Subhash K  Jha  On The  Padmavati Controversy

Who started the fire?  Well,technically it’s that ingenious  journalist who on that one bored afternoon some months ago, decided to write a desk piece on how Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB) has shot a dream sequence between Rani Padmavati and her invader and tormentor Aalluddin Khilji.

Somebody’s dream-fantasy has now become the nation’s  nightmare.

That  no such sequence was shot, has ceased to matter over the months as the fire rages on over SLB’s film and  its alleged insult to the Rajputcommunity.

So my  question again. Who started the  fire?We could go back to the 14th century  when, according to folkore, Rani Padmavati jumped into the leaping flames with her female entourage to  avoid  falling into the hands of  the lustful Allauddin Khilji.

You  have to see how Sanjay Leela Bhansali has shot the climactic sequence of ‘johar’ where the Rani , played  with mesmeric grace by DeepikaPadukone—yes , the same actress whose nose  now faces the potential prospect of  an impromptu cosmetic surgery—jumps into the pyre.

I’ve seen the sequence.  It’s the most magnificent  ode to self-annihilation  I’ve seen in cinema  anywhere in the world.Jumping  into the pyre is  nothing new to my dear friend Sanjay Leela  Bhansali. When he decided to make Devdas the purists were baying for his blood for showing Paro andChandramukhi dancing together.  During  Goliyon Ki Raas Leela Ram Leela, the protesters(no longer purists,  mind  you ) wanted to know how SLBcan  use mythological names  in such a romantic  context.

Leela cannot be romancing Ram. Durga can’t be sexy.

During Bajirao Mastani, the Maharashtrians were very suspicious, much more so than the  selfappointed Rajput representatives who are  currently demanding,  among other things, SLB’s head.  What they actually want is to watch the film and get selfies clicked with Deepika Padukone. But thePadmavati team  is in no  mood to oblige.

“We won’t show the  film to the goons even  if they promise  to stop the violence in  return. No  bargaining with anti-socials,” says  a Padmavatirepresentative.
Sanjay, in the meanwhile , tries  to remain calm as the storm gathers  more and more momentum. He has disconnected his  phone  number and we converse on a  number  given only to his mother, sister and  a  few very close friends. We speak about everything except the disturbances. We  sing the songs  of our idol Lata Mangeshkar to remind  one  another  of a world of beauty and harmony that no  longer  exists. The television is not played at SLB’s residence to ensure his  mother doesn’t get disturbed by reports  of  the  violence  that her son has managed to whip all  across the country for no  fault of his.

But Sanjay’s mother knows what’s going on. “Why are they talking like this  about my son?” she asks me in  a voice of  smothered anguish,as she doesn’t want her son to know that she knows .

I have no answer. Why is  there countrywide  violence and death threats  to the filmmaker  for a  film that has  not one single objectionable shot that would offend the Rajputs  or any other community?

“Am I insane to hurt the  very sentiments  that my film eulogizes?” SLB asked me.But who’s listening?

Padmavati actually started playing in my friend’s  head  fifteen  years ago soon after he completed  Devdas.

I remember the day he excitedly called to share  the  idea with me.“Do you know  about the legend  of Rani Padmavati? She  was  a warrior and a true patriot. She  fought off the advances of Aalluuddin  Khilji when he resolved to posssess her. She wouldn’t even allow him a  glimpse  of  her person. He had to look at her in a mirror reflection.That’s how pure she was of spirit. What a  breaveheart!” Sanjay raved.

I  was   in raptures, as I am every time  SLB shares a  story, or a song  with me.(By the way my favourite unfilmed scripts of SLB are Hamari Jaan Ho Tum a film about a child bride that he once wanted to make  with Alia Bhatt, and Heera Mandi which will feature  a bevy of divas from Rekha to Tabu toKareena in a kotha chronicle).

Padmavati was special from the start. Back then SLB wanted to cast Aishwarya Rai as Padmavati.But before the movie came the opera   of Padmavati  in Paris  that wowed  the western world.It was  only a  matter  of time before SLB got down to putting his dream  project on celluloid.

Little did he  know that someone somewhere had other plans. We still don’t know why the controversy erupted. It’s like a fierce  bloodied battle for  a land that doesn’t exist. The  imagined insult to the Rajput community has been used a soundingboard to launch the most intense hate-mongering campaign I’ve seen against any film in  any language.

What  will the Karni Sevaks  do when they realize  they have slipped up badly and oops,Padmavati is  not an insult to the Rajputs but a dazzling homage to their courage  and valour? Will they say sorry ?

Nana Patekar  never said sorry for shouting at SLB after he saw Ranveer Singh dancing as  Bajirao.

“How can  you show our Maratha warrior dancing? You should say sorry,” Nana screamed at SLB(probably unhappy that he didn’t get to play Bajirao).

SLB remained calm as Nana spewed vitriolic. The filmmaker then said, “This is how my Bajirao is. If you don’t like it that’s your problem.”

And he disconnected the phone.

Matters are not that easy to solve this time. The protesters refuse to calm down  even when THE Arnab Goswami(yes the very same, one  and  only) declares he has seen Padmavati and has found nothing objectionable in it.

This is a Kafkesque conflict brought out of the creative world  into the streets.The  mob won’t be pacified even when they realize they are  wrong. They will still have SLB’s head, Deepika’s nose and Ranveer’s ….errrr…whatever.

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