Swords in Studios

Let’s cut to the chase, specially since we have a sword at hand.

By now you would have, even if only cursorily, followed the drama surrounding the release of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali film Padmavati. The Rajputs, it appears, will have none of it.

The film is based on the legend of Rani Padmini, as described in the epic poem Padmavat, written by a Muslim sufi poet in the sixteenth century. Historians seems to concur that there is little basis for the legend. But the telling of the legend, its retelling and several interpretations have enshrined it in Rajput lore. This is what a Rajput woman is like, goes the mantra. Padmavati is revered almost like a deity.

In Bhansali’s interpretation of the saga, Allauddin Khalji, channeled here by Ranveer Singh, is more Dothraki horselord than the able statesman Khalji was, the broad design of whose taxation system outlived him and was used by Indian rulers even centuries later. The illiterate but bright ruler was not only instrumental in empowering local government and weeding out corruption whose brunt was borne by the lower classes, but was also a patron of the arts. You have him to thank when you revel in Chaap Tilak…

But this interpretation is not what has riled the Indian Muslims, who can’t obviously be affronted when an outsider who simply happens to be from their religion is portrayed inaccurately. And, hypothetically, even if he weren’t an outsider, Indian Muslim rage these days, lol.

No, it is the Rajputs who are up in arms, who are protesting against an alleged steamy scene between Khalji and Padmavati. But wasn’t the legend about how she killed herself before he could get to her? No, say the Rajputs, the scene is present in a dream sequence. Bhansali furiously denies this claim, saying there is no such scene. The Rajputs don’t accept his denial. Who is he, they ask; he has only made the film.

Matters aren’t made better by the fact that Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone – playing Padmavati – are an “item” in real life (that’s showbiz language, readers, keep up.)

In the middle of the flurry of media activity on the issue, we see the Times Now program, where one of the two Rajput activists invited to the show, takes out a sword. Yes, an actual, real sword. The headgear was already impressive but the sheer production value that the sword brought was awe inspiring. The competent program host politely – but firmly – asked for the sword to be put away and said it was nothing but a drama. Full points for the host for neither being afraid nor breaking out in a guffaw. (Online readers can see the video below.)

The British, seeing such insecurities, came up with the concept of “martial races” to ease their recruitment and the locals, silly them, started believing them. For Punjabi Hindus and Punjabi Musalmaans to think they are fighters is like the toy steer ring that some parents install for their child’s car seat to make it think it is driving.

The Pashtuns, who don’t seem to have insecurities of the sort – the sub-continent was a vast chessboard between the Turks and Afghans – wouldn’t mind an epic about the part in their history where the Sikh warriors of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh took Peshawar and extended their kingdom till Jamrud.

Within the Pashtuns, the entire political class, not just the retro-Gandhian ANP, is saying that they want to dispel the impression of being martial and just want jobs, business opportunities and a safe environment for their families. The self-styled “martial races” (we even have Rajputs here in Pakistan) on the other hand, seem to want exactly the opposite.

The Tube

Media Watch column is meant to offer commentary on the affairs of the media.



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