SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Thousands of miles away from the fierce protests in India, “Padmaavat,” Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus, found support from some unexpected quarters here on the first day of the controversial film’s release.
Much to the amazement of bystanders and unsuspecting moviegoers, close to 100 Indian American women, bedecked in colorful Indian attire and gleaming traditional jewelry — some even sporting a unibrow — showed up Jan. 26 evening at the AMC Mercado 20 here to support the film, which has prompted months of protests across India, and opened amid heavy security Jan. 26.
The film, which stars Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor in the lead roles, has been under attack mainly from a Rajput group in Rajasthan since the word go. Known as the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, the group has insisted that the film should be boycotted, claiming it distorts historical facts and disrespects a legendary Rajput queen. Activists of the Sena and other groups urged that the film be slapped with a nationwide ban, a request shot down by India’s Supreme Court.
The film stoked controversy over assumptions that it has a dream sequence depicting romance between the Rajput warrior queen, Padmini, and Delhi’s Muslim sultan, Alauddin Khilji.
Bhansali has repeatedly denied the existence of such scenes, and India’s censor board, too, found nothing objectionable in the film. The Central Board of Film Certification cleared the film after recommending the filmmakers make five small modifications and drop the ‘I’ from “Padmavati.”
Based on the epic, “Padmavat,” by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi, which is considered a work of fiction, the film tells the story of how a Rajput king Maharawal Ratan Singh (Kapoor) and his beautiful and courageous queen, Padmavati (Padukone), attempt to save their kingdom from Khilji (Singh), who is also obsessed with the queen’s beauty, and stops short of nothing to get her. It goes on to show how the queen chooses to make the ultimate sacrifice to protect her dignity.
Despite Bhansali claiming that the film was made as an ode to “the famed valor, legacy and courage of Rajputs,” it did nothing to stop the protests from increasing and eventually led to the film being stalled.
And now that the film has released after months of uncertainty, fans are flocking to the theaters in droves in India, as well as in the U.S. With sumptuous visuals and impeccable acting, “Padmaavat” is fast cruising toward a mega-blockbuster status. In its opening weekend in India, the film has marched past the Rs. 100 crore mark at the box office. The film has broken the record for the all-time biggest opening weekend for any Bollywood film in North America grossing $4.4 million over its three-day Friday-to-Sunday debut period and $4.9 million over the four-day Thursday-to-Sunday span, according to box office guru.
“I’m excited to see Bhansali narration, the story from his eyes,” Karishma Shah, a native of Mumbai, told India-West. “I have no connection to Rajasthan, I just looked up Deepika’s looks in the film, and tried to emulate her. May this film become like ‘Baahubali 2’ and make lots of money.”
Commenting on the film’s delayed release, and it being mired in controversies, Shah said, “Karni Sena should pick the right battles. There are so many battles they need to be fighting, like female infanticide, dowry, the list is endless. Fighting against the film is not right.”
As another gesture of support, the devoted fans of all ages tried to match Padukone’s steps from the film’s song, “Ghoomar,” which involves twirling in circles with coordinated hand movements and footwork. Soon after, the group also broke into a short rendition of the popular tune. Led by multilingual singer Nirupama Chebiyam of the San Francisco Bay Area, the women sang the “Ghoomar” song, while Balaji Mahadevan accompanied them on the dhol.
“I’m really interested in watching this story, which is not just a story but is based on the life of Queen Padmini,” Seema Vaid, who came to watch the film with her friends, told India-West. “The courage and valor of Rajputs especially when they were faced with treachery from an enemy who was extremely strong, but they stuck to their beliefs and their principles and men would die in the battlefield, and the women instead of being enslaved by the enemy, they would choose to jump into the fire with their children and that is something that really fascinates me. We decided to dress up as her to remember her legacy and have fun doing it.”
Ashwini Tamhane was voted the best dressed “Padmavaati” at the event, organized by Sheetal Gokhle and Kavita Agrawal. She won a $100 certificate from Sarini’s Creations, which was the official costume partner for the event.
“I was very curious and excited about this historical movie which was going to come in October. And I was hoping and praying that it come out sooner,” Tamhane told India-West. “It’s a dream come true to dress like a queen. I was very excited to match the way Deepika Padukone looked.”
Cupertino resident Sarini Kakkar, owner of Sarini’s Creations and a jewelry designer, told India-West that she decided to outsource the outfits and the jewelry to Jaipur, Rajasthan, to dress up some of the women since “this is a movie depicting Rani Padmavati who is a Rajputani from Rajasthan.”
“I realized that since this is such a big film, why don’t I do lehengas and saris with gota pati work, which comes from Rajasthan, and give women an opportunity to dress up like Rajputanis,” she said.
The proceeds of the ticket sales were donated to the India Literacy Project.
Watch the dance here: