End Bollywood control of geography of greatness

In Canadian actor Akshay Kumar’s crossword version of Indian history, ‘Mughal’ is a four-letter word.

Published: 12th June 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th June 2022 03:30 PM   |  A+A-

A still from Akshay Kumar-starrer 'Prithviraj'.

A still from Akshay Kumar-starrer 'Samrat Prithviraj'.

In Canadian actor Akshay Kumar’s crossword version of Indian history, ‘Mughal’ is a four-letter word. The emergent hatred towards India’s most prominent Muslim rulers is a box office guarantee. But Kumar’s database ends at the Vindhyas. South India came under Islamic rule, starting from the plundering mass murderer Allauddin Khilji in 1310 to Aurangzeb in 1636.

The Delhi Sultanate conquered the Kakatiyas of Warangal, Yadavas of Devagiri, Hoysalas of Halebidu and the Pandyas of Madurai. Nobody in Telangana seems indignant enough about Tughlaq’s rule to vote for Hindutva. Maybe because Southern wars were largely internecine, between Muslim rulers themselves, and against Mughals who coveted wealthy Deccan. The Mughals briefly bested Shivaji, who was betrayed by Aurangzeb’s Hindu Rajput general Jai Singh, who humiliated him with the Treaty of Purandar in 1665.

There is an invisible cultural and geographical polarisation cleaving India’s historical narrative—between the North and the South. India’s rookie cultural commandos like Kumar, Kangana Ranaut and Vivek Agnihotri, driven by political avarice or ignorance, haven’t made a single film on ‘South Indian rulers who created empires larger than, or as large as King Vikramaditya. True, Prithviraj Chauhan was a courageous warrior who ultimately lost his kingdom and his life; no Rajput has ever defeated the Mughals decisively.

Either they perished in battle, or, like rajas Jaswant Singh and Man Singh, became generals, vassals and officers in Islamic imperial administrations. Shivaji had both Hindu friends and foes in Aurangzeb’s court: Kunwar Ram Singh and his father Jai Singh as backers and Maharaja Jaswant Singh as an insecure enemy. Bollywood, lacking the brains to unravel India’s complex past, is promoting Northern cultural adventurism. But the great Southern heroes, who are denied a lead role by knowledge-challenged Bollywood, have played greater roles in military history than any Rajasthani king.

But why is there no Hindi movie on the Southern Samurais, the Nairs, whose chaver pada literally means army committed to death? Don’t bet on Kumar or Ajay Devgn to star as Rajendra Chola or Jatavarman or Rajaraja Chola whose Tamil imperiums extended to foreign lands. The movie Padmaavat glorifies sati, with Adityanath competitor Shivraj Singh Chauhan even calling her “India’s mother”; but why is there no Hindi movie on the ferocious Tulu queen Rani Abbakka who tormented the Portuguese?

Or on Naiki Devi, Gujarat’s Chalukya queen who defeated Muhammad Ghori—the same gent whom Prithviraj Chauhan defeated in the first Battle of Tarain? For one Rani Lakshmi Bai, there are Rani Rudrama Devi of Warangal and Rani Chennamma of Kittur. No script has been written on Ahmednagar’s African ruler Malik Ambar whose guerilla tactics against the Mughals inspired Shivaji. Why is Bollywood disinterested in the great Marthanda Varma, the nemesis of the Dutch in Malabar? Or in Pazhassi Raja of Travancore who sent Tipu Sultan’s garrisons packing to Mysore and was ultimately killed by the British in the Cotiote War?

Martyrdom and glory do not enjoy geographical copyright in the story of liberation. The idli dosa madrasi version of history perhaps still prevails in Bollywood in spite of Santosh Sivan and AR Rahman. Bestowing tragic glory on Rajputs, while being disdainful of Southern lieges who did not compromise their dignity, is a disservice to national pride. The hagiography of resistance in textbooks was written long before the BJP came to power. Our ruling cultural commissars may want to correct this impartially. Equity in courage is not just a North Indian portfolio.

Ravi Shankar



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