Two parliamentary panels today examined the controversy over 'Padmavati', as its director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, who appeared before one of them, rejected allegations that it distorted history, holding that the film was fictional and based on a nearly 500-year-old poem.
It was perhaps for the first time that any parliamentary panel deliberated on a film before it had been approved by the censor board.
While Bhansali and censor board chief Prasoon Joshi appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, Joshi also presented himself before the Parliamentary panel on petitions.
The standing committee on IT, which is mandated to look into issues relating to the Information and Broadcasting ministry, has given Bhansali two weeks' time to submit a written reply, an MP present at the meeting said.
The two committees are headed by BJP MPs. During his nearly 3-hour-long interaction with members of the panel on IT, Bhansali said the film was fictional and based on sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi's poem Padmavat, believed to have been written in 1540.
The Bollywood director's response came after some members of the committee asked him how the film, depicting characters and incidents from history, could be termed fictional, the MP said.
Is it not a case of distorting history, another member questioned Bhansali, the MP added.
Bhansali said the controversy had been triggered by rumours.
The members asked him why the film had been screened before sections of the media, and wanted to know if it had been done to influence the censor board, sources said.
"How could you assume that the movie would be released on December 1 when you applied to the CBFC on November 11? As per the cinematography act, the CBFC may take 68 days before certifying a movie," a member said.
Some members wanted to know if creating a controversy was a way of selling a film, the sources added.
The panel said the media, including social media, was giving free space to the film because of the ongoing controversy.
The sources said a few members also claimed Bhansali's films tended to "target" communities, triggering tensions.
They said the panel also asked Bhansali whether he is trying to promote Jauhar, a ritual of self-immolation practised in Rajasthan, in his film at a time when Sati is banned in the country.
Censor board chief Joshi, appearing before the Parliamentary panel on petitions, said the board had not approved the film and will consult experts for this.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief further told the panel that he was yet to see the film.
The process of film certification was underway, a member present at the meeting quoted Joshi as saying.
Later, Joshi also appeared before the Parliamentary standing committee on IT, headed by the BJP's Anurag Thakur.
The Parliamentary panel on petitions is headed by Bhagat Singh Koshyari. Besides him, two BJP MPs Om Birla and C P Joshi, who had moved the petition on the issue, were present at the meeting, apart from other members.
Various Rajput groups and political leaders have accused Bhansali of distorting history by filming a romantic dream sequence between Rajput queen Padmini and Sultan Alauddin
Khilji, a claim repeatedly denied by the filmmaker. Historians are divided on whether Padmavati actually existed.
The Deepika Padukone-Shahid Kapoor-Ranveer Singh film was earlier scheduled to have been released on December 1. The makers, who have deferred the release till it is cleared by the CBFC, recently applied for a 3D certification.
The sets of the film were vandalised twice -- in Jaipur and Kolhapur -- and director Bhansali was roughed up by members of the Karni Sena, a fringe Rajput group, earlier this year.
The Karni Sena and sections of the BJP have been critical of the film, which has already been banned in some BJP-ruled states.