Saturday, June 3, 2023
Support Our Journalism
HomeOpinionSanjay Leela Bhansali has only himself to blame for the Padmavati controversy

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has only himself to blame for the Padmavati controversy

Text Size:

Bhansali should have thought about how much liberty he can take with traditions, customs, and people’s sensibilities.

For the past three weeks, the film Padmavati has dominated the discourse in the media. Certainly, the debate could have been more informed and reasonable. Politicians, film actors, directors and journalists have all contributed to the poor quality of the debate.

I strongly condemn the threat of violence against the actors, filmmakers and others. There is no place for violence in any civil society.

But we must accept that Padmini has been worshipped, regarded as the ultimate symbol of woman’s honour and is a household name not only in Rajasthan, but all over India. Those who call Padmini a fiction must answer how that is possible when Allauddin Khilji, Raval Ratan Singh, the conquering of Chittorgarh on 13 August 1303 and everything else is history and reality. How can all these historical realities revolve around a fictional character?

Many have argued that the whole discussion is unnecessary, because no one has seen Padmavati yet. But Sanjay Leela Bhansali himself is responsible for this. He has been carefully crafting the publicity strategy.

Additionally, his own past record shows how he has distorted storylines: his depiction of Ramlila and making two characters who have never met in the novel ‘Devdas’ dance together in his film. Similarly, Kashi Bai, the Peshawa queen who suffered from arthritis, was shown dancing in Bajirao Mastani.

The release of the promo of Padmavati was the last straw. Bhansali should have thought about how much liberty he can take with traditions, customs, and people’s sensibilities.

Then there is the question of history and myth. Besides the written records, oral traditions, social customs and practices are considered to be the credible sources of history. These are regarded as alternative, non-elitist, unsponsored sources of history. These sources broaden our understanding of history and writings.

I may be forgiven for pointing this out, but much of the Hadidh is based on oral tradition, collected several centuries after the death of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). There is hardly any written record about Christianity or of the time of Jesus. On the contrary, there is a whole group of documents known as the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’, which question the very existence of Jesus.

Let us not forget that Ashoka the Great erected a pillar in the Lumbini forest marking the birthplace of Lord Buddha; almost after 250 years of Buddha’s death. No one has questioned it. The place was identified on the basis of oral traditions.

If we insist only on written records, then what will happen to those people, societies and culture who have no records, or those who have not bothered to keep records as per historians’ standards and crafts.

All historians must recognise that the past is perceived in different ways by different cultures. The methods of interpreting, recording, managing, protecting the past and creation stories also differ between cultures. They are handed on from one generation to the next.

We must recognise that powerful and important emotions are involved in the realm of sacredness, traditions and beliefs. The media coverage is guilty of disrespecting this emotion. On one hand, the media calls the protesters ‘fringe’ groups. On the other hand, it also says that people from Rajasthan to Madhya Pradesh, UP to Haryana are protesting against the release of Padmavati. Are all these people fringe elements?

Who decides who is mainstream, and who is on the fringe? Films on Padmavati have been made earlier but no one protested. But times have changed, with the rapid spread of education, awareness and widespread use of technology. News travels fast and opinions are formed in no time. People are no longer depending on advertisements of films.

The protests and calls for a ban have been termed an assault on the fundamental right of freedom of expression and creativity. This is baffling. Does the freedom of expression have any limit? Does this freedom have a right to offend, insult and even violate other people’s faith? For example, M.F. Husain exercised his artistic freedom only for Hindu Gods and Goddesses when he painted his nudes, often bordering on pornography.

But the bigger question here is one of the crippling impact of colonisation on many local cultures around the world. It has shown that domination by a more powerful culture, which defines its reality in different ways, either destroys or, at best, drives the less powerful culture into a subservient role. What was considered culturally ‘valid’ can be rendered ‘invalid’, and the politically weaker entities are required to somehow modify their reality to fit within the constraints of a new code.

