IN CROSSHAIR OF CONTEMPORAREY AND CONTROVERSIAL

Their names seemingly rhyme, but two Bollywood films, ‘Padmaavat’ and ‘Pad Man’, vying for public attention in India and abroad, send vastly different messages.  One has grown deeply controversial, the other has mercifully not. ‘Padmaavat’ is about the beauty, valour and sacrifice of a queen who lived, if at all, seven centuries back, but has some people drawing swords, both symbolically and literally, in the 21st century.  Meant to entertain, it has ended up reviving perceived historical wounds.    ‘Pad Man’, about a man who sells sanitary  pads propagates their use by Indian women that, like most traditional societies, often fight shy of tackling a very private matter that is nevertheless, a health issue. It is contemporary.  It appears confident of leaving a deeper, quiet and healthy imprint on the audiences. Its theme also could have angered custodians of public morality who abound these days. But another film, “Toilet: Ek Prem Katha” that playfully tackled open defecation, another private issue of public shame, seems to have chastened the vigilantes. Or, has ‘Padmaavat’ deflected their attention?   ‘Padmaavat’ entered cinema theatres this week armed with, two Supreme Court verdicts, but still nervous about its actors and crew, the cinema halls and the filmgoers being targeted by hooligans claiming to uphold their perceived honour. The film opened wherever it could to encouraging critical and audience response. But the vigilantes indulged in violence in four states where theatres were terrorized into no-show and attacking even school buses targeting innocent children.  Police were deployed, but the guardians of law do take their cue from the politicians. In India, the much-touted freedom of expression comes under a political shadow each time there is an election. Even otherwise, every issue these days risks being politicized. Last year, ‘Udta Punjab’, depicting evils of drug trafficking, allegedly by influential politicos, and its consumption by the young, had made many in the state nervous about its possible impact on the state assembly elections.   Equally nervous and under tremendous political pressure at the central and state levels, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) itself sought a stay on the film’s release citing that the themes dealt with in the film were “too vulgar for the general audience.”  After much media outcry it allowed the film but after 84 cuts and modifications. ‘Padmaavat’ came under the heat spell during the Gujarat elections and with elections due in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other states, it refuses to calm. Violence and threats by vigilantes of the Rajput/Kshartiyas in these states, conveniently blamed on “fringe groups”, have been openly bolstered by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicos, including ministers and lawmakers.  It began a year back with the film’s set being vandalized and crew and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali being attacked. The attackers have gone scot-free and emboldened by politicos fanning their “hurt sentiments”. No other film in Indian cinema’s 120-year history has been banned even before it is certified by the censors, called Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The Cinematograph Act is clear that once certified, a film must be shown and the state governments must enable its peaceful exhibition.     Four BJP-ruled states, all election-bound, however, persisted even after the film was certified and following the Supreme Court’s verdict, still looking for a legal escape. If the vigilante groups insisted on “informal ban”, the state governments want the right to ban the theatres from showing the film. The Supreme Court said a big NO. The highest court has warned that “when creativity dies, values of civilisation corrode.” Its reiteration of the freedom of expression and the observation that states have “guillotined creative right” implicitly captures the blood thirst inherent in some BJP leaders’ bounty for anyone beheading Bhansali and Deepika Padukone who portrays the queen in the film.  And now, senior lawyer Harish Salve has been threatened for defending the ‘Padmaavat’ maker in court.      The film is about Queen Padmavati or Padmini of Chittor in the present-day Rajasthan being coveted by Delhi’s Sultan Alauddin Khilji (1250-1316 AD). On Ratnasen, her husband and the king, being defeated and killed, she immolates herself.  There is an implied Hindu-Muslim angle. But in medieval India, it was common for women of the vanquished in any war to escape abduction, rape and slavery by burning themselves.  Whether fact or fiction, Padmavati or Padmini has for generations been part of South Asia’s folklore that celebrates her beauty and bemoans her sacrifice. Khilji is the villain in the many plays, books and movies that have been made on this theme. Historians have differed on her existence and assuming she did, on what compelled her to mount the pyre along with other women.  The account of Colonel James Todd, a British officer posted in Rajputana has been disputed by fellow-Britons and later, by Indian historians.  It gained popularity as part of the revivalist politics of the 19th century. Bhansali insists that his film is essentially a piece of fiction and is based on the epic poem of a 15th century Sufi Muslim poet Malik Mohammed Jayasi.  The poem’s title is ‘Padmaavat’ the name the Censors have insisted the film should take to escape being considered historical. But that has not doused the fire of protests. It is difficult to differentiate between folklore and history, especially if and when politicians use both expediently, placing ‘shraddha’ (faith) above everything else.  As for the elections, do democratic processes enable healthy discourse with all-in participation? Only partially, if at all, in India, given the rising toxicity in the recent years that has made the election season, a couple of times each year, a nightmare.      The mix of history, folklore, cinema getting with politics feeding past prejudices seems to linger on. It remains to be seen if the Rupees two billion film will recover the costs or climb the pyre of financial funeral.  Besides threat to freedom of expression in a democratic society, the bigger loss is that of governance. The intent, integrity and the capacity to govern are often challenged when the state comes into conflict with collective interests and worse when it is perceived as being sympathetic to the latter. In such a situation, the message, like that of ‘Pad Man’ risks being blurred, if not totally lost. // ]]>

