Indian History presented Bollywood style, but is it Distorted?

No doubt the controversy brings the movie into the limelight and ensures opening at the box office. But, this tactic could never assure success without the overwhelming public response.

E.H.Carr defines History in his book What is History? that ‘it is a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past, where historian collects all the facts available in sources, organise them in a coherent fashion and fills the gaps with his understanding and imagination’.

As objective history is a myth so do our Bollywood historical movies have some fictional elements attached to them. In Ashutosh Gowariker’s film, Jodha-Akbar (2008) came into controversy over the identity of Jodha Bai.

Where does history place Jodha Bai: Akbar’s wife or daughter-in-law?
This historical epic had re-ignited the debate that does cinematic liberty have the right to distort the historical facts for presenting suspected romantic love story. Jodha Akbar portrayed on bigger than life canvas with lavish production, huge sets, luxurious costumes and ostentatious jewellery to shoot the biggest Bollywood star cast. Aishwarya Rai played the role of Jodha bai against Hrithik Roshan as the Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Muhammed Akbar. This movie told the romantic love story of Akbar with Jodha and reveals how did he win the heart of Jodha bai. But, historically the identity of Jodha bai is in itself suspected. 

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Jodha Akbar poster; Picture Source: Supplied PR photo

Who was Jodha Bai?
Ashutosh Gowariker has misinterpreted the name of Jodha Bai. She was Amber Raja Bharmal’s daughter and Akbar’s wife. Akbar tied the knot with her in 1562. Her identity is bewildered by historical records.

Who all were the wives of Akbar?
Henry Blochmann edited Abul Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari gives the names of just seven of Akbar’s wives[1]. They were Sultan Ruqayya Begum, a daughter of Mirza Hindal; Sutan Salima Begum, the widow of Bairam Khan; Harkha Bai, daughter of Bhar Mal, the Raja of Amber; Abdul Wasi’s divorced wife married to Akbar; daughters of Abdulla Khan Mughal (1564) and Miran Mubarak Shah (1565) and lastly, mentioned Bibi Daulat Shad.

Jodha Akbar poster; Picture Source: Supplied PR photo

Historically Abul Fazl’s Ain-i-Akbari and Akbarnama, and in Jahangir’s Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri never stated that Akbar had married any women named Jodha Bai. Even in Badauni’s Muntakhib-al-Tawarikh the name Jodha Bai is missing.
Rima Hooja in her book, A History of Rajasthan, ‘Bharmal entered an alliance with Akbar by offering the hand of his daughter in marriage to the Mughal Emperor(Akbar) the marriage ceremony (which included full Hindu rituals) seems to have been solemnized at Sambhar.

The title of ‘Mariam-uz-Zamani was bestowed on the new queen. She is called Jiya Rani, Maanmati, Harika, and ‘Shahi-Bai’ in different sources, but is popularly known today as ‘Jodha Bai’.

Jodha Akbar poster; Picture Source: Supplied PR photo

Abul Fazl and Nizam-ud-din Ahmad’s text note that she was princess Harika, Bharmal’s eldest daughter and that her mother was Bharmal’s Solanki clan wife, Rani Chandravati. This alliance with Akbar undoubtedly influenced the rise of pre-eminence of the Kachchwaha ruling house of Amber at the Mughal Court’. However, the name of Jodha Bai is suspected by many historians.

The mystery of the name ‘Jodha Bai’ and who was the lady married to Jahangir?
K.S. Lal describes the real identity of Jodha in his book The Mughal Harem where he wrote ‘Jahangir’s third marriage in 1586 with Jagat Gosain, Jodh Bai, Man Bai or Mira Bai, daughter of the Mota Raja Udai Singh and granddaughter of Raja Maldeva of Marwar.
Jodh Bai was known for her intelligence, soft voice and ready wit. She died within the lifetime of Jahangir, who bestowed upon her the title of Bilqis Makani posthumously[2].

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This fact is corroborated by veteran historian Satish Chandra in class IX NCERT Medieval India history textbooks where he mentions that ‘Udai Singh married his daughter, Jagat Gosain or Jodha Bai as she came to be called, to Akbar’s eldest son Salim (Jahangir) and during her marriage many Hindu practices were followed’.