The oral narratives around Padmini have survived for many centuries despite successive foreign domination and have resisted attempts at invalidation.

Prof. Makkhan Lal is Founder Director of Delhi Institute of Heritage Research and Management and currently Distinguished Fellow at Vivekananda International Foundation

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

Support Our Journalism

India needs fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism, packed with on-ground reporting. ThePrint – with exceptional reporters, columnists and editors – is doing just that.

Sustaining this needs support from wonderful readers like you.

Whether you live in India or overseas, you can take a paid subscription by clicking here.

Support Our Journalism


  1. YOU can’t trifle only with the Hindu religion and culture in the name of freedom of expression when you bend backwards or rather are pathetically supine in matters concerning the other communities and religions. In the West the intellectuals have the moral courage to question and even ridicule any belief from Christianity to Islam to Hinduism but in our country our so called liberals are a fraudulent lot. By only targeting Hinduism they want to show their false bravery which in reality is a mask for inferiority complex and self loathing.

  2. A lot of temples and paintings in Hindu temples display Gods and Goddesses naked. I think it all depends on the state of mind of the person looking at that sculpture/painting.

  3. It’s that the film is put to rest considering it has crossed limits of storytelling. Whether the director will take a movie on him with distorted facts saying this is freedom of expression, will he keep quiet?????

  4. Sure Padmini was our tradition. No dispute for that even British can vouch for it after all they spend so much time with Raja Rammohan Rai to stop burning of widow alive. Few days ago even Government gave award to Babasaheb Purandare who claimed Shivaji Maharaj was not son of his father when his father Shahaji Raje claimed it he was before world and our family court says paternity is not questionable when father says that is my child after marriage but still it is right because Shivaji Maharaj objected their mother’s burning alive on time of father’s death. He stopped it and Maratha didn’t burn widows after this. His one daughter-in-law caught by Mughal Auranzeb but Auranzeb’s sister came took her and her son with her. Never let anyone even see her finger nail. She stayed safe in Jannan Khana of ladies where men were not permitted. So it is your choice which part of history you want to show as glory. After all with Sati tradition this way you will give more glory to British that us. This two histories before you choose tradition to glorify but anyway it’s possible God have decided that if you have decided to quit road of Nehru-Gandhi then British must get fame for stopping Sati and glory of it. After all even Lord Shiva objected tradition of sati but I can’t say it since I don’t have proof for it.

  5. The author assumes that the resentment on SLB for distorting history was building up all these years,which has no basis.He conveniently ignores the mainstream indian cinema format which includes songs(did he outrage for tamannah-prabhas song in baahubali).I agree with him that historians must consider different traditions of recorded history,but setting a commercial film as a benchmark will not serve any purpose to the history itself.How can the author ignore people who were disgusted by the controversy,he callously calls them colonial minded and rubbishes them,which is not a fair game.

  6. I am shocked that a Professor has such a narrow mindset. Comparing Religion to a petty Queen. India has become decadent of idealisation and people think drawing up an argument is the only ingredient needed.

  7. Very nicely and perfectly written article ??. You have mentioned freedom of expressions , In India the limit is decided on the basis of for whom and for which religion or entity the issue is .

  8. Even if Padmini was fictional, then “Padmini’s Padmavati” may be an allegory for Allaudin Khilji’s lust for our mother land, and of course the result of what happens to women as an outcome of war. Jauhar is an historical event, and Khilji’s invasion has lead to jauhar being performed, so women wouldn’t become “spoils of war”. Many people try to defend Khilji, saying Padmavati was only fictional, but it cannot be denied he was a ruthless invader, and yes women who became spoils of war are subjected to bad treatment like rape and abuse.

