Responding to Sena threats, Bajirao Mastani star Priyanka Chopra stands up for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s right to interpret a story the way he wants
With the Shiv Sena threatening to disrupt the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Bajirao Mastani and the chief minister asking officials to look into the issue, the film’s star Priyanka Chopra told mid-day that the director has the right to interpret the story the way he wanted to.
A statue of Bajirao Ballal (Balaji) Bhat also known as Bajirao I at Shaniwarwada, Pune. Pic/Wikicommons
On Wednesday, the Sena demanded that the makers must cut portions that allegedly distort Maratha history, saying the film portrays Bajirao Peshwa and his spouses, Kashibai and Mastani, in a manner that hurts the sentiments of the family’s descendants in particular and the Marathi people in general.
Priyanka Chopra plays Bajirao’s first wife Kashibai in the film
With Sena legislator Pratap Sarnaik petitioning the CM, Fadnavis asked officials to verify the claims made by the aggrieved descendants of Bajirao and Mastani and “take proper action, if the filmmaker is at fault.”
Ranveer Singh and Priyanka Chopra during a promotional event for the film Bajirao Mastani. Pic/AFP
Sarnaik said the party has taken the “democratic” route before resorting to Sena-style tactics. “The CM has started the procedure and there are 9-10 days for the film’s release. We expect positive action from the government,” he told mid-day from Nagpur, where the winter session of the State Legislature is currently on.
(L to R) Shaheen Bahadur, Nawab Zulfikar Bahadur, Owais Bahadur Nawab Sahab - Indore (descendant of Mastani Baisaheb), Udaysinh Peshwa (descendant of Shrimant Bajirao Peshwa), Shrimant Sardar Satyasheelraje Dabhade (a descendant of Sarsenapati Umabaisaheb Khanderao Dabhade - the only female Commander-in-chief of the Maratha Army), and Usman Bahadur (son of Owais Bahadur) filed a plea before the Indore bench of the Madhya Pradesh HC seeking a stay on the release. Pic/Bipin Kokate
While Bhansali could not be reached for comment till press time, Priyanka Chopra, who plays Kashibai, told mid-day the film was entirely the director’s vision and it was entirely Bhansali’s prerogative how he wanted to present a particular story.
“For me, whatever I have done is completely and absolutely going by Bhansali’s vision,” said Chopra. “The film is based on a book and the book is inspired by the life of a legend from the 1700s. It is entirely a director’s vision and prerogative about how he wants to present a particular story. And that’s what happens in a democratic country. How are we to say what Bajirao’s personality was in his personal life?”
She said the best anyone, including historians, would know of is Bajirao’s public persona. “How do we know he didn’t dance, smile or didn’t express happiness in his private life?” the actor asked. “We have to allow a director’s vision and imagination to portray what he thinks could have happened. We must just see it as nothing but the cinematic vision of an extremely prolific filmmaker.”
There are others who get Bhansali’s predicament. San Francisco-based business analyst Ram Sivasankaran is the writer of The Peshwa, a soon-to-be-launched fictional account inspired by the life of Bajirao I.
Sivasankaran said people should understand the difference between ‘inspired by history’ and an ‘account of history’. His book, he said, is the first. “The characters are all real and some scenes in the book are inspired by actual accounts. But selective exaggeration is part of creative liberty,” said Sivasankaran.
That the Maratha general didn’t have reams in history books dedicated to him got Sivasankaran curious five years ago when he first heard of Bajirao’s battlefield prowess. “I believe he fought over 40 battles and didn’t lose any. That’s an impressive track record by any standard. He was valiant but also prudent,” said Sivasankaran, calling himself a history enthusiast.
That authentic historical accounts relating to the Marathas are not easy to come by made preliminary research a challenge, he said. It’s also the argument Bhansali’s sympathisers use to challenge his critics who claim he hasn’t stayed true to facts. Sivasankaran said even Rau by NS Inamdar, the novel that Bhansali’s film is based on, is a fictional account.
“Writers, filmmakers don’t mean to offend. Their works are only a tribute to those not discussed enough,” argued Sivasankaran, saying Indians in pockets outside Maharashtra are most likely ignorant of Bajirao I’s contribution. “School books don’t do enough. If a film or book is going to generate an interest in the public over someone whose legacy deserves discussing, that’s only good. If a fictional account can goad someone to dig for a historical record, that’s great.”
Dr Suraj Pandit, head of the department of Ancient Indian Culture, Sathaye College, Vile Parle, said the objections raised by the Sena and the peshwa’s descendents were valid. “As a historian and archeologist, I can tell you that the objections raised about the contents are based on historical evidence,” he said, adding that cinematic liberty didn’t mean disrespecting cultural and historical aspects.
“Artists too are part and parcel of cultural heritage and should respect culture, heritage and traditions. Artists cannot treat themselves independently,” said Pandit. Sivasankaran isn’t sure how his own work will be received, but he thinks an honest disclaimer on the opening page of his book should suffice.
One of the scenes in the film a descendant of the Peshwa took objection to is of Ranveer Singh pouring water on Priyanka Chopra’s head. In Sivasankaran’s work, there is a part where Bajirao sneaks into ‘early sleeper’ Kashibai’s bedchamber because he has ‘so much to tell you’. Where does one draw the line and what does he think of how his book will be received?
“I can’t predict the way my book will be received. There is a chance big and small that people may take objection but I’ve been honest with my disclaimer. It’s my tribute to Bajirao.”
(With inputs from Shubha Shetty-Saha)
All for political mileage
Sources in the Sena said the party will forcibly stop the movie from releasing if the CM did not act. Fadnavis’ remarks on the letter did not elaborate as to how the inquiry would be conducted or who will preside over it. The Sena sees the issue as an extension of playing the Marathi card for scoring political brownie points over the BJP, said a senior sainik.
“The Sena will not let Bhansali go. The movie distorts history and doesn’t represent Maharashtrian culture and traditions,” said Sarnaik, who also demanded that state legislators should be allowed to watch the movie and approve its release.
He said sainiks across the state were already networking over the issue. The Sena MLA’s complaint says that the film would be released globally later this month and hence it is pertinent to correct factual errors in presenting Maratha history and Bajirao’s personal life.
“Sadly, the grievances of descendants of aggrieved families have gone unheard. The objections raised are also supported by historians and social organisations,” said Sarnaik, demanding further that the family and historians be allowed to see the film and clear it for screening.
The aggrieved descendants of Bajirao Peshwa and Mastani told the media last week that their petition made earlier to the CM had gone unheard. They said that they have also complained to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Ministry of Culture and the Censor Board.
They have received a response from the Ministry of Culture, which says that this issue wasn’t under its purview. The descendants of Bajirao Peshwa haven’t seen the film as yet, but whatever promos and songs they have seen have upset them.
Udaysinh Peshwa said: “The kind of dance shown in the film is wrong. Bajirao has never danced. I have objection to the songs, ‘Pinga’ and ‘Malhaar’. Also, the lyrics of ‘Pinga’ are unacceptable. The makers of the film have never consulted us to get any detail on the great warrior.”
Owais Bahadur, heir of Mastani, claimed: “Has there ever been a king in India who made his wives dance in his court? The makers never consulted us. Show us the film. Remove all the objectionable shots and then release it.”
You're on record
Pratap Sarnaik, Shiv Sena MLA
The song picturised on queen Kashibai and Mastani and the song in which Bajirao Peshwa dances in vulgar fashion holding his ponytail is not acceptable to the heart and mind of Marathi legislators like me.