Not just Bajirao Mastani, most historical films attract flak and controversies. Here are seven

You can’t blame Bhansali for that long disclaimer in his recent film.

Not just Bajirao Mastani, most historical films attract flak and controversies. Here are seven
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For those of you who have seen Bajirao Mastani, you were probably amused with the long disclaimer right at the beginning that says the film does not claim to be an accurate representation of historical facts.

Yet the film got banned in Pakistan for being “anti-Islamic”, and a few shows of this Bhansali film got cancelled in Pune because it “distorts historical facts”. So you can’t really blame the director given our propensity to get hurt by every other thing, especially historical films. Here’s a list of some other films that were mired in controversy because someone somewhere felt “how-could-they-show-this”.

Jodhaa-Akbar (2008)

This film is about the 16th-century ruler, Akbar, and it drew ire for portraying historical inaccuracies in the film’s narrative. The Ashutosh Gowarikar-directed magnum opus drew sharp criticism from a section of Rajputs weeks before its release for being a politically-motivated instance of historical revisionism. The screening of the film was blocked in Rajasthan because Rajputs asserted that Jodhaa was married to Salim, Akbar’s son, while the film shows Jodhaa as Akbar’s wife. Narendra Singh Rajawat, head of the Rajput Sabha, also said the film portrays Jodhaa as Amber’s Raja Bharmal’s daughter, a fact that is historically incorrect. The film was banned in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Uttarakhand.

Mangal Pandey – The Rising (2005)

How far can you fictionalise historical facts to take the film forward? Not a lot, if descendants of Mangal Pandey are to be believed. A petition was filed in the High Court for portraying Mangal Pandey in a bad light in the film. The film that chronicles Mangal Pandey’s life also has scenes that show him in a relationship with a nautch girl, which the petition said is not based on any historical evidence. When it came to Mangal Pandey, even political parties joined the banning bandwagon. In August 2005, the BJP demanded a ban on the film saying the film indulges in character assassination. Simultaneously, Samajwadi Party leader Uday Pratap Singh called for a ban on the film in the Rajya Sabha owing to “inaccurate portrayal” of Mangal Pandey. The film also elicited protests in Mangal Pandey’s native distict of Ballia.

23rd March 1931: Shaheed(2002) 

There was a row over the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) demanding several cuts in this film that was based on the events that led to the hanging of Bhagat Singh. The board felt that scenes of Bhagat Singh reading a book on Lenin “glorifies Russia” and therefore should be chopped off from the film. Rationalising the cuts in the film, the then CBFC Chairman was also quick to add that “we have to be very careful that we do not praise Bhagat Singh at the expense of other national leaders.” As an angry retort, the writer of the film made his point clear when he said, “Why can’t we live with the truth? We hide it in our textbooks, in our films, everywhere.”

The Legend of Bhagat Singh (2002) 

While initially the film drew flak from Bhagat Singh’s family who rubbished the film’s claim that Singh was engaged to a girl from Manawalegaon, it was also embroiled in a controversy with the film certification board. Meeting the same fate as the film mentioned above, the CBFC deleted derogatory statements like “you are lying” and “history will never forgive you” made by Singh’s followers to Mahatma Gandhi. Vijay Anand, the then CBFC Chairman, defended the cuts by saying, “Gandhi’s portrayal is very weak. He doesn’t even hold his head high. I told the filmmakers he was the father of the nation. Don’t let him look like a cow.”

Gandhi (1982)

How do you expect an Englishman making a film on Mahatma Gandhi to pass without any hungamaControversy hit the film from the minute it was announced, with questions being raised on it receiving financial backing from the government. Even in Parliament, many expressed concerns about the cost and the direction or the intent of the film. After the release, admirers of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose were upset as their hero was given very little importance. British historians were upset as they felt the film didn’t acknowledge the fact that the British were eager to give up their Indian possessions and concentrate on rebuilding their country following World War II. Oh and yes, the Pakistanis felt so insulted by the sketchy portrayal of Jinnah that they made their own film on him. Sadly, it went unnoticed.

Ashoka (2001)

Prominent historian Dr Manmath Das disapproved of the film for misrepresenting the city of Kalinga in the film saying: “If it is taken to be a historical film, then it will amount to an affront on the culture and heritage of Orissa.” The Shah Rukh Khan-starrer was based on emperor Ashoka and the famous battle of Kalinga and was alleged to have taken too many cinematic liberties. Several political torchbearers of Oriya culture, including the former speaker of Orissa Assembly, went to the extent of urging the chief minister to ban the film in the state. According to them, the director, Santosh Sivan, gave no importance to historical background and had serious doubts about the legitimacy of his storyline. 

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – The Forgotten Hero (2004)

Right before the premiere of this Shyam Bengal-directed biopic, a PIL was filed in Calcutta High Court by five researchers who raised objections to the “romantic scenes” in the film and the fact that the narrative depicted Bose as a married person, which according to them is a blasphemous liberty to take. People were also upset with phrase the “forgotten hero” to describe the freedom fighter.

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