If you do not believe that Ranveer Singh in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming Padmavati and Om Puri in Shyam Benegal’s 1980s television series Bharat Ek Khoj are both playing Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khilji, you are forgiven.
Singh’s Khilji appears to be a frontier savage who snarls maniacally when he is not wrestling bare-bodied or devouring meat like it is his last meal. Puri plays Khilji like a practical statesman who spends his days consulting his ministers to find ways to tax the rich, fix the prices of grains, and allocate more resources to his armies.
Episode 26 revolves completely around Padmavat, an epic poem written two centuries after Khilji died in 1316. According to the yarn as depicted in Bharat Ek Khoj, Raghav Chetan (Rakesh Shrivastava), the sorcerer at the court of Chittor’s king Ratan Sen (Rajendra Gupta), is banished for trickery. Chittor’s queen Padmini (Seema Kelkar) gifts him a bangle on his way out, but the bitter sorcerer is nevertheless thirsty for revenge. He reaches Khilji with the intention of getting him to attack Chittor. (Several historians concur that Padmini was a figment of the imagination.)
Khilji is initially amused on seeing the fakir. He is also sceptical. When Raghav Chetan reveals his real intention, Khilji even rebukes him for being treacherous. Khilji may be the villain in the tale but he has a moral compass.
But the sorcerer successfully entices Khilji with tales of Ratan Sen’s jewels and his beautiful wife. The rest of the episode explores Khilji attacking Chittor, trapping Ratan Sen by deceit and trying to get hold of Padmini. The part in Padmavat about Padmini and the other women of Chittor immolating themselves to protect their dignity is not touched by the episode.
Khilji, as shown in Bharat Ek Khoj, appears to be a genteel type despite the occasional outburst. He respects his ministers, appreciates his nautch girls, and is a crafty king. When Raghav Chetan tries to charm Khilji with the idea of kidnapping Padmini, the sultan cites a practical statistic: “I have 1,600 wives. Why Padmavati?”
Khilji’s lust is reserved for Ratan Sen’s jewels. This Khilji is a flawed human being, not a raging beast.