Amidst the arguments about whether “Padmaavat” and its portrayal of the legend of Queen Padmavati forces Indian root and culture to a dismal condition, I somehow recall few lines of John Stuart Mill. His warning of not ‘to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man or to trust him with power which enable him to subvert their institutions’, actually peeps into the holes of democracy that are each day widening and may end up gobbling up its own pledges- the prerequisite of its existence.
The debate as started with Karni Sena barging into sets of Padmavati (still then the ‘I’ was not removed!), slapping the director for his dare, certainly took a new turn that in one way or other uphold the image of Mother India, almost as a doppelganger of the Rajput Queen who performed self-immolation, as the 13th century poem suggests, embracing patriarchy and putting forth a form of ‘Pride’ or ‘Garima’, that could earlier be located either in Post-Godhra Yatra of Narendra Modi or in celebrated Pre-Babri demolition Ratha Yatra of his predecessor L K Advani!
However, to quote Charu Gupta, “The identity of the country and the Nation was often expressed and represented in terms of devotion to the goddess Bharat Mata or Mother India, who was inevitably a Hindu”, clarifies that to make an issue, out of Padmavati, Sena required the Motherly image of the queen. Her chastity and the retention of it was then onwards, in hands of the Male Protectors namely Karni Sena who burst out and continued the violence through which they sustain the pitfalls within.
Loads of Social commentators though have come up with their positions clarifying that Khilji was not actually a monster, rather he had a definitive role in saving the land of India (though I rarely know when the demarcation of the land happened) from Mongols; or he never used to devour meat the way Ranvir Singh (!) tried to display; certainly pats Khilji’s for his kingdom. It is very startling to see that to put up an alternative of the Hindutva frenzy, people have started justifying another Monarch who in reality whatever might be, was nothing to be celebrated by the people. Contesting the savage attitude shown in Padmaavat, historian Rana Safvi had referred to the Persian civilized culture that Khilji imbibed and hence, condemned the macabre portrayal. Arunima Gopinath even while talking to NDTV, had put forth that ‘Padmaavat’ was written two centuries later Khilji’s rule and not was in the Rajasthani dialect and thus lacks the credentials.
Nevertheless, these debates over the content of a lost history, though I don’t have any issue with, seems to be non-contextual and overrated for a country that is stuck in so many issues, from Kasganj riots to Shopian massacre, from the suicide of Dharma to Modi’s embracing of Netanyahu. Padmaavat or Padmavat-i, as a typical production of a director who is known for directing misogynist films like Hum dil de Chuke Sanam, I guess, should not enter the very core academic circle which is perturbed with the continuous efforts of the Government to curtail their voiced down. As Swara Bhaskar in her open letter to Bhansali appositely mentioned, that she felt like being ‘reduced to Vagina’, gives testimony to the fact what Bhansali’s film is about to address. Rajputana has always been a place where Roop Kanwar is charred and with the burnt fleshes, they celebrate the heritage. Padmaavat, thus patrons and promotes nothing more than illusion that compels the people to discuss and fight over the issue that doesn’t have the capacity otherwise to create any discursive space to produce knowledge.
The only way to find out what to discuss and what to not lies in our effort to eliminate the pusillanimous soul out of the body and to murmur the words of Arundhati Roy, “We are running out of time. Even as we speak, the circle of violence is closing in”.