotes have become the stuff of legend, immortalised as fact instead of fiction by some Rajput groups.

The movie trailer reiterates the same with dialogues such as, “Rajputi kangan mein utni hi taakat hai jitni Rajputi talwar main (Rajput bangles have as much strength as the Rajput’s sword)”. These dialogues may seem harmless, but in effect perpetuate gender stereotypes and caste essentialism by ascribing the character traits of “bravery”, “valour” and “strength” to the Rajput caste, and fuel a sexist notion of women’s worth being seen only through objects like bangles.

This isn’t a new phenomenon in Hindi cinema or India. When Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees came out with the accompanying tagline, “Baniye ka dimaag aur miyaanbhai ki daring (A Bania’s acumen, and the daring of a Muslim)”, many of us as Savarna audience easily ignored the subtext.

The idea that the mercantile vaishya caste groups are “street smart” and “business savvy”, while the Muslim (man) is a figure of hyper-masculine daring are notions that are linked to popular culture and our social conditioning. This is akin to how ‘knowledge’ and ‘intelligence’ are associated with Brahmins, and ‘bravery’ with Kshatriya castes.

Rarely has cinema and popular culture used the same glorification of traits and personality attributes for Dalit-Bahujan caste communities. Instead, we have movie song lyrics like the one from Aaja Nachle, which locks you into your caste-based occupation: “Bole mochi bhi khud ko sunaar (even a cobbler calls himself as a goldsmith)”. This was later banned after protests.

Dominant caste communities have long tried to uphold both caste supremacy and patriarchal ideals by policing the bodies of women, and references notions of ‘honour’ and ‘modesty’.

Lastly, women have always been seen as flagbearers of the honour of a community, kingdom and a nation. From the times of the Partition itself, real-life examples show how women were pressured into committing mass-suicides lest they would be ‘captured’ by men from the other community. It presumes that women’s lives were worthless after being assaulted, a sentiment deeply embedded in rape culture.

Padmini’s act of self-immolation is glorified as Jauhar, something often detached from the violence of sexism and Islamophobia underpinning it. Glorifying women’s suicides as ‘heroic self-sacrifice’ is a toxic idea that deifies these women, instead of seeing them as “honour” killings.

While it maybe too early to conclusively call the film sexist and casteist, its trailer is nevertheless rooted in presenting a toxic history and the practice of using pop-culture to give legitimacy to patriarchal notions of women’s bodies.

Sabah K. is a journalist who was harassed and sent death threats online after writing a Facebook post on the film’s trailer.

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  1. Thank you for posting a great article. It is so disappointing to see people easily overlooking the blatant issues with this movie and how it will affect the overwhelmingly prevalent islamophobic sentiment held by Indians at home and abroad. All of the ignorant comments on this and other posts just proves how important it is to speak out against these types of narratives. Please continue writing and voicing important thoughts like this one!

  2. This article is stupid but a character in a period film will like a character from the past, where society WAS patriarchal. So the dialogue, ““Rajputi kangan mein utni hi taakat hai jitni Rajputi talwar main” isn’t wrong. People have comparatively recently become sensitized to sexism and patriarchy. According to this articles logic, many things in “Game Of Thrones” would also be considered wrong. Some people really don’t put that much thought into things. If someone is making a period film, they will keep that period in mind in all ways. But yes, if you are making a typical masala flick of the modern era, then it is wrong to show certain things.

  3. Nonsense apologia for Islamic rapes. You mean the yezidi women who commit suicide were a cover for patriarchy. What BS. Indian Rajput women were subjected to rapes and sexual slavery by Islamic hordes as per shariah and diktat of Prophet. No women would suffer it unless she is as brainwashed as the reporter.

  4. Madam.,
    Please read history again and not the partial fake history.
    Khilji was one of the many cruel rulers who not only destroyed the original culture of our motherland but also converted thousands, made women and men sex slaves and literally looted and stripped the country.
    Now Jauhar is of course wrong. But the reason for Jauhar was women preferred to die rather than be captured and raped by Khilji. Tey burned themselves because Khilji’s men even raped dead bodies..
    Do not blindly defend someone who is unanimously acknowledges as one of the cruelest invaders. And to really drive home the point naturally Khilji will be shown as a barbaric villain because that is his true persona.

  5. Nonsense.the writer has ignored all historical evidence against Khilji to defend him…secondly, what love story? Padmavati was a married woman who had no interest in khilji whatsoever..

