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Jodhaa Bai: A myth or a reality?

Ashutosh Gowariker’s period film on the romance of Emperor Akbar and Jodhaa Bai was a hit. But the story rests on disputed history?

Mayur Lookhar

History has always been a tricky subject for cinema. There always are different perspectives to the past. And books contradict each other. The homework is rough for the maker of any period film.

Hindi cinema has had a large share of these historical controversies. Directors get accused of distorting facts, petty battles are fought in the court, sometimes leading to expensive delays in releasing films.

Director Ashutosh Gowariker found himself in the dock for making ‘Jodhaa Akbar’, a film that celebrated the love of the great Mughal emperor and his Hindu wife Jodhaa.

The director had consulted various historians, scholars from Delhi, Aligarh, Lucknow, Agra, and Jaipur before finalising his story.

Post the film’s release, a debate opened up on the authenticity of Jodhaa Bai, with certain Rajputs claiming that Jodha was not married to Akbar, but to the emperor’s son Jahangir. This was backed by historian NR Farooqi.

Historians threw in a spanner by claiming that the great Mughal emperor’s wife was never referred to as ‘Jodhaa Bai’.  Backing this theory was Professor Shirin Moosvi of Aligarh University who said that neither Akbar’s biography nor any historical text from the period referred to Akbar’s Rajput wife as Jodhaa Bai.

According to Moosvi, the name Jodha Bai was first used to refer to Akbar's wife in the 18th and 19th centuries in historical writings. In ‘Tuzk-e-Jahangiri’, she is referred to as Mariam Zamani.

However, Wikipedia refers to Mariam Zamani as Akbar’s first wife. She was a Rajput, who before her marriage, went by the name of Heer Kunwari, Hira Kunwari or Harka Bai.

So, how did the name Jodhaa Bai come about?                                                              

According to historian Imtiaz Ahmad, the director of the Khuda Baksh Oriental Public Library in Patna, the name Jodha was used for Akbar's wife for the first time by Lieutenant-Colonel James Tod, in his book ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan’.  Ridiculing Tod’s book, Ahmad chided that Tod was no professional historian.

The various theories around Gowariker’s ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ led to the film being banned in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Uttarakhand. UTV, the producer, took the battle to the Supreme Court and it ruled in their favour.

The debate over Jodha Bai could perhaps rage on for an eternity. In the meantime, Gowariker did manage to dole out what is perhaps the finest period film of contemporary Hindi cinema.