India’s Culture War Comes to Bollywood
The Bollywood film Padmavati has inspired heated debate, hysterical threats of violence, and a ban in four states governed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party – all before even being released. The tolerance and acceptance of difference that once accompanied India’s remarkable diversity, are wearing thin these days.
NEW DELHI – Culture and history have become new battlegrounds in India. Debates over the Taj Mahal’s position as a symbol of multicultural India have yet to be settled, yet the nation is already being torn apart further by another cultural controversy – this time, over a film.
The film, “Padmavati,” tells the story of an eponymous Rajput queen believed to have died, together with 16,000 other women of the Rajput warrior caste, by self-immolation in 1301, in order to avoid being captured alive by the invading Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji. Despite not even having been released, “Padmavati” has already inspired countless front-page stories and debates on the evening news, hysterical threats of violence, and a ban in four states governed by India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
The historical accuracy of Padmavati’s story is dubious: no contemporary account of Khilji’s attack on Chittorgarh, including by historians accompanying his forces, mentions the queen. Yet Padmavati has been a figure of legend since 1540, when the Sufi mystic poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi devoted his lyrical epic “Padmavat”to her story.