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Padmavat – Purshottam Agrawal

Padmavat – Purshottam Agrawal

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Padmavat – Purshottam Agrawal

Shweta Kapoor


Given the length of Jayasi’s original poem, how would you describe your writing process? Also, what was the process of editing like? 

I tried to present the narrative, as it is essentially a gripping story. I omitted the unnecessary details on one hand, on the other, took important points in the narrative as the opportunity to reflect on Jayasi’s poetic genius and put it in the larger historical as well as philosophical context. 

I consistently underlined the need to keep the time distance between him and us in mind, and warned against the tendency to ‘oppose’ or ‘support’ the text as if it was written a couple of years ago, through this great epic. Let me, by the way tell you, I have been enamoured with this work for around four decades, i.e. ever since I studied it in my M.A. syllabus. And, as I say in the author’s note, ” If you can read Awadhi and consider poetry something more than a mere pastime, have some existential concerns and value love in your life, you are bound to be as enamoured of Padmavat as I am.” 


Jayasi’s Padmavat can be considered as an allegory to love. Do you think Jayasi in his quest epitomize and celebrate love also overly idealized female form of beauty?

Yes, it can be said, that is why it is important to keep the time distance in mind. After all, in his time, heroes of epics went only after exceptional ‘beauties’! But, at the same time, as I have hinted in my reflections, this could also have something to do with the fact that Jayasi was quite ‘ugly’ looking and had to suffer a lot of body shaming. It is to be noted that nowhere in his epic , any of the characters indulge in body shaming. 


Given the conflict between movies and actual texts these days, why do you think there is a raging disparity between the way movies present historical figures and the original character? What are the ethics do you think that the movie makers should consider before presenting such historical characters?

The artists, to my mind should have unbridled creative freedom to imagine their characters including historical ones. The question of ‘authenticity’ is much less relevant than  that of sensitivity of treatment. When you watch a movie, or read a movie you must tell yourself that you are not reading history proper. Creative works ought to be judged on different parameters. Anarkali is not a historical figure, but it does not make K.Asif’s Mughl E Azam any less grand and moving as a film. There can not be any scope of any mob censorship in the sphere of arts. I hold this in case of film ‘Padmavat’ as well.
Having said this, I think Mr. Bhansali’s Padmavat was  an extremely bad a film, just as was his Devdas. He showed a remarkable lack of sensitivity to the narrative in completely erasing  HIraman the parrot, who in fact is most ‘humane’ character in Jayasi’s epic. My compliant with the film is primarily its claim of being ‘based upon Jayasi’. It is simply not. Instead of bringing Jayasi in, he should have said “It is my reading of the story.”     


Many poets and authors wrote in their native languages during the pre-colonial times. Why do you think that the popularity of vernacular literature and languages decreased over time?

It is due to English language fast spreading as the language of aspirational  classes, particularly the youth. 


While Padmavati’s identity is still a debatable and sensitive topic for certain groups of people. What was the initial reaction of most people to your book? What kind of reviews did you receive? 

 The reviews and reactions were and continue to be fantastic. In fact, the book went out of print in a month or so, and had to be reprinted. Translations in Hindi and Marathi are coming out soon. Obviously, the people realised that my book is an informed and sensitive reading of the struggle, tragedy and immortality of love, not an attempt to create deliberate controversy. I feel humbly happy that many readers described this book as a ‘transformative’ one. 


What other indigenous tales and stories do you think, that are gradually vanishing need to be revived and retold in our society to preserve the culture and history?

Well, I am working on a similar book on Kabir these days. Plan to write on Tulsidas soon after. 


For a person starting into vernacular literature, what books or book translations would you suggest? Which Indian storytellers or poets would you say have achieved greatness through their prose and poetry?

As a matter of fact, there are so many to name, when you use the expression, ‘vernacular’. Confining myself only to modern ones in Hindi, Urdu and Bengali  I would just mention couple of ‘classic’ writers available in good english translations– Premchand, ‘Nirala’, V.B. Bandypadhayay, Tarashankar Banerjee, ( Hopefully, Tagore everyone knows already), Quratul Ain Hyder, Intezar Hussain…. 

The truth of the matter is that the “vernacular” literatures of India are far ahead in their vitality and spirit of adventure. Our youth will do a lot of good to themselves by reading these literatures. 

About the Interviewee:

Purushottam Agrawal is a Former Member, Union Public Service Commission
His academic interests include Bhakti poetry and its social context (especially that of Kabir), indigenous (“vernacular”) modernity, non-violence and cultural & literary criticism.