The controversial Bollywood movie ‘Padmaavat’ was finally released on Thursday 25 January showing all across the globe after several months of protests and court actions in India. 

Cinemas in Australia also began showing the movie the same day with several sessions each day.

The movie, depicting a warrior Hindu Rajput queen Padmaavati fighting advances of a Muslim sultan, is “visually spectacular” and a “fabulous tale”.

Padmaavat attempts to be a historical depiction based on a fictional poem by 15th-century poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi, as claimed by the filmmaker and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

It shows attempts, through military invasions, by Indian Sultan (King) of the time Alauddin Khilji in pursuit of the queen Padmaavati of Chittor as he got obsessed by stories of her extreme beauty.

Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor play lead roles in Padmaavat.

Padmaavat stars Deepika in the lead role of Rani Padmini. Shahid Kapoor as Maharawal Ratan Singh and Ranveer Singh portrays Alauddin Khilji, the 13th century ruler of the Khilji Dynasty.

The 13th-century Muslim king is depicted as a barbarian character, extremely vulgar who has kohl-rimmed eyes, scarred face, rips meat off the bone with his teeth and treats his own queen and maids in a brutal manner. He is a drunkard, murderer and cruel person which houses deceit and debauchery.

Sultan Alauddin Khilji.

Leading Indian historians claim that Sultan Alauddin Khilji was anything but savage and the film makes a mockery of his character through false depictions.

He was the second and most powerful ruler of the Khilji dynasty that ruled the Indian Subcontinent from Delhi from 1296 to 1316. He wished to become the second Alexander (Sikander Sani), and this title of his was mentioned on coins and during public prayers.

Khilji was an astute administrator whose tax and revenue collection system was followed by the Mughals and the British till the 19th century.

He personally looked at prices of essential goods on a daily basis to keep an eye on inflation. He built warehouses to store grains so as to ensure adequate supplies during droughts. However he earns far more respect from historians due to his amazing skills as a military general. Alauddin Khilji saved India from marauding Mongolian armies by defeating them six times during his 20-year rule.

It was under his rule the Delhi Sultanate was heavily influenced by Persia, one of the oldest and most sophisticated civilisations of all times.

The great Sufi poet Amir Khusro of his time did not project his king as a barbarian ruler either. However, in the film, even Amir Khusro, the much celebrated Sufi poet for centuries and founder of devotional music of Qawwali, is depicted as a petty poet with little intelligence.

On the other hand, the Hindu king of Chittor is shown as noble glorious Rajput ruler and a warrior king who fought to his dying breath to defend his kingdom and his wife’s honour.

His wife Padmavati is depicted as a legendary Mewar queen who was known as much for her beauty and intelligence as she was for her courage. She is shown committing self-immolation to save her honour rather than being captured by a brutal king.

Most historians say Jayasi’s Padmaavati was a fictional character, about whom he had written 200 years after Khilji’s death in 1540.

It can be questioned if this movie is another attempt to distort Muslim history in India as part of a wider movement by Hindu fundamentalists.

Muslim kings and sultans who, for more than a thousand years, ruled much of the subcontinent and parts of Afghanistan, brought glory to the region by building great monuments, establishing great institutions and creating cultural centres of art, music and poetry.

It is bizarre that sections of Hindu community protested violently for months based on rumours that the film did not honour the historical Rajput queen Padmawati whom they had respected. After the movie is released, it became clear that protests by Hindu groups were based on ill advice to gain political mileage in corrupt political system of India. Instead it should be the Muslims and right minded historians who should be critical of wrongful depictions in the movie.

Cinema is a powerful medium and the film makers must act responsibly to avoid encouraging extremist elements to exploit public sentiments. Padmaavat seems to be a  clear attempt to demonise Muslims in India who have been targeted increasingly since right wing Hindu PM Narendra Modi came to power.