Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’ is so far the most successful Indian movie of the year and brings to silver screen a house hold tale among Rajputs in India.
The movie had to face opposition from numerous fringe groups in India and the whole controversy surrounding the tale’s adaption for silver screen and “historical inaccuracy” made students of history like curious to watch the flick and I did so recently in a packed theater in Karachi.
Before the movie starts, you are told that the movie is based on the epic ‘Padmavat’ by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi which is a revered work of fiction. The film does not have and never had a dream sequence between Alauddin Khilji and Rani Padmavati and that the makers have made this film as an ode to the famed valour, legacy and courage of Rajputs.
All correct.. go ahead.
As the tale unfolds on the silver screen, you know you are in for a visual treat as the movie has everything to keep you entertained and I will recommend the movie to all who are studying cinema for the 2 hour 44 minutes period drama teaches a lot as far as art direction, cinematography, visual effects and story-telling is concerned.
But I have three issues with Bhansali’s ‘Padmaavat’ and they are neither about Rani Padmavati nor Khilji.
This movie, dear folks is 1. Not based upon Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem 2. It does great injustice to the memory of ‘India’s parrot’ and famed Sufi poet Amir Khusrau.
This isn’t Malik Jayasi’s ‘Padmaavat’
The movie’s disclaimer says it is based upon Jayasi’s Padmaavat but this claim is entirely wrong.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali has taken a lot of freedoms while bringing the epic poem on silver screen and during the process (or to appease the fringe groups protesting against it) killed the whole concept behind the Sufi tale.
The 15th century Chisti Sufi wrote ‘Padmaavat’, a fictional poem, to educate his disciples and the readers about the worthlessness of the worldly life, a tale which neither demonizes Khilji nor has anything to do with Rajput valour and imparts the message of divine love and its eternality.
In the poem, both the wives of Raval Ratan Singh commit Sati after he dies while fighting Kumbhalner ruler Devpal not Alauddin Khilji.
Their act, in the poem, symbolises every human’s death and how everyone, from kings, queens to beggars, dies in the same fashion and takes nothing along with him/her on the eternal journey.
From start to end, Padmaavat by Jayasi is pure allegory and the epilogue clearly shows the poet’s motive in weaving the beautiful tale with an illuminating message.
“I asked pundits about the meaning of this tale, and they said they have deduced nothing from it but that all that is in the universe is within us,
The body is Chittorgarh and life is Raja (Raval Ratan Singh), Kingdom of Singhal is heart and Rani Padmini is Wisdom,
The parrot (Hiraman) is the spiritual guide who shows one the way as none can attain marifat (gnosis) without following his/her spiritual guide,
Nagmati (Ratan Singh’s first wife) symbolizes temporal joys of worldly life and he whoever masters the art of keeping it where it should be can attain salvation.
Raghav Chetan (the priest) is Satan, the one who misguides a man while Alauddin Khilji symbolises greed and lust”
So, the actual tale has nothing to with history and is similar to many such tales written by Sufis across the world in which they use some real life (Khilji) and some imaginary (Padmini and Hiraman) characters in an allegorical fashion to illustrate moral or spiritual lesson.
Rumi’s tale of Mahmood Ghaznavi and Theives can also serve as an example where Mehmood Ghaznavi meets some thieves and then forgives them when they are brought to his court as one of them recognises him.
THE GREATEST INJUSTICE
As one would expect from a commercial film maker, Bhansali makes Khilji a despicable villain and as bad as “greed and lust” but giving the already polarised Indian society a villain in times like ones India is going through can hardly be praised
A large number of people take their history from films and Bhansali has clearly given them a villain in his portrayal of Khilji.
But the greatest injustice the maker of “Padmaavat”, the movie, do is to the memory of Amir Khusrau, the father of Hindavi, Qawwali and the artist his country remembers as India’s parrot.
The Sufi poet and one of the greatest artists India ever produced is shown as a courtier who praises and provides justification to Khilji’s worst moves even his lust for power and women.
When Alauddin Khilji kills his uncle Jalaluddin Khilji and reaches Delhi to proclaim him as the new Sultan-e-Hind, Bhansali’s Khusrau says history will remember his deed (of murdering his uncle) as a strong necessity of time and not a murder.
Then when Padmavati was about to meet Khilji, Khusrau is shown as encouraging the sultan by reciting some of his famous couplets like
Khusrau darya prem ka, ulti wa ki dhaar,
Jo utra so doob gaya, jo dooba so paar
Oh Khusrau, the river of love
Runs in strange directions.
One who jumps into it drowns,
And one who drowns, gets across”
A beautifully written couplet which underscores the importance and beauty of divine love. A couplet which speaks of sacrificing everything to attain the union with God (a Sufi’s prime objective).
My questions is; can a poet of Khusrau’s stature recite verses written about divine love before a king who, for his lust, is bent upon destroying everything which comes between him and Padmavati.
Making a villain out of a man who sowed the seeds of the Indo-Persian culture in the country of his love (India) is a shameful act, a crime history will perhaps never forgive Bhansali for.
If he doesn’t know let me tell him that in his book “Discovery of India”, India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru described Kabir, Guru Nanak and Amir Khusrau as the most important contributors to the development of a mixed culture in India (Ganga Jamini Tehzeeb).
“I am an Indian Turk and can answer you in Hindi…” Khusrau writes in preface to his “Diwan, Ghurrat-ul-Kamal”.
Though Khusrau served many rulers of Delhi Sultanate, showing him as a greedy and dishonest historian and courtier is the greatest disservice to Indian culture and history.
All in all, this visually mesmerising fairy tale which has given India’s general populace (those who take their history from films) one more Muslim villain to curse and loathe, is not a history lesson neither a Sufi parable it claims to be based upon
As for his portrayal of Khusrau Bhansali must remember that his film will go down in the region’s cultural and political history not only as a great insult to Jayasi’s epic ballad but a failed attempt to tarnish Tooti-e-Hind Amir Khusrau’s image.