Beni Prasad in his book History of Jahangir, also wrote that ‘No chronicle mentions the Rajput name of Jahangir’s mother.  Jahangir was the son of Akbar and Harkha, the daughter of Bharmal, the raja of Amber is confused with the identity of Shah Jahan’s mother, named Jagat Gosain, a granddaughter of Raja Maldeo of Jodhpur.

What role does Jodha Bai play in the Mughal court?
James Tod answered this question in his book Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan[3], Jodh Bai is a title, meaning ‘Jodhpur lady’. There were some doubts about her identity, but she was certainly the daughter of Udai Singh and the wife of Jahangir.
This Jodha Bai played significant a role in the politics of Amber as Tod mentions that ‘at the instigation of the celebrated Jodha Bai (daughter of Rae Singh of Bikaner), the Rajputni wife of Jahangir, Jai Singh, grandson of Jagat Singh (brother of Maan Singh), was raised to the throne of Amber.

This historical fact is also corroborated by Kalyan Kumar Ganguli’s Cultural History of Rajasthan, ‘Jodha Bai, a Rathor princess of Bikaner married to Jahangir, having considerable influence in court affair, helped Jai Singh a grandson of Jagat Singh, brother of Maan Singh to gain the throne of Amber’. He also mentions that the magnificent tomb of Jodh Bai, the mother of Shah Jahan, is at Sikandra, near Agra.

Akbar Tomb, Agra, India; Picture Source: @CANVA

Uncertainty over the name of Jodha Bai had led to political debate in Rajasthan, where a section of the Rajput community accused Gowariker’s Jodha-Akbar Akbar of distorting the historical facts. They believed that neither Jodha was Akbar’s wife, nor was she Jaipur princess but she actually belongs to Jodhpur and was the wife of Jahangir.
On the other hand, the royal families of Jaipur and Kishangarh came in support of the film where they agree that Akbar married a Jaipur princess (Raja Bharmal’s daughter).

This controversy has once again raised the question that do filmmakers have the right to present false realities and duping the audiences with their own personal hallucinations.

Bollywood in past have witnessed movies based on historical events. Movies like Loves of a Mughal Prince (1928), Sikander (1941), Anarkali (1953), Mughal-e-Azam (1960), Ashoka (2001) and Mangal Pandey: The Rising (2005), etc. have projected the names of historical characters and unveiled the significant historical event.

One needs to find the answer to certain questions related to such movies.

  • Why such movies always come into controversy prior to their release?
  • Who are the people who provoke this controversy?
  • Is this a promotional formula to generate curiosity among the audience to assure a grand opening?

No doubt the controversy brings the movie into the limelight and ensures opening at the box office. But, this tactic could never assure success without the overwhelming public response.

What does an audience expect from a historically inspired movie?
As far as the audience’s expectation from a movie is concerned, it depends upon their age, taste and preferences. No doubt there would be a substantial group of intellectuals who would be interested in knowing the actual facts of Indian History. But substantial Bollywood fans go into theatres expecting a complete three-hour entertainment package.

Thus, Jodhaa-Akbar biggest star cast, Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan had driven more and more youngsters to the theatre. Their Mughal Rajput royal outlook was fun to watch for the generation next.

However, how much they will learn about Indian history is in dilemma which needs a clarification where Jodha Bai is still struggling for her identity.

Author: Dr Sakul Kundra, A.HOD Department of Social Science at Fiji National University

Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied
Dr Sakul Kundra; Picture Source: Supplied

Disclaimer: The views expressed are his own and not of The Australia Today or his employer. For comments or suggestions, email. dr.sakulkundra@gmail.com

Reference Sources mentioned:

[1] Abul Fazl, Ain-i-Akbari, edited by Henry Blochmann

[2] K.S. Lal, The Mughal Harem (Delhi, 1988), p.27

[3] James Tod, Annals And Antiquities of Rajasthan (Oxford University Press: 1920, London; rpt., Motilal Banarsidass,:1971, Delhi).