'My heart was filled with pride while watching Padmaavat.'
'It is a film for every Indian.'
'The film is a passionate, unadulterated, homage to the valour and integrity of the Rajput community.'
'Not a word, not a frame, in the film is an insult to the community.'
Shyam Benegal sees a deep-rooted political conspiracy in what is happening to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat.
That's because the veteran director had filmed the story of Alauddin Khilji's violent obsession for Rani Padmavati many years ago, and not a stir of protest had happened.
"This is not an issue of tolerance/intolerance," he explains. "It is something else entirely. I see a deep-rooted political conspiracy in what is happening to Sanjay Bhansali's film."
"The protests have nothing to do with the content of the film. I've filmed the same saga way back in 1988 for my series Bharat Ek Khoj on Doordarshan. Om Puri had played Alauddin Khilji."
Interestingly, Benegal's vision of what transpired between Rani Padmini and Khilji was also based on Malik Mohammed Jayasi's poem, Padmaavat.
"Jayasi's beautiful 15th century poem is based on the idea of unattainable love," says Shyambabu. "He talks of love as something that can be desired, never fulfilled."
"The poem describes the mad infatuation of Alauddin Khilji for Rani Padmavati. I was deeply moved by it. We shot the story exactly the way Jayasi described it in his poem. At the end, Rani Padmavati commits jauhar along with hundreds of followers. I haven't seen Bhansali's film, but I presume this is exactly what transpires in it."
Interestingly, Bhansali was part of Benegal's Padmavati episode.
Reveals Benegal, "Sanjay Bhansali was an assistant director in my Padmavati episode of Bharat Ek Khoj. His sister Bela Sehgal and brother-in-law Deepak Sehgal were also involved as editors."
Shyambabu wonders why the government is silent over these unlawful protests.
"We have these strange men with their aggressive demeanour going on national television to issue open threats. The law enforcers know exactly who they are. Why are they not being arrested even when they openly issue threats against the director and his actor?," he asks.
"I certainly see a political conspiracy in this. This is nothing but an attempt to appease the Rajput vote bank. Why are no arrests being made when even school children are being threatened?"
Would Shyambabu hesitate to direct Padmavati today as he had done 30 years ago?
"Not at all," he answers promptly. "One doesn't think of these things while making a film. But I repeat, what is happening to Sanjay Bhansali's film is no ordinary protest. It is something else, beyond my understanding."
Meanwhile, Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi, who watched the film at a screening on Wednesday night, were bowled over by the experience.
"I saw the film and I feel it is among the most accomplished achievements I've seen in Indian cinema in recent times," Javedsaab says. "I fail to understand what the protesters are protesting against."
"The film is a passionate, unadulterated, homage to the valour and integrity of the Rajput community. Not a word, not a frame, in the film is an insult to the community," he says.
"In fact, it is insulting to the film to suggest that it, in any way, insults the very community it honours."
Adds Shabana: "It is a film that should be sent as India's entry to the Oscars. My heart was filled with pride while watching Padmaavat. It is a film for every Indian."
"I was completely drawn in by the storytelling. It is spectacular and spell-binding."
Reacting to the lack of support from within the film industry, Shabana says, "The film industry is being accused for its lack of support for the director and his team, which is not fair."
"We were prevented from doing so as the producers thought it was more prudent not to be confrontational. I believe that if FIRs had been lodged in the first place when SLB was assaulted in Rajasthan, things would not have reached this state."