Of Padmavati’s historical veracity and belligerent sons of Mother India

The Rajputs in Rajasthan — or rather, a fringe group that claims to represent the entire community — has ensured that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati is consigned, at least for the time being, to a limbo. Its release has been indefinitely delayed, different state governments have waded into the muddy debate and banned the film or have asked for legal action against its makers, a senior worker of the Bharatiya Janata Party has put out a bounty on the heads of the director and actors and yet continues to roam around freely. The rule of law has been suspended for the time being to satisfy demands of a violent group, as political parties measure what electoral gains can be squeezed out of the current imbroglio.

One of the claims of the belligerent Rajputs is that the 14th-century fictional queen of Chittor, Padmavati, is like their mother. Inherent in this, is a celebration of jauhar. Whether or not Bhansali’s film celebrates this barbaric tradition or is a more feminist retelling will remain unknown for some time to come. For the time being, we have been told by the film’s makers that there is no surreal erotic or romantic scene between Padmavati (Deepika Padukone) and Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh). This sanitisation of the mother figure as asexual is typical of nationalist projects that construct themselves around the presumed honour of women — and the duty of men to protect it. Though such an idea should be immediately consigned to the trash bin of patriarchy, it has been rather popular in Hindi cinema, as we shall see from the three following examples.