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28 Jan

The curious case of Raees, Padmaavat and Pakistan

Padmaavat

In the century-long period of filmmaking in the subcontinent, a plethora of narratives have been considered ‘controversial’ in the annals of history. However, not many have taken on the face of gruesome detestation as has Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘magnum opus’, Padmaavat. However, it shouldn’t have been the Rajput community protesting – it should have been the Muslims.

There’s no doubt that vilification and (mis)representation of certain communities and religions have served as a base of filmmaking since the invention of the film-reel and continues to do so even today, but that by no means makes it right. After all, it was a film like Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will which became a Nazi tool to propagate its vile ideas in European mindsets. Today, in the same manner, Padmaavat happily distorts reality under the façade of fancy production design.

That being said, the problem one has isn’t completely with the Indian filmmaker, himself. It definitely has more to do with the Pakistani Censor Board. For anyone who remembers the news from one year ago, it was exactly at the end of January 2017 that the Board had decided that Raees ­– a film debuting Mahira Khan in Bollywood – must be banned due to the film showing Muslims in a ‘negative light.’ Ironically, Alauddin Khilji – who still is taught about in Pakistani history curricula – did not come under the same rule and released without a single cut to the film.

 

Padmaavat

History revisited for all the wrong reasons: Alauddin Khilji in Padmaavat has kohl-lined eyes, a scarred face, a gym-toned body, wears furs when he is not bare-chested and has contempt for everything ‘just’.

 

Whether it was a counter-reaction to India banning Pakistani artistes in 2016 or the censor board’s confused line of action, Raees being banned served as a grim reminder of bad decisions by the board, which has no issues against inaccuracies but has all the world’s problems against Pakistani films and actors, themselves.

Coming back to Padmaavat’s case, without giving away too many spoilers, let’s just say that the lecherous eye of Alauddin – played by Ranveer Singh – looks at women like meat, men like tools for power, and ethics as garbage. Now, if only reality was close to this.

Not in Pakistan, but in India itself, historians have voiced unease at the film. Rana Safvi – a historian in India, believes that Khilji was anything but savage. “It was under his rule the Delhi Sultanate heavily drew from Persia, one of the oldest and most sophisticated civilisations of all time,” she had told Hindustan Times. “The rulers followed the exact code of conduct and etiquette as in Persia. It would have been very formal — the eating, dining and sartorial choices.”

However, according to Bhansali and the 16th-century poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi he took as a reference – which itself holds no significance in history – Alauddin Khilji has kohl – a scarred face, a gym-toned body, wears furs when he is not bare-chested and has contempt for everything ‘just’.

As Padmaavat will win numerous accolades this year as expected, we’ll just wait for the next Bollywood distortion of history which forgets the numerous contributions of its past leaders. And till then, our censor board can sleep with its eyes wide open or until they need to create a further loss for Pakistani actors. We’re not saying that Padmaavat should have been banned; we’re just saying that Raees should not have been banned either.

Shahjehan Saleem

The author is Contributing Editor at Something Haute as well as a professor in the Media Sciences department at SZABIST, Karachi. Socio-cultural theories and geography fill up the rest of his time.