    And these are the writers who also write about consent..hypocrisy much!!

  6. Big words used..Sexist…Honour killing…It is because of such writings that we can not take pride in our history… Necessary to shame someone’s feelings…No one had BEEN THERE in past…So no one can really to judge feelings and honor of a Rajput Woman or a Muslim king..

  7. Patriarchal notions to women’s bodies? The whole point of jauhar was so that they won’t become slaves/pow of the victor. In this story the setting being even more clear that Khilji was crazy about Padmini. Fact or fiction, that’s the premise. The setting is of a different time period. Again. fact or fiction, it’s belonging to times when women absolutely had more stringent roles than now. The jauhar was women saving their own and by extension Rajput honour from being ripped apart by the victors. (Now whoever that may be) Why do you have to separate the two? Is Rajput honour only about Rajput men?

    Apart from that, the fucking bigots and idiots who threatened the writer with death and such other things, really need to drop dead.

  8. Can we take a moment to consider that there was a choice the women had? Stop stripping them of that even as they internalised dictums of patriarchy.

  9. Just the perfect post …no harming the attempts and the grandeur of the movie…but voicing the opinions of a few people who think alike.

  10. Can people just watch this film as a story of an exceptionally beautiful princes with many admirers who was married to a man who in turn was killed by another admirer in a battle while one of the other larger admirers sought to obtain the married princess for himself and the princess commited jouhar coz she didnt want another man but her now dead husband to touch her? Like can ee seriously not turn this into a religious war? Religions are just something humans created so that they could categorize their preffered beliefs and practises and nothing else. JUST STOP MAKING EVERY EFFING THING INTO A HINDU-MUSLIM WAR.

  11. Self killing by our great great women is heroic in such cases. I completely disagree to the views above. It is your way of thinking sabha but not ours and we are completely correct,morally upright and head held high in honour.

  12. Very thoughtful article the stereotypes is as common in hindu as it is in Muslim and both r culprit of this phenomenon

  13. I agree with the writer’s words that women sacrifice is a toxic idea. I appreciate the future exploring sense of the writer. It is toxic idea in the sense it is giving encouragement to honour killing which results in cruelty among women because one she has been raped or even if her consent is why men think she is impure and she should die? While men can have any number of impurities why they are not supposed to die?? Can anyone answer..

  14. Khilji “defended” the hindustani boundaries not out of love for hindustan but to defend his own rule.Stop trying to show a ruthless tyrant as an patriot who loved Hindustan.Khilji imposed ‘jizya’ on Hindus to break their economic backbone,as a result the situation worsened to the level that people were destitute to even buy a horse or new clothes.
    Self immolation was a practice in those days to prevent getting captured at the hands of enemy and thereby avoiding to become a sex slave.You do have a problem with jauhar being sexist but yet you have no problem with tyrants like like khilji who lusted for those innocent women.

  15. I would suggest to read “cuckold”by kiran nagarker a sahitya academy winning historical novel ,well researched one , which describes the actual history of the “RANI PADMABATI ” amongst others relating to chittaurgarh.
    Unnecessary opinion not warranted.

  16. Just the fact that the writer was introduced as someone who received death threats for reviewing the trailer, shows the deep victimisation that he is out to encash.. as for his hilarity on patriarchal notions of women’s bodies, I hope he gets a chance to interview Yezidi women who are ISIS sex slaves (if he is capable of any honest journalism that is).. an outrageously ridiculous article, to say the least..

  17. Jauhar was committed because women don’t wanted to get raped and sold or held captive .. it’s a sacrifice to keep themselves away from all the pain of being widow.. what are u saying.. are fool .. don’t you know who looted our country in medival age ? It’s Muslim rulers from West.. and they have time to time destroyed all our temples .. why aren’t you writing about this .. pseudosecularist like u should also be sold in West just like old times … Not for only this nonsense article also for not having any conscience then I will ask you about history ??!

  18. Well you used your analytic skills way too much. There are examples of interfaith marriages where the woman is Hindu and the man follows Islam. Kareena and Saif, Shahrukh and Gauri, Aamir and Kiran Rao also his first wife Rina!

  19. All that most articles which “reviewed” the trailer did was uneducatedly, almost embarrassingly, fawn about it.
    Sabah, your write up was refreshingly insightful! The threats & ordeal u faced online r testament to the fact, your articulate views touched a nerve somewhere…
    And as of late, v seem to hv turned into a nation of goons with a zero tolerance policy. Don’t agree with an pov, troll or beat d guy to pulp. Simple!
    Regardless, I m here to telya, I endorse your rich views.
    Cheers, R.

