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Jodhaa Akbar – Only A Movie

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS

NEW DELHI – Controversy raised over alleged distortion of history by the Bollywood movie Jodhaa Akbar has in its own way also exposed the degree to which the film culture can be abused by non-filmi entities for their own interests. Made on an estimated Rs 400 million budget, starring two big stars, Aishwarya Rai and Hrithik Roshan, the movie has been directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar. Those familiar with Indian history are well aware of the Mughal rule in the country having been witness to matrimonial alliances between the Mughal Emperors and the Rajput community. In the three-hour, 20-minute movie, Jodha Bai (a Rajput) has been presented as Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Akbar’s wife. A few sections of the Rajput community have protested saying that this is factually incorrect. They have alleged that Jodha Bai was not Akbar’s wife, but his daughter-in-law as she was married to his son Salim alias Jehangir.

With the film being a pure source of entertainment and not being a historical documentary, critics have questioned the credibility of such protests being voiced by Rajputs. The movie director claims to have been extremely cautious in “depicting history.” “I have been very careful in preserving Rajput pride and dignity. There is a disclaimer about the Rajput queen’s name at the beginning of the film and to see that, the protestors have to see the movie,” Gowarikar said. “I have taken the help of Akbarnama and Ain-i-Akbari with Abul Fazal, Badayuni’s Muntakhab-al- Tawarikh. If you look at Rajput history, I have read K L Khurana sahab’s Medieval India and a whole lot of books. Only then did I realize there are a lot of different names (for Jodha),” he specified.

There is also a view that the few protests against the movie have been politically motivated by several extremist elements against the secular image held about Mughal emperor Akbar. Besides, irrespective of whether her name was Jodha or not, there is no denying that Akbar and other Mughal emperors did enter into matrimonial alliances with Rajput community. If in the opinion of some, “What is in a name, it is only a movie,” others feel that issue has been deliberately provoked by communal elements. Historically, there is no evidence of there being someone named Jodha Bai, according to historian and former chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research, Irfan Habib.

Notwithstanding the controversy aroused over historical relation of Jodha Bai with Akbar, the film has certainly attracted a lot of publicity. Released on February 15 to 1300 cinema screens in 26 countries, the film is reported to have grossed Rs 385 million in its opening weekend itself. The gross collections in India alone were Rs 250 million, making it rank among the top five weekend openings of all time for a Hindi movie.

With the film not released in Rajasthan and banned in Madhya Pradesh, the distributors are likely to incur a loss of around Rs 30 million. UTV Motion Pictures, the company which has produced the movie, has moved Madhya Pradesh High Court for lifting of ban on its screening. “If nothing happens (at the High Court), then we will move Supreme Court. We won’t let this happen,” Siddharth Roy Kapoor, marketing and distribution head of UTV Motion Pictures, said. “We are appalled that the film has been banned in Madhya Pradesh. The Censor Board cleared the movie without any cuts. When a film is cleared by the Censor Board, the state should ensure that the film is screened across the country without disruption,” he said. If the ban is not lifted, the exhibitors’ association in Madhya Pradesh has threatened to go on an indefinite strike.

In Rajasthan, the Karni Sena community has been campaigning against the movie for quite sometime. It is felt that with elections around the corner in Rajasthan, a few groups have deliberately made noise against the movie to gain attention. Karni Sena activists have even written letters in blood against the film’s release in Rajasthan. Justifying their protest, Karni Sena patron Lokendra Kalvi said: “The Rajputs cannot tolerate any distortion of historical facts, especially relations between the Mughal emperor Akbar and Jodha bai.” While the film has not been banned in Rajasthan, fearing torching of cinema halls by protestors, the distributors have decided not to screen it here. Bharatiya Janata Party is in power in both the states, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where assembly elections are scheduled later this year.

Jodhaa Akbar is one of those few movies, which has put credentials of Bollywood film industry to test not simply in the field of producing films. In a subtle but definite manner, the movie has also put Indian secularism to test, which thankfully has not been disturbed by the noise made a few against distortion of historical facts. The majority have judged it only as a movie!


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