Long before Bhansali, Padmavati was a French opera!


Sanjay Leela Bhansali wasn’t the first man to be ensnared by the magic of the Padmavati legend. In all the hullaballoo over his upcoming Padmavati, it’s almost forgotten that Bhansali himself had also presented an opera by the same name on the Parisian stage in 2008. And this itself was no original work… he had been invited to Paris’s prestigious Theatre du Chatelet to direct the 1923 opera ballet Padmavati, written by French composer Albert Roussel.

An opera in two acts, it was a retelling of the legend recounted in Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s poem, Padmavat (1540). It had been first performed at the Paris Opéra on June 1, 1923. Roussel had styled the work as an opéra-ballet, with dance numbers and “opportunities for spectacle”.

Apparently, the composer had been inspired by his visit to the ruined city of Chittor in then Rajputana, and he went on to incorporate many features of Indian music into the score.
The setting, around 1300 AD, depicted the Mongol sultan Alauddin besieging the city of Chittor. He comes to its ruler, Ratan-Sen, asking for peace negotiations. Ratan-Sen shows him around the city. Alauddin also asks to be granted a glimpse of Ratan-Sen's wife, Padmavati, who is legendary for her beauty. Ratan-Sen reluctantly agrees. Alauddin refuses to make peace unless Padmavati is handed over to him.

In Act Two, the Mongols are shown attacking the city, while Padmavati and the wounded Ratan-Sen take refuge in the temple of Siva. Ratan-Sen tells his wife that the people will be massacred unless she gives herself to Alauddin. Ratan-Sen is stoned to death, and Padmavati joins him on his funeral pyre rather than giving herself to Alauddin…

Bhansali’s operatic version in 2008 had featured local actors, the original score, and a tiger, a python and an elephant, as it premiered at the Theatre Du Chatelet in Paris in 2008.

Back then he had said in an interview, “Padmavati’s story is not sad because I find that there is a whole paradox of finding her as a warrior in her last moments of destroying herself. Because her husband lost the war and she did not give herself to Allaudin Khilji, she said, ‘No, I will not die.’ Now that needs so much more courage, to walk into the fire and say, ‘The enemy doesn’t get us. Our pride, our dignity remains.’ So it is not tragedy, it is for me a great ending.”

Hopefully, there is a great ending for the film as well, starring Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone and Shahid Kapoor, which is poised to release on December 1, amidst constant and often violent protests.