  20. No this article is totally wrong…. Nobody had problems with jodha akbar, sharmila pataudi.. Typical leftist psuedo secular article…

  21. Dear Saba K
    I am not surprised at all after reading your post …kindly show your daring and talk about the most sexist and patriarchal religion that you belong….where not not women even a girl child is treated like a sex object .

  22. Love Jihad is definitely not the subtext in the trailer or the movie Padmavati. I guess the author used a strong headline to garner attention of people to read this article on a fake pretext of Love Jihad.
    The author of this article has not yet seen the movie to make such blasphemous claims and neither can one trailer depict the entirety of a film and its content.
    If ur headline reads Love Jihad, have d guts to stick to dat rather jump and beat around the bush with other issues that do no remotely come close to Love Jihad.
    You have talked about History, caste and gender biased societial issues, muslim rulers & also about Hindu traditions of the earlier times, but not once talked about the original subtext your article mentioned as Love Jihad.
    If u r talking about acceptance of interfaith romance in both the movies u have so religiously mentioned, u shud be aware dat both the movies depict different eras of indian society and also were released in different decades of the modern indian society. And by the way, in both the movies nowhere was it depicted that the interfaith love relationship was widely accepted as u have tried to portray it as being so considering dat in both the cases the females were muslims and the men were of the other faith, tentatively Hindus, whereas in Gadar, the man was a Sikh!! Please do not misguide the readers. You have the job of a journalist and u need to be more responsible in what u write.
    U have also mentioned about how Khilji protected Hindustani territories. This is as big a Hoax as calling Hitler the Saviour of Germans. Khilji protected his conquered territories and not Hindustani territories dat he regularly routed, looted and demolished to establish supreme control over them.
    History has also noted that while he was busy fighting to capture Chittodgadh for whatever reason, his throne seat in Delhi was under attack from invading Mongols. But he was too busy to satisfy his unquenched thirst of capturing Chittod that by the time he reached Delhi, the Mongols had looted and killed whoever n whatever they could. Please do not say dat he was defending Hindustani territories when he cudnt defend his Seat of power.
    The author definitely doesn’t understand the difference between honour killing and the sacrifice for the sake of honour when the sacrifice was a personal choice and the honour killing a homicide. Hindus have always had pride in honour than being enslaved and subjected to be humiliated. You should also beware of the Rajput queen who asked for help from a Mughal emperor upon her kingdom being invaded and her husband’s death and was obliged with the same by the Mughal emperor except that he was late before she committed Jauhatr. So Jauhar was not an honour killing but a sacrifice to save honour upon being defeated in war before being humiliated and enslaved for life. They chose freedom in Death rather Life in humiliation and Enslavery. When the dialogue says, Rajput bangles have as much strength as in Rajput swords, it doesn’t mean bangles are compared to swords or are gender biased. It means Rajput women are as strong and brave as Rajput men. This doesn’t in any way reek of any discriminations against hindu women of those times. Hindu women had freedom of choice and they chose to do what they knew was right for them to do. Please do not term their sacrifices as patriarchal impositions of hindu society or do not try to debunk the piety of the custom of Jauhar that they performed to save their self respect and pride and honour.. Such customs are prevelant in many other civilizations, for eg, in Japan the SAlamurai too commit suicides when their honour is at stake. Does dat mean dat it is a shameful practise. NO. It is a choice & everybody shud respect one’s choice to live with Dignity and Self respect.
    What happened to women during partition is a shame to all humanity. U talk of women being pressured into committing suicides but u never talked of the reasons why they did so. Do u even know pf mass rapes, kidnappings of wonen that happened then and when these women had nowhere to go, they either accepted wht happened to them or chose to die otherwise than b subjected to repeated humiliations. You have totally chosen to negate all the sufferrings of these women rather just concentrate on the end result of it and that is their death by suicide. U shud have rather sought reasons for them doing so than implicate them of doing such due to “pressure”. Easy for u to write an article abt their fate but not once think of WHY.
    U also speak of caste based ideologies. But u have not once mentioned dat it is the mind of the prejudiced that thinks as such.
    Ur entire article has nowhere touched anything related to Love Jihad as to what u headlined it to be.
    In short, an ill conceived article with NO research and no respect for Women who lost their lives to Freedom, Self Respect, Honour & Pride

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