'Deep-rooted political conspiracy behind Padmaavat protests'
...says filmmaker Shyam Benegal, who had filmed the story of Allauddin Khilji's violent obsession for Rani Padmavati many years back, without any protests hampering him
Filmmaker Shyam Benegal believes there is a "deep-rooted political conspiracy" behind what is happening to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat. Benegal had filmed the story of Allauddin Khilji's violent obsession for Rani Padmavati many years back, without any protests hampering him.
"This is not an issue of tolerance or intolerance. It is something else entirely. I've filmed the same saga way back in 1988 for my series Bharat Ek Khoj on Doordarshan. Om Puri played Allauddin Khilji. The protests have nothing to do with the content of the film," says the filmmaker, adding, "This is nothing but an attempt to appease the Rajput vote bank. Why are no arrests being made when even school children are being targeted?"
Interestingly, Benegal's vision of what transpired between Rani Padmini and Khilji was also based on the poem Padmaavat by Malik Mohammed Jayasi. "His beautiful 15th-century poem is based on the idea of unattainable love. He talks of love as something that can be desired, never fulfilled. The poem describes the mad infatuation of Khilji for the Chittoor queen. We shot the story exactly the way Jayasi described it in his poem. In the end Rani Padmavati commits jauhar along with hundreds of followers," says the director who confesses he hasn't seen the Bhansali's film.
"But I presume this is exactly what transpires in it. No one had a problem with it back then, but now when Sanjay makes a film based on the same poem we have women with swords coming in front of the media threatening to commit jauhar to stop the film," the filmmaker adds.
Bhansali was an assistant director on the Padmavati episode of Benegal's Bharat Ek Khoj. His sister Bela Sehgal and his brother-in-law Deepal Sehgal were also involved in the episode as editors.
Benegal wonders why the government is silent over the unlawful protests against Padmaavat. "We've these strange men with their aggressive demeanour going on national television to issue open threats. The law enforcers know exactly who they are. Why are they not being arrested even when they openly issue threats against the director and his actors?"
Would Benegal hesitate to direct Padmavati today? "Not at all," comes the prompt answer. "One doesn't think of these things while making a film. But again I repeat, what is happening to Sanjay Bhansali's film is no ordinary protest. It is something else, beyond my understanding."
Veteran writer-lyricist Javed Akhtar too questions what the protests are about. He questions why protesters are against this film that pays "homage to the valour and integrity of the Rajput community."
Akhtar says he watched Padmaavat on Wednesday night along with his wife Shabana Azmi and came away "completely bowled over" by the experience. "I saw the film and I feel it is among the most accomplished achievements I've seen in Indian cinema in recent times. I fail to understand what the protesters are protesting against."
"The film is a passionate, unadulterated homage to the valour and integrity of the Rajput community. Not a word, not a frame in the film is an insult to the community. In fact it is insulting to the film to suggest that it, in any way, insults the very community it honours," he adds.
He believes the film should be sent as India's entry to the Oscars. "My heart was filled with pride while watching Padmaavat. It is a film for every Indian. I was completely drawn in by the storytelling. It is spectacular and spell-binding."
Reacting to the lack of support from within the film industry Shabana Azmi says, "The film industry is being accused of its lack of support for the director and his team, which is not fair. We were prevented from doing so as the producers thought it was more prudent not to be confrontational! I believe that if FIRs had been lodged in the first place when SLB (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) was assaulted in Rajasthan, things would not have reached this state," she adds.