Not just Bajirao Mastani, most historical films attract criticism and controversy. Here are seven

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For those of you who have seen Bajirao Mastani, you were probably amused by the long disclaimer at the start that the movie doesn’t claim to be an accurate depiction of historical facts.

Yet the film had banned in Pakistan for being “anti-Islamic”, and some screenings of this Bhansali film have canceled in Pune because it “distorts the historical facts”. So we can’t really blame the director given our propensity to get hurt by everything else, especially historical films. Here is a list of a few other films that have been mired in controversy because someone somewhere felt “how-could-they-show-this.”

This film is about the 16eruler of the century, Akbar, and he drew anger for depicting historical inaccuracies in the film’s narrative. The magnum opus directed by Ashutosh Gowarikar drew sharp criticism from a section of Rajputs weeks before its release for being an example of politically motivated historical revisionism. The screening of the film was blocked in Rajasthan because Rajputs claimed 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 that the film portrays Jodhaa as the daughter of Amber Raja Bharmal, a fact that is historically incorrect. The film was banned in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar pradesh, Haryana and Uttarakhand.

Mangal Pandey – The Ascension (2005)

How far can you fictionalize historical facts to advance the film? Not much, if we are to believe the descendants of Mangal Pandey. A petition was taken to the High Court for portraying Mangal Pandey in a bad light in the film. The film which chronicles the life of Mangal Pandey also contains scenes which show him in a relationship with a nautch girl, which the petition says is not based on any historical evidence. When it came to Mangal Pandey, even political parties have joined the ban movement. In August 2005, the BJP required a film ban saying that the film engages in character assassination. Simultaneously, Samajwadi feast Leader Uday Pratap Singh called for the Rajya Sabha’s film to be banned due to “misrepresentation” of Mangal Pandey. The film also sparked protests in Mangal Pandey’s hometown of Ballia.

March 23, 1931: Shahid(2002)

There was a line on the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) demanding multiple cuts in this film based on the events that led to the hanging of Bhagat Singh. The council felt that the scenes of Bhagat Singh reading a book on Lenin “glorify Russia” and therefore should be removed from the film. Streamlining the cuts in the film, the then CBFC president was also quick to add that “we have to be very careful not to praise Bhagat Singh at the expense of other national leaders.” As an angry retaliation, the filmmaker was 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 at the beginning the film drew flak from Bhagat Singh’s family who refuted the film’s claim that Singh was engaged to a girl from Manawalegaon, he was also embroiled in a controversy with the film’s certification committee. Faced with the same fate as the film mentioned above, the CBFC removed derogatory statements such as “you lie” and “history will never forgive you” made by Singh’s supporters to Mahatma Gandhi. Vijay Anand, then president of the CBFC, defended the cuts, saying, “Gandhi’s representation is very low. He doesn’t even hold his head up. I told the filmmakers that he was the father of the nation. Don’t let him look like a cow.

How do you expect an Englishman making a film about Mahatma Gandhi to go without hungama? Controversial hit the film from the minute it was announced, with questions raised about it receiving financial backing from the government. Even in Parliament, many have expressed concerns about the cost and the making or intention of the film. After the release, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose admirers were upset because their hero was of little importance. British historians were upset because they believed the film did not recognize the British desire to abandon their Indian possessions and focus on rebuilding their country after WWII. Oh and yes, the Pakistanis felt so insulted by the sketchy portrayal of Jinnah that they made their own movie about him. Unfortunately, it has gone unnoticed.

The eminent historian Dr Manmath Das disapproved of the film for distorting the town of Kalinga in the film by saying, “If this is a historical film, it will be an affront to the culture and heritage of Orissa.” Shah Rukh Khan’s star was based on Emperor Ashoka and the famous Battle of Kalinga and is said to have taken too many cinematic freedoms. Several political torchbearers of Oriya culture, including the former Speaker of the Orissa Assembly, have gone so far as to urge the chief minister to ban the film in the state. According to them, the director, Santosh Sivan, gave no importance to the historical context and had serious doubts about the legitimacy of his screenplay.

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose – The Forgotten Hero (2004)

Just before the premiere of this biopic directed by Shyam Bengal, a PIL was filed in the Calcutta High Court by five scholars who raised objections against the film’s “romantic scenes” and the fact that the narrative portrays Bose as a married person, which they say is blasphemous freedom to take . People were also upset by the expression “forgotten hero” to describe the freedom fighter.


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