The Padmavati protests, and how Bollywood has historically

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s forthcoming project Padmavati has been beset by troubles.

The film is about Rani Padmini (or Padmavati) of Mewar, an icon of Rajastan (from the 14th century), the two men in her life — her husband Rana Ratan Singh and Sultan Alauddin Khilji, who learned about the queen’s beauty and began coveting her. The only thing certain about the film hitherto appears to be that Deepika Padukone will play Padmini. Since there are two men in the queen’s life, their rivalry finds reflection within Bollywood in male stars being unwilling to share the spotlight (Ranveer Singh-Shahid Kapoor). Deepika may also be unprepared to share billing with two male actors unless both measure up; a second line actor cannot obviously be paired off with her as one of men in the Rani’s life.

If these factors are leaving director Bhansali sleepless, Hardik Patel of the Patel Navnirman Sena has also warned him of the need to be historically accurate — if his film is to be released in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Now ‘historical accuracy’ does not only mean painstaking and reliable research; each historical character has a ready ‘constituency’ (Maratha, Rajput, etc) which insists that he/she should fit its conception of his/her role in history. All these factors tell us that there is more to making a historical film in India than one might have supposed.

History is evidently not ‘what has happened’ but is, arguably, a contested site — and not only for Bollywood.
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Sanjay Leela Bhansali

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