In reality, the choice actually boils down to two versions of Padmavati: a woman who clung to her chastity and burned herself as an ultimate protest against invading men; and a fierce, beautiful woman who decided to follow her heart to be with the one that risked his life to win her hand in marriage.
In January 2017, the film sets of Padmavati was vandalised a RajPut association called Shri Rajput Karni Sena. In the process one of the painters on set was killed. Midst of it all, Akhilesh Khandelwal, in March 2017, a member of ruling party, BJP, made a shocking Facebook post stating “reward for anyone who attacks the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali with a shoe”. The same group attacked the sets again, but this time, they went a step ahead to target the celebrities involved in the film: Sanjay Leela Bhansali was slapped; Deepika Padukone was assaulted verbally and was driven into having a layer of security to her home after Karni Sena threatened to “–cut her nose off”.
All because of one thing: Rani Padmavati was alleged to be involved in some romantic scenes in the movie with Alauddin Khaliji, a Sultan of Delhi, who wanted to obtain her hand in marriage.
Rani Padmavati is a symbol of Indian patriotism–an almost burning metaphor of women’s chastity and courage. Nivedita, an Irish-born Indian woman, who went on to be a close associate of Swami Vivekhanada, historicised Padmavati to represent the super-human power of chaste Indian women to promote the Swadeshi movement during the British rule. However, almost no record in history, not even of accounts described by Islamic literature, speak of a character named Padmavati–but in lengths of the battle to get hold of Chittoor immortalised by the famous Amir Khurasu. Interestingly, Padmavati who became famous because of the battle of Chittoor does not even have even a single place-holder in his accounts of Khaliji’s expedites. She only makes appearances in folklores and oral traditions, some poems, and plays to romanticise Sati and to promote women to burn themselves in some twisted approval of women’s empowerment.
Right, because women get to choose if they want to burn themselves.
The story of Padmavati is interesting: Khaliji agrees to look at Padmavati through a mirror, falls in love with her incomparable beauty, and decides to obtain her. Two million followers of Khaliji stood outside of Chittor Rajput fort to fight against Ratan Singh (Padmavati’s husband), and in the face inevitable defeat and loss of her husband, she decided to kill herself in protest–to protect her chastity. It’s very heroic: whether ridges burn or mountains move, you get to write your own destiny. Very brave. Very moving.
Only problem: everything is fictional.
Amir Khurasu’s Khaza’in ul-Futuh may have had a reference to Padmavati: he says Rani Padmavati may have gotten converted to Islam and married Khaliji to live as one of his forty-two wives. She fell in love with him the moment she saw his face though the mirror in the Rajput Palace. And that spell of love is remarkable, despite the raging battle for throne and gold and land waging in the background; Rani Padmavati was bound by a feeling as old as time itself: love. Very brave. Very moving.
Only problem: everything is fictional.
Chatriya Samaj leader Thakur Abhishek Som said, “Bhansali’s will be beheaded, if he dares distort future to [spread his agenda].” The problem is Rani Padmavati was never a part of history–she was made up by a Sufi poet called Mali Muhammad Jayasi from the 16th century and later celebrated as a symbol of patriotism by Indian nationalists. Ironic because she, who was from the imagination of an Islamic poet, was used to demonise Islamic people.
We, Indians, take things way too seriously. Art will not survive in the face of oppression: it is a civilisation’s highest form of existence. Nationalism bound to the soil, language, or caste in any form is destructive–and art being vulnerable to changes in reality will not survive this. About one half of our country is made up of Rani Padmavatis one way or another: they walk the same road, scorn the same fields, breath the same air as she once did, but now with Luis Vitton shoulder bags, iPhones resting in their long slender hands, highlights accentuating their raised cheeks. Some walk amid rice-fields with a pot of water over their heads. Some wear khakhi uniforms and uphold laws with whistles dangling between their lips in the middle of traffic-adorned streets. Some steer airplanes. Some wait in front multi-muntin windows in their lonely apartments for their husbands. May be the definition of courage has changed now. We don’t need a woman who burnt herself to symbolise women of India. They are braver, they are better. They don’t need to look at coveting mussalmen through mirrors–if they feel like it, they can walk up to them and exchange numbers.
May be, we should worry about them more.