With Padmaavat Sanjay Leela Bhansali has once again courted controversy and his track record over the past few years points to a scary phenomenon. Beginning with Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ramleela in which the Rajput and Rabari communities raised strong objections on the portrayal of their culture, as well as some religious groups who opposed the title of the movie proclaiming that the movie had nothing in common with the Ramlila festival and it hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus. Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone portrayed Ram and Leela as lovers belonging to opposing factions. Amidst the uproar to ban the film in some states, the title was subsequently changed to Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ramleela at the behest of the courts and released in 2013.
In 2015, Bhansali made Bajirao Mastani and the ‘Pinga’ song in which the historical character of Kashibai played by Priyanka Chopra danced skillfully with the famed courtesan Mastani (Deepika Padukone). To the descendants of the Queen Peshwa this amounted to an insult and distortion of historical facts on the grounds that Kashibai was afflicted with arthritis since childhood and may not have ambled well let alone perform those wearisome dance moves, and the dubious costume in the music video apart, the duo had formally met only once. Furthermore, an intimate sequence of Kashibai with Peshwa Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) was also deemed as “disgusting” for depicting a private moment between revered personalities on the screen.
And then came Padmaavat (formerly titled ‘Padmaavati’) in 2018 which has also been mired in a string of controversies, being accused of not only distorting the Rajput legacy but apparently an objectionable romantic scene of Rani Padmini (or Padmaavati) with the vile Khilji, evoked a strong political reaction with mass rioting by religious groups and prompting some states in India to impose an outright ban on the release of the movie. Though after the Censor Board certified the movie with some cuts and a change in the title, it was finally released this week.
I’m not here to unearth the truth behind the Padmaavat row or to question the judgement of the director. At this point, I’m just appaled at the intent of one filmmaker and who has developed a knack of attracting controversies repeatedly during consecutive movie outings and being accused of either hurting religious sentiments or contorting historical facts. This just cannot be the case of mere coincidence. Or can it be?