Gender, Race, Inequality

For those of you protesting the Bollywood movie Padmaavat, hear me out.

People are protesting this movie in incredibly violent ways, for reasons I fail to understand. Yes, it's a problematic movie - but not in the way they claim.

Note: spoilers ahead for the movie Padmaavat.

It can be safely said that no Indian movie of recent times had faced as much controversy as Padmaavat. It’s a movie inspired by the epic poem Padmavat from the 1500’s,  written by Sufi poet Malik Muhammed Jayasi.  It tells the story of Queen Padmavati, the wife of Rajput king Maharawal Ratan Singh. While the king is an actual historical figure, Padmavati is considered to be fictional. The Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khalji, a cruel and powerful king, develops a desire for the queen after he hears about her legendary beauty. Driven by a greed to possess all the precious things in the world, the king declares war and kills King Ratan Singh, Padmavati’s husband.

To avoid being captured and raped by the cruel king, Padmavati ends up performing jauhar – an act of self-immolation.

To be fair, Padmaavat is not the best movie ever.

It has its flaws, and it certainly has many problematic aspects. But then, from what I know of Bollywood, we have never made such big deal about problematic concepts before, so why now? Has India suddenly become woke? Sadly, the answer is no. Now, if the protests were objecting to the way the film appropriated certain concepts or the representation of stereotypes, then I would’ve applauded them. However, the protests against the movie are built on misunderstanding, and it’s been disgusting to watch them take place.

The main claim behind the protests is that Rajput caste is portrayed in a bad light.

However, if anything, King Ratan Singh spends half of his time on screen professing the honor and glory of Rajputs. The movie is ironically an ode to Rajputs – their valor, principles, honor, and values. How that ended up as an insult, I really can’t understand. Another argument against the movie is that it features an intimate scene between a Muslim king and a Hindu queen. However, after seeing it,  I can confirm that there is no such scene. Padmavati and Khalji are not even seen in the same frame.

In fact, even though Khalji desires the queen, he doesn’t even properly lay eyes on her.

Akhilesh Khandelwal, an Indian politician, announced a reward for anyone who attacks the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali with a shoe. The director has since then been attacked on set, and both the director and actress Deepika Padukone (who plays Padmavati) received death threats and had bounties set on their heads.

A dead body was even hung at Jaipur Fort with a sign “Padmavati ka virodh” (in opposition to Padmavati). 

Things became even more violent when people began to burn vehicles on the road, and theaters became too afraid to screen the movie. Worst of all, protesters even attacked a school bus carrying students.

An investigation even claimed that the whole protest was actually a scheme by the organization to garner attention and money. Now, I know it’s an extreme claim, but seeing what the organization has been doing, even after knowing that there hasn’t been any offensive content in the movie? I wouldn’t be too surprised if it was actually true.

Like I said before, the movie does have a lot of problems. I fully recognize that.

Honestly, I can’t help but feel as if the story glorified the act of suicide as a method of escaping capture. There were about 20 minutes of epic music as a group of women clad in red walked towards a fire ( they even make sure to show two small girls and a pregnant woman amidst the crowd, was that really necessary?) instead of feeling the goosebumps I should have, I was horrified.

A lot of people were also angry over the way Alauddin Khalji was portrayed. A Muslim king being picturized as a barbarian, a man who’s greedy, lustful, and utterly ruthless didn’t go well with everyone, and I can totally understand why. But, Khalji was an actual king who was cruel and powerful.

To me, it was just an honest portrayal of history, not a commentary on Muslim leaders.

As a movie, Padmaavat was not perfect, but it’s aesthetically beautiful and one should just watch it for the performance of Ranveer Singh (who plays Khalji, and sent chills along my spine).

Yes, the movie does have problematic aspects.

But not the ones the protesters claim, and even if it was true, I don’t think the atrocities of the protesters should be commended. The government has spent months ignoring the violence, and it’s high time that they step up and bring a stop to the madness that has taken over these so-called cultural advocates.