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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Padmaavat: Why the Jauhar Scene is Bhansali’s Most Haunting Conclusion Yet

Padmaavat is one of 2018’s biggest blockbusters and the most highly anticipated Bollywood films to have released last year.

In fact, the film won several awards at high-profile ceremonies as well as the National Film Awards for ‘Best Music’, ‘Best Singer’ (Arijit Singh – Binte Dil) and ‘Best Choreography’ (Kruti Mahesh, Jyothi D Tommaar – Ghoomar).

A film that was embroiled in controversies, the masterpiece became a subject of national outrage which even imperilled the lives of Deepika Padukone and Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB).

But eventually, art conquered over conflict and the film grossed over 300 crores, which can also be viewed on Amazon Prime Video.

Above everything, the movie’s visually sinister conclusion continues to leave us disturbed, even way after the movie’s theatrical run.

Padmaavat: The Brief Synopsis

Bhansali’s epic film is an adaptation of Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem also titled ‘Padmavat’.

It revolves around how the former Sultan of Delhi – Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) lusts and obsesses over Maharani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone), the queen of Chittor, Rajasthan.

Khilji stops at no costs to pursue the Maharani, who was married to Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), despite the fact that she continuously declined to go with him or to even meet him.

In the fateful year of 1303, Alauddin deceitfully defeats Ratan Singh and seizes Chittor.

At this stage, Khilji runs to the fort only to find that the Maharani committed mass suicide, known as ‘Jauhar’ with (an alleged amount of) 16,000 other Rajput girls in the kingdom.

‘Jauhar’ is the Rajputi custom of mass or self-immolation which was practised by women in parts of the Indian subcontinent, to avoid capture, enslavement and rape by any foreign conquerors, when facing certain defeat during a war.

The method of this custom usually required women to jump into a pit of fire.

What is ‘Jauhar’?

This Rajput practice is often compared to ‘Sati’ which was compulsory and often the forced burning of a widow on her deceased husband’s funeral pyre.

However, the key difference here is that ‘Jauhar’ could be done before or without knowing that the spouse(s) were dead and defeat was impending.

As such, some reports and research on Jauhar also suggest women committing self-immolation along with their children.

Prior to Padmaavat, I was unaware of the word ‘Jauhar.’ But when I read the historical context behind Maharani Padmavati, I felt awfully disturbed.

The thought of a huge group of women having to jump into the scorching fire, in compulsion and just to save their honour was distressing, to say the least.

But what was even more distressing, was the imagination of the excruciating pain they must have endured.

I felt repulsed at the fact despite us being humans from the same planet, one group had to suffer at the hands of others.

That too, to such an extent, that the other group’s means of escape was to burn themselves.

In one form or another, even today, one group suffers at the hands of another.

Why are humans so adamant about destroying the place that sustains us, OUR planet Earth? Why?

I pondered over it for days on end, only to find that there was no true answer to my concern.

Build Up to the ‘Jauhar’ Sequence

From the day I saw Padmaavat’s trailer, I became anxious and keen to see how SLB would depict this tragic yet (as some have dubbed it as a ‘heroic’) event.

As expected, the scene was another example of cinematic excellence by SLB.

I did not solely get goosebumps from the main ‘Jauhar’ sequence itself, but also from the scene where Deepika delivered a monologue.

Wearing a pink Gherdar Ghagra, adorned with heavy head jewellery and a big ethnic nose-ring, it did not feel like Padukone was performing.

But through her strong body language and posture, I genuinely felt as though the Maharani was present, making her last speech.

The close-up shot of Deepika, standing in the temple and addressing to all the women in the kingdom, exuded a sense of pride.

In fact, there were several lines which pulled my heartstrings. But the ones which truly struck me were the following:

“Jis Agni ko Sakshi maankar Saath jeene aur marne ka vachan Liya tha usi pavitra Agni ko hum phir se jalayenge, Saup denge apne app ko us aag me. Saath Mil Kar Jauhar karenge.”

(The fire for which we had sworn to live and die together with our spouses, we will once again start that sacred fire and surrender ourselves to it. Together, we will participate in Jauhar.)

“Yeh shareer raakh ho jayega par Amar rahegi Rajputi Shaan, Hamara usool, Hamara swabhimaan, Aur Yahi Alauddin ri Jeevan Ri sabse badi haar hogi.”

(This body will turn to ashes but the Rajput honour, our principals and our self-respect will remain intact and this will be the biggest defeat of Alauddin’s life).

The Final Scene

A few shots showed the women fulfilling the rituals of Jauhar, whilst a few others threw hot coals at Khilji.

Just moments later, the final scene commenced and it began with a man singing something along the lines of:

“Gherdhaar Ghaghro Gulabi Rang Chahila. Ghani Re Ghani Khamma Mhyari Sundro Rani Laage. Ghani Re Ghani Khamma Ghungariya Thora Baaje

Following this, was the chanting of ‘Jai Bhavani’ – which brought a tear to my eye as I knew for a fact these were the ultimate moments of the 16,000 Rajput women.

Maharani Padmavati ran, holding onto a long piece of white cloth with handprints by Mahrawal Ratan Singh.

However, not many understood that white cloth was a method of permission on behalf of all the women to commit Jauhar.

My Response to the Scene

What really made this part foreboding, though, was the bird’s eye view shot of the women when they were just a few inches away from the fire.

As a viewer, I felt incredibly helpless as the unfortunate events took place before me and yet I could do nothing to stop it.

Moreover, Sanchit Balhara’s background score enhanced the profound effect of the situation.

The impact was so strong, I felt binary emotions – proudness and pain – both at the same time.

Proudness, on one hand, because the women were fighting back to preserve their honour and cultural heritage.

I also felt proud because they refused to be enslaved by a foreign conqueror.

Pain, on the other hand, due to the fact that a mass number of women were compelled to take such drastic measures to avoid being captured.

Most of all, however, I felt upset by the fact that this all could have been prevented.

Especially when Ratan Singh (in the movie) could have slain the villainous Khilji at an opportune moment and therefore, as Deepika said in the film, “the pages of history could’ve been turned.”

Final Word

With regards to the Jauhar scene, the screams of the women still echo in my ear, whilst the blazing spectacle of the scene is a sight which I cannot forget.

But what also sent chills down my spine, was the eerie silence which hissed across the cinema hall as the movie’s credits began to roll.

The final black silhouette of Maharani Padmavati is not just a camera-shot, it is a harsh reminder of India’s torturous past and the number of atrocities it faced as a nation.

I sincerely hope that humanity learns from such dark chapters of history.

Anuj Radia
Journalist and film enthusiast.

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