The recent attack on one of India’s most celebrated film-maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali invoked a number of controversies and spaces for opinions. Bhansali and his likes in Bollywood have set a ‘trend’ through their signature style of delivering ‘history’ to the masses in recent times. With notions such as ‘Art knows no boundaries’ or ‘Imagination is the foundation of creation’, these movies ‘based on history’ have apparently taken freedom to depict history in ways that are clearly inconsiderate.

The trend began with Jodhaa Akbar, a box office killer that came on screens surviving a plethora of controversies. After this movie, depicting excerpts from history and Gods in movies and daily soaps has brought fortune for a number of producers. Although, at what cost?

It is indeed a positive growth if art takes inspiration from history and depicts it for the current generation to understand. However, we aren’t in favour of movies that reduce mountains of history into molehills centring on love and sexual attraction. Starting from Jodhaa Akbar to the upcoming Padmavati, all historically important figures have been deconstructed to highlight only their love life, clad in designer clothes and signature make up. While the historic intensities have been completely ignored, the heroic figures have also been turned into commercial tools for actors and directors to make a brand out of.

First of all, Akbar was an invading king who was a part of the dynasty that equally robbed and enslaved India as the British. Although, history documented by the Mughuls themselves depicts him as a just, secular king – obviously a winner’s side of the story – and movies and serials made on this conveys the same idea. An invading ruler marrying a native princess and her consequential show of bravery is the central plot, as opposed to the entire tyrannical hold of Mughul dynasty over India. There also came other movies such as Bajirao Mastani where the lead actors, chosen clearly based on their off-screen chemistry, portrayed the valour of an Indian king, his illegitimate love story and the unacceptable dominance of religion over love as a representation of ‘history’. While that was considered relatively acceptable, Sanjay Leela Bhansali apparently took a step further in remaking Indian history entirely and mutilating the original imagery of heroic characters from the past. The ‘Padmavati’ controversy is not completely acceptable for it wasn’t right on the part of the mob to attack the film-maker on grounds of unrevealed script; but there are aspects that make us not want to watch this highly tempting movie.

The instance of Israel banning the movie ‘300’ owing to wrong representation of King Xerxes was in fact a lesson to India. Movies made on the basis of Indian history have taken extensive liberty with regard to depiction of our historic characters. Glamorous leading ladies and a man madly in love with them is still fine, but a glorious villain – stronger, more courageous, seductive and irresistibly sexy – is not.

Of course, the above point arises from Ranveer Singh’s look in Padmavati. A highly repelling tyrant who invaded our lands, set it on fire, killed our men and raped our women clearly wasn’t a seductive male clad in designer furs displaying a charmingly fit body. According to legend, Alauddin Khilji invaded Rathan Singh’s fort for Padmavati, who committed Johar to save herself from his hold. But apparently, rumours had it that Bhansali’s Padmavati would be found romancing the tyrant Khilji, who looks a lot like Khal Drogo, but that we do not know yet. However, the crowds are not happy about the fact that a historically important character shall now be known by the world through a mere love story.

Legends of valour displayed by Indian rulers, wars and treaties, the pre-colonial kingdoms and the august wealth of the country – all revolve around love stories when Bollywood adopts them. Why cannot history be depicted in its original form, without deconstructing every aspect into an act of love? Why cannot legacies be told without a villain who is more heroic than the hero? Audience does accept movies made with rich content and the least glamour – Dangal and such movies are a clear instance. So why not depict history in movies the same way?


Ashwini Jain

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