Viacom’s Bollywood Epic ‘Padmaavat’ to Open Against Sony’s ‘PadMan’

'Padmavati' still - H 2017
Courtesy of Viacom18 Motion Pictures/Bhansali Productions

The controversial film, which was earlier set for a December 2017 release, will now open Jan. 25, the same date as Sony Pictures’ real-life inspired female hygiene drama 'PadMan.'

In a first of sorts, two Bollywood films featuring top talent and distributed by Hollywood majors and their affiliates will clash at the box office as Viacom’s Padmaavat takes on Sony Pictures’ PadMan.

Viacom’s India unit Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, along with Bhansali Productions, has confirmed that its Bollywood epic Padmaavat will release in India on Jan. 25 as part of its worldwide rollout that same day. Viacom's Paramount Pictures is handling the film’s release in UK/Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East (though not the U.S. and Canada),  the first time the studio is distributing a Bollywood title. The confirmation of Padmaavat’s release date comes just days after Paramount named David Sameth as its new president of worldwide marketing. He takes over from Megan Colligan who stepped down last November, with her attorney stating that she was pushed out because of gender discrimination, and that she was considering legal action.

Padmaavat was originally slated to open last December but its release was postponed following controversies over its apparent distortion of historical facts. The new release date now pits the movie against Sony’s Bollywood co-production PadMan, which also opens Jan. 25 during a coveted holiday time frame given Jan. 26 is India’s Republic Day. Sony Pictures has also acquired worldwide rights to the film and will distribute it worldwide.

Padmaavat is coproduced by Viacom18, the film unit of Viacom’s India joint venture, Viacom18 Media, which is an equal partnership with media and broadcasting entity Network18. The project has been embroiled in controversy ever since it began shooting in 2016 over its apparent suggestion of a romance between a Hindu queen and a Muslim invader, sparking protests. This also caused a delay in the film’s clearance by India’s censor board, which led Viacom18 to “voluntary defer” the film’s release from its original opening date of Dec. 1 last year.

Directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali who also co-produces the film via his Bhansali Productions banner, Padmaavat revolves around queen Rani Padmavati (Deepika Padukone, who made her Hollywood debut in Vin Diesel’s xXx: The Return of Xander Cage) and her warrior king husband, Maharawal Ratan Singh (Shahid Kapoor), of the Rajput kingdom of Mewar in Rajasthan, who battled the Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh). According to legend, Khilji was besotted by the beauty of the queen, sparking his fixation to conquer her kingdom.

Padmaavat is a story that’s inherently Indian in its context, ethos and values,” said Viacom18 group CEO Sudhanshu Vats, adding, “In the past, international film-makers have presented Indian stories such as Gandhi, Life of Pi, The Jungle Book and others to the world. We believe that this is the right time for us to show the world a tale that every Indian is proud of.”

Viacom18 Motion Pictures COO Ajit Andhare said that Paramount Pictures will distribute the film “across select international markets including non-traditional territories.” Padmaavat is also slated to be the first Indian film that will have a global IMAX 3D release.

Padmaavat's troubles began when fringe members of the Rajput community vandalized the film’s sets in Rajasthan, even physically attacking Bhansali. The protests were fueled by suggestions that the film was distorting history and apparently suggested a romance between the Hindu queen and the Muslim invader via a fantasy dream sequence. This led Bhansali to issue a statement last year dismissing rumors that the film included any such sequence while adding that “we have made this film with a lot of responsibility and have kept the pride and honour of the Rajputs in mind.”

India’s censor board finally cleared the film subject to some modifications, such as changing its original title Padmavati to Padmaavat. The new title refers to the epic poem Padmavat written in 1540 by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi which relates a fictional story about Khilji's desire for queen Padmavati.

Viacom18 issued a statement confirming the various changes asked by the board explaining that it agreed to the new title “as the filmmakers have attributed their creative source as the fictional poem Padmavat, and not history.” The censor board also asked for the film’s disclaimer to state that it “does not claim historical accuracy.”

Back in 2008, Bhansali first directed the story of Padmavati as an opera for the Theatre Du Chatelet in Paris, which was based on the 1923 opera written by Albert Roussel. Bhansali’s production traveled to Rome and was also performed at Italy’s Spoleto festival.

But Padmaavat’s troubles may still not be over as Rajasthan’s Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has said the film will not be allowed for release in the state. She said that Queen Padmavati "is not just a chapter in history but our dignity. We will not allow defamation of her honour.”
The states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have also disallowed the film’s release, which could affect Padmaavat’s box office as it battles Sony’s PadMan.

Directed by R Balki, PadMan is inspired by the true story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who invented a low-cost sanitary pad-making machine and revolutionized the movement of cost-effective female hygiene in India. The film is toplined by leading actor Akshay Kumar and actresses Sonam Kapoor and Radhika Apte. Along with Sony Pictures Entertainment India, PadMan is co-produced by Bollywood banner KriArj Entertainment and Mrs Funnybones Movies, promoted by Kumar's wife and well-known author Twinkle Khanna.

In recent years, Kumar has delivered hits that were released during the Republic Day frame, such as 2015’s spy thriller Baby followed a year later by Airlift, which revolved around the evacuation of Indians in Kuwait when the country was invaded by Iraq's then-leader Saddam Hussein in 1990.

As one of India’s most acclaimed directors, Bhansali is known for his signature blockbuster productions, such as 2007 romantic musical Saawariya (Beloved), based on Fyodor Dostoevsky's short story White Nights. Saawariya was the first Bollywood film to be produced by a Hollywood studio, Sony Pictures. Bhansali's recent release was 2015’s hit Bajirao Mastani, which was also based on historical figures and starred Padukone and Singh.