Bollywood’s “Padmaavat” Shows Blatant Islamophobia

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“Padmaavat,” a Bollywood production, has been the subject of intense contention in India. In fact, it has started numerous riots around the country and massive uprisings amongst the conservative far-right Hindu population of India. “Padmaavat” is centered around a Rajput Princess, Padmavati, whose unequalled beauty leads Sultan Alauddin Khilji, a highly successful Muslim conqueror, to seek her out. Rumor spread that Padmavati, played by Deepika Padukone, would be in an intimate scene with Sultan Alauddin, played by Ranveer Singh, so India’s religiously polarized society was highly offended.

Padmavati is beloved by the far right. Her dedication to protecting her kingdom in Chittor and staying faithful to her husband, Maharawal Ratan Sing, King of Mewar, has made her one of the most dignified women of India’s past. She is so highly regarded that people refuse to acknowledge that she is a fictitious character from Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem, “Padmavat.”

Knowing this bit of information, any rumor and ill-wished word against her is taken seriously by a large part of India. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s largest and most far right Hindu Nationalist political party, scheduled riots and burned effigies of Sanjay Bhansali, the director of Padmaavat. In fact, the creators of Padmaavat initially named the movie Padmavati, but demands from the BJP and Central Board of Film Certification, forced the creator to rename their movie “Padmaavat” in an effort to appease the violence that was ensuing. Another major hit that this movie faces is that many movie theatres around India banned any showings of the movie. Dhruvi Cee, a senior at UCI, noted that when her parents traveled to Gujrat, all the stores and theatres closed down in protest of this movie, as theaters vowed to never show it.

Of course, the comedic aspect of this whole conundrum is that the rumor was never true and director Bhansali portrayed Muslims in a horrible light. In fact, this movie glorified Hindu kings and vilified Muslim rulers to such an extent that the movie seemed like BJP propaganda. Malak Kudaimi, an American-Syrian student at UCI, “was really annoyed by the depictions of Muslims in the movie because everything depicted as being Muslim is the exact opposite of Muslim values. Like Muslim Kings tended to be clean, but Alauddin was the dirtiest man ever and gluttonous…and these are sins [in Islam].” Natasha Kaushal, a UCI public health student, further commented that “all Bhansali productions are over-the-top and India just eats that up.” She continued to state that these sort of negative depictions of Muslims are “what the Hindu right likes, they just eat that up, they love this. This appeals to their fears and misconceptions.”

Ironically, despite the terrible storyline, Islamophobic narrative, and pushback from the far right, Padmaavat — a $33 million production — grossed $90 million in the box office. In fact, it is the largest-grossing Bollywood movie in India. As problematic as Padmaavat was, the story and controversy certainly stirred emotions and bolstered its position in the media. However, it was simply an awful movie and truly not worth watching. If one would like to gain insight into India’s blatantly Islamophobic movements, though, this movie certainly achieves it.

Sharmin Shanur is a second-year cognitive sciences major. She can be reached at sshanur@uci.edu.

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