Some political parties and individuals in Maharashtra have been protesting against the release and screening of a Marathi film Har Har Mahadev and the on-going production of another, Vedaat Marathi Veer Daudle Saat. Both films are based on the life and times of Chhatrapati Shivaji.
Some political parties and their leaders have opposed both films, while others stand by the movies. The controversy over the films started primarily with Sambhajiraje, the 13th descendant of the great Maratha warrior king Shivaji, claiming at a press conference that history had been distorted in Har Har Mahadev. He also flayed the costumes of Shivaji’s soldiers, the Mavlas, in the film Vedaat Marathi Veer Daudle Saat. The film is yet to be completed, but Sambhajiraje criticised the costumes, especially the headgear.
Chhatrapati Shivaji was not a descendant of a ruler or of any royal family. He became a king on his own efforts with the backing of his lieutenants as well as the masses.
In light of this, the descendants of this great ruler and warrior should show what their achievements and contributions to society are, instead of merely basking in the glory of being the 13th generation of the family tree.
India has abolished the conferring of non-military titles on its citizens and as a republic, we have abolished princely states, so the titles went too. In this situation, the descendants of Shivaji should not be using the title Chhatrapati.
Being a descendant of any great personality is no great achievement of the person in that position. There are others who may not be related by blood to such a personality, but should be considered descendants of that personality when they implement the teachings of that person in their lives.
In that sense, there are thousands of people who call themselves Gandhian, and rightly so, because they try to put into practice all that the Mahatma taught. Many of them are more Gandhian than the biological descendants of the apostle of peace.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and its leaders have also objected to the screening of Har Har Mahadev, on the same grounds, that history has been distorted in the film.
History is not an empirical science. It is based more on perceptions than merely on facts. There are scores of books on Chhatrapati Shivaji, with different interpretations of the ruler and his rule, and readers accept what gratifies them.
The behaviour of members of the NCP, led by former Maharashtra minister Jitendra Awhad, is most deplorable, given the manner in which they opposed the screening of Har Har Mahadev in Thane. There are allegations that they beat up members of the audience for having come to watch the film.
Mr Awhad’s objection is to the way the main character in the film, Baji Prabhu Deshpande, addresses the Maratha king by his name. He also claimed that there are scenes in the film which are “not true”. Mr Awhad or even Sambhajiraje speak as if they were witness to all the incidents depicted in the film.
Opposition to any work, whether a film or a book, should be democratic. Those opposing the production or screening of the film could have held peaceful demonstrations outside the theatres screening the film. A better way is to make a film or write a book to project that which one thinks or believes to be the reality.
Mr Awhad is an intelligent man and has the experience of conducting research, having earned a doctorate. Nothing stops him, or Sambhajiraje, from presenting their understanding of Chhatrapati Shivaji. Sambhajiraje was a Member of Parliament, having been elected on a BJP ticket.
So both main protestors are part of the political movement of the country. Apart from trying to decide what the history of the Maratha ruler is and opposing certain presentations, they should also let the world know what they have done to implement the teachings of Chhatrapati Shivaji.
There are numerous aspects of the Maratha king’s rule and personality that need to be brought forth for the public at large to know his greatness. Yet, certain sections of society have deliberately projected Chhatrapati Shivaji as having been anti-Muslim, which is far from the truth.
He was against the Mughals and fought them, not because they were Muslims, but because they were invaders. The interpretation of the term Hindavi Swarajya by some is incorrect. The term was used by Chhatrapati Shivaji for the establishment of Indian self-rule and not a kingdom of Hindus!
Those repeating the name of Shivaji are silent when women are raped or sexually harassed. Shivaji did not spare anyone when it came to giving justice to women who were raped or whose modesty was outraged. There are numerous reports of crimes against women in the country, yet these protestors are silent on the issue.
Farmers in Maharashtra have been demanding that the Government should declare a wet famine in the state, but the Government is silent on the issue. Those alleging that the history related to Shivaji has been distorted in films are mute on the issue of the farmers, which could mean they are ignorant of the progressive steps the king had taken to protect farmers in his kingdom.
He ensured that no taxes were collected from farmers during famine; rather, they were given aid, including loans, to be paid over a fairly long period of time.
He had issued a dictate to protect trees at a time when wood was required to build ships for his navy, but when over 2,000 trees were cut in Aarey Colony in Mumbai to make way for a metro car shed, the worshippers of Shivaji were silent.
Shivaji made great contributions for the welfare of his kingdom and his subjects; small people cannot decide his stature.
The author is a senior journalist and media trainer. He tweets at @a_mokashi