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Padmavati controversy: What is history?

By Ananya S Guha

The recent ongoing controversy about Padmavati is an eye-opener once again on the current discourses of history prevailing in the country. Here, it is perhaps not so much a question of reworking history, but a parallel narrative on historical fact. The issue here is that the film has touched sentiments and angered the Rajputs. The question is: to what extent can fact and fiction work at tandem in cinema or in a work of art? Should a film supposedly based on history adhere strictly to history, as in the case of so-called historical films? Second, the controversy started raging even before the film was released. It was apparently shown privately to some groups, something which the Film Censorship Board objected to, stating that the papers on the film were incomplete.

Now, what is a historical fact and what is fiction? The crux of the protest is the objection to Padmini and Allaudin Khilji’s relationship, apparently depicted in the film, which makes the committing of Jauhar meaningless. Hence the protesters say that this is distortion of a historical truth. However, the actor Deepika Padukone maintains that no such relationship is shown.

Hurting sentiments can be accepted. But can death threats, putting a price on the head of the director and actor be tolerated? Is this not a sign of primeval brutishness in a contemporary, modern society? And most of us including politicians are silent. Fixing overhead prices like auctioning using words such as ‘head’ or ‘price’’ is shamelessly atavistic and brazenly hateful. Yes, to correct history we are rewriting the past, because this was the custom in medieval or ancient times. Although some actors have protested strongly, hardly any mention has been made in the ongoing IFFI, Goa of such bizarre threats. And one of them has been made by a sitting Member of a Legislative Assembly.

The entire point is: at this juncture, how many have seen the film? Interpretive analysis is fine, but can we come to conclusions prior to viewing the film? Can we comment on a book without reading it? A theory has been floated that politics and coming elections in some states of the country are the genesis for this. This is a possibility because politicians are poking noses into everything from history to culture. But what is evident is that once again a controversy has erupted because of a Hindu-Muslim entanglement. And that is what some people want: the sparks must continue, the atmosphere vitiated so that we are not free from the clutches of hatred, vitriol, and perverse animosity.

To take a deeper look at the issue: what is history or what is a historical fact? A historical fact is something which changes course of events, ushers in the new, a cataclysmic battle or downfall of a powerful or turbulent empire, the founding of a kingdom, the invasion of territory or country. Padmini’s committing Jauhar may or may not be of historical inclusion. It may have been a fact, but the point of the matter is whether it is historically inclusive, as portent for turn of events. Was the lust of a King for a Queen a part of history or was it a privately induced happening? What exactly goes down in the annals of history? So when an episode of ‘love’ is exclusively taken into the making of a film, is it a historical movie, like say a movie on the building of Rome or on a Caesar? Distorting facts may not be distorting history. History is a configuration of forces, changing destiny, bringing or introducing new eras. Did Khilji’s falling in love with the Queen determine the forces of history? The praxis of history is change, laws of determinants taking further course into the future – it is futuristic. It is past as well, when viewed from the vantage point of the present. If we make an episode exclusive without neatly weaving it into the fabric of a whole, we have only a fragmented version of history, a historical view bludgeoned only with sentiments to nurse or assuage.

When we are enmeshed in fragile historical, religious and clannish sentiments, we must ask: what is history?

Ananya S Guha 
is Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Shillong.


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3 Responses to “Padmavati controversy: What is history?”

  1. Rimli Bhattacharya

    “The entire point is: at this juncture, how many have seen the film?” – Million dollar question
    “like say a movie on the building of Rome or on a Caesar? – Masterstroke
    Well articulated article sir. Thanks for the essay

    • rommanne

      I still cannot understand why Arnab Goswami got to watch the movie and not someone from the Rajput clan.. and your right when you say that we need to watch the film to decide


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