Why Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Khilji Let Us Down

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Why Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Khilji Let Us Down

Illustration: Sushant Ahire


n Padmaavat, there’s a scene where Alauddin Khilji is sitting in his tent and burning historical scrolls that do not mention him. For Ranveer Singh’s Khilji, any historical record which shows him in a less-than-favourable light is not worth preserving. Even Khilji’s IRL counterpart was concerned about his reputation, keeping his courtier Amir Khusrau at hand to record his reign during his lifetime. I wonder then, how the real Sultan would have reacted to his own portrayal in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ill-fated opus. For a man so desperate to be thought the hero, Khilji is the villain of Padmaavat, presented to the audience as the embodiment of lustful evil and a scourge to the utopian Hindu kingdom of Chittor.

In another world, Khilji would have been the film’s hero, and not only because he is brought to life by an in-form Ranveer Singh. Compared to the goody-two-shoes Maharaja Rawal Ratan Singh, played by Shahid Kapur, Alauddin’s deviousness and trickery comes as a breath of fresh air. This is the era of anti-heroes, from Walter White to Dexter, and Alauddin would fit right in with the rest of them. He is both ambitious and driven enough to act on it, seeking victory at all costs, which are qualities we expect from a wartime leader. And he does not allow himself to be led into a trap for the sake of his values, like his Rajput rival.