  9. Oral traditions are good source of History. I agree as long as they are consistently preserved in the way they were spoken by the first orators. The author seems to be factually wrong concerning the Dead Sea Scroll and its implication on Jesus’s existence. Dead Sea Scroll, one of the greatest discovery in the last century per some historians, are good sources to corroborate the OLD TESTAMENT in Hebrew language. The scrolls dates back to second to first century BC. Jesus lived roughly around 4 BC to 33 AD. Roman historians Flavious Josephus and Cornelius Suetonius have recorded about Jesus’s death, among others. There are more reliable sources for existence of Jesus than any other historical character in antiquity. Here are some comparisons about the characters of antiquity in contrast to Jesus (arranged as historical person, reign, earliest known manuscript available today, number of manuscripts):

    1. Heroditus, AD 484-425, AD 100, 525-584 years, 8 copies
    2. Plato(Tetralogy), 400 BC, AD 900, 1300 years, 7 copies
    3. Plutarch(writing on Alexander the Great)323 BC, AD 70-120, 393 -443 years, 50 copies
    4. Caesar’s Gallic Wars, 60 BC, AD 900, 960 years, 10 copies
    5. Annals of Tacitus, AD 110, AD 850, 740 years, 20 copies
    6. Aristotle, 384-322 BC, AD 1100, 1,400 years, 7 copies
    7. New Testament, AD 65 -95, AD 120-200, 35-100 years, 20,000-24,000 fragments and copies

    Thank you for posting.


  10. Wow the bhakts can type in English now. What a true blue one of that kind, dragging every other religion into the mess to attempt to prove your point? What in the promo was so atrocious to the dignity of that woman, except that she was portrayed as a strong brave beautiful character who loved her husband. And please,only airheads in the north of our country have the time to be even concerned about this. The rest of us are trying to be sensible and be respectful to our culture at the same time.

  11. Not to mention he showed the great Bajiirao as nothing but a drunk lover lost in his wife Towards the end the film was highly unbearable and unethical. You are correct. Bhansali needs to learn a lesson for playing with historical facts. What if, thirty years from now, someone portrayed bhansali in a film as a sweeper instead of a moviemaker. How would he feel? Will he then call it artistic liberty? If he wants to make a fiction film, why doesn’t he take entirely fictional names and characters instead of choosing prominent kings and then claiming artistic liberty.He thinks that Expensive sets and costumes are enough to cover the horrible plots of his film.

  12. Honestly, I do not believe that a film shapes the opinion of a person. Film is a medium of entertainment where artists showcase their imagination. If the artists’ perspective do not go in line with your norms and beliefs, then just don’t watch the movie. While questioning the right to speech, you should also know that a large population are eagerly expecting to see this movie (be it good or bad). Don’t you think you need to respect their opinions as well?

  13. The most important oral based documented account on Padmawati is available is Padmawat , an epic poetry by Malik Mohammad Jaisi-a Sufi saint and almost contemporary to Tulsi Das. Jaisi belongs to JAYAS, a small town near Raibareli come under area of Baiswara the most important land dominated by Rajputs. A story from Rajasthan written by a Sufi poet almost six hundred years ago shows how much popularity Padmawati and his Johar gained that a Muslim saint who lives in Rajput dominated area in UP, chose this character for his literary narrative. Jaisi died in 1542 two hundred and thirty nine years after Ratan Singh and Khilji . So there is no doubt in his discription which is very near to a historical date . Jaisi was conteprery to Babur and after Akbar and Maharana Pratap’s battle when Rajputs of Mansingh clan took side of Akbar. Rajput’s of Baiswara (UP) and Bihar took highly critical position against them. Jaisi was a regular visitor in the court of Raja Amethi Ram Singh . But how much Bhansali’s Padmavati is based on Jayasi’s PADMAWAT is quiet suspicious because his sense of history through directorial liberty is very poor.

  14. Well written article sir, fully agree with your emphasis on the non-written element of history and its veracity, however my only question is what(if anything objectionable) has SLB really shown in the movie that has so irked people? To the best of my knowledge he has just shown Khilji to be smitten with Padmini(Padmavati) – what is wrong in that ? Unless ofcourse there is more to it than meets the eye.

Comments are closed.

Most Popular