Though late on the bandwagon of watching the film, recently I had a chance to watch one of the most controversial films of Bollywood, Padmaavat. Thanks to all the hype and controversy that made me want to check out how justified all the criticism has been. Being a Bhansali film, it had to be a visual treat as far as the cinematography of the film is concerned, and that it surely was.
A lot has been written about the film before and after its release where most of the criticism has been over the fabrication of history, whether on the depiction of Rani Padmini or Alauddin Khilji’s role. Most surprisingly, in fact shockingly, some factions of India’s Rajput community felt so displeased that they not only threatened the film crew announcing head money but also tried to disrupt the film’s release through violence in parts of India to the extent of attacking a school bus carrying children. That’s how absurd the situation has been for the film-makers. So if such a film manages to get released, one would definitely want to find out the reason behind such turbulence which I am sure must have only increased the business of the film.
I will not go into the debate of how true or fictitious the story of Padmaavat and its characters is. This has been taken care of by many opinion makers already. To me, the only thing that sounds surprising is the criticism on the depiction of Jauhar by the very people who had earlier been the proponents of the release of the movie.
According to Wikipedia, Jauhar “was the Hindu custom of mass self-immolation by women in parts of the Indian subcontinent, to avoid capture, enslavement and rape by any foreign invaders, when facing certain defeat during a war. Some reports of jauhar mention women committing self-immolation along with their children.”
Showing Jauhar in the film was considered as glorification of the act by the critics. But how can depiction of a historical fact or a custom be in any way a glorification? We all know that Jauhar has been very much part of the Hindu history. To say that the depiction of any fact of the past is its glorification is as absurd as calling any sort of murder or killing scene of any film a glorification of the very act. If jauhar is indeed glorification then what the same director showed in his film Ramleela where the characters Ram and Leela kill each other is perhaps also glorification. Or when in the ending scenes of another Bollywood movie Dhoom 3 where the twin brothers (the role played by Amir Khan) are shown jumping off to commit suicide in order to escape being caught by the police is also glorification of suicide. But of course, we know that’s no glorification at all but a mere presentation of a story whichever way it unfolds.
Besides, if we read the real stories of partition of the sub-continent, we realize that even the women of that time preferred death rather than letting themselves be ravished at the hands of the mobs that were on looting and killing spree. Partition Archive 1947 – an entity working to archive factual stories of partition – narrates the story of Mr. Khadim Hussain, who had witnessed partition, in following words:
“On their journey to Pakistan, the family [of Mr. Khadim Hussain] was attacked, and Mr. Hussain’s parents were killed. His sisters jumped into the river nearby and drowned themselves, to escape abduction.”
There are many other similar cases of partition where women preferred to die in order to protect their honor; something that is relatable to Jauhar.
This notion of glorification is as senseless as it was in case of the ban on Lollywood film Maalik where our government tried to ban the movie only because it showed the sitting Chief Minister being killed at point blank range by a security guard and the critics blamed that it was a glorification and encouragement of the act.
There was one thing though that got my attention in Padmaavat, and that was the song Bint-e-Dil. The composer and singer have undoubtedly done an awesome job but there is a little problem with the lyrics of the song, which, surprisingly, no critic has highlighted. To be specific, the title Bint-e-Dil doesn’t really go well with the context of the song. For those who don’t know, Bint is an Arabic word which basically means daughter. E.g. if a guy Waleed has a daughter named Maria, the girl would be called Maria Bint-e-Waleed or simply Bint-e-Waleed. Hence, Bint-e-Dil would mean ‘daughter of the heart’. It’s strange how Bollywood gets away with such distortion of language and still manages its acceptability among its audiences. Perhaps it has a lot to do with the fact that in India, the majority is not very familiar with Urdu and Arabic languages.
Mispronunciation of Urdu words has always been part of Bollywood songs but this distortion – as in misuse – of language altogether is relatively a new thing. But maybe in today’s times not much attention is given to the lyrics of songs. That could also be one reason why even the diction and proper pronunciation doesn’t matter anymore. There was once this reality show of singing competition Kurukshetra in which Asha Bhoslay as part of the jury categorically justified the mispronunciations of singer participants by saying that in today’s times, lyrics and pronunciations do not matter anymore. If a legend like Bhoslay can make such a point, then it is all understandable why Bollywood continues with its flawed songs. But it would be only a right thing to do if such a big entertainment industry like Bollywood starts to take some responsibility on the accuracy of what it produces and offers to its audiences, more so when they are not restricted to any geographical boundaries.
The above article originally appeared in Pakistan Today