Padmavati gets U/A certificate, several cuts

Both Sanjay Leela Bansal and Prasoon Josh are happy about Padmavat, and they hope this compromise is acceptable to Narendra Mod and Rahul Gandh.#Padmavati

— Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) December 30, 2017 The decision was taken after an examining committee meeting was held on Thursday in presence of CBFC chief Prasoon Joshi. The special panel consisted of Arvind Singh from Udaipur, Dr Chandramani Singh and professor K.K. Singh of Jaipur University. According to the CBFC, the film was approached with a “balanced view keeping in mind both the filmmakers and the society”. The board asked for several cuts, and a name change, before giving the film the certification for showing in theatres in India. According to some reports, 26 cuts were ordered. Considering the complexities and concerns around the film, the requirement for a special panel was felt by CBFC “to add perspective to the final decision of the official committee,” the CBFC said. The final 3D application of the film was submitted to CBFC on Thursday (December 28). The certificate will be issued once the required modifications are carried out and final material submitted, the board said. “Padmavati”, which was earlier slated for release on December 1, got embroiled into controversies after the Karni Sena, an organisation of the Rajput community, urged a nationwide ban on the film claiming that it “distorts historical facts”. Members of the political organisation also physically assaulted Bhansali during the film’s shooting in Jaipur earlier this year. They even burnt the sets of the movie in outskirts of Mumbai. Later on, Bhansali appeared before a Parliamentary committee and maintained that the row over the yet-to-be released movie was just based on rumours, strongly rejecting charges that he had distorted “historical” facts about the possibly mythological Rajput queen, played by Deepika Padukone in the film. The row took an ugly turn when threats were issued against Bhansali and Deepika. “Padmavati” also features Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor. (IANS) // ]]>

PADMAVATI IS DEAD, LONG LIVE PADMAVATI!

Rangeela Rasool that showed the Prophet as a worldly man given to ordinary pleasures. The publisher of the book, Mahashay Rajpal, was tried on the basis of complaints filed by Muslims but was acquitted two years later in 1929 because there was no law on the statute book, the Indian Penal Code, to specifically deal with promoting enmity or hatred between communities. Rajpal was murdered soon after his acquittal by a zealous young Muslim who was then executed after trial. The significance of this episode is that the British rulers of the time were pressured to add a section to the IPC that made insulting the leaders of any religious community a crime punishable with imprisonment. In other words, hate and hate crime made it to the statute book, imposing a considered restriction on what we now call freedom of speech and expression, or FoE as it is known in cyberspace. Cut to 1950. India had given itself a constitution incorporating —via Article 19 Clause 1a—freedom of speech and expression in its section of fundamental rights of citizens. The right to free expression was not absolute; it did have restrictions. At the time the Constitution was adopted, Clause 2 of Article 19 read: (2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law in so far as it relates to, or prevents the State from making any law relating to, libel, slander, defamation, contempt of court or any matter which offends against decency or morality or which undermines the security of, or tends to overthrow, the State.  Meanwhile, Hindu-Muslim riots had shaken up East Pakistan, and refugees streamed into India. Syama Prasad Mookerjee of the Hindu Mahasabha was in Prime Minister Nehru’s Cabinet at the time; the organisation was pretty vocal about its dreams of an Akhand (unified) Bharat. In April, Nehru made a deal with his Pakistan counterpart, Liaquat Ali Khan, to secure the peace. Part of the deal was clamping down on any propaganda for war between the two new nations. Two days before the pact, Mookerjee resigned over Nehru’s Pakistan policy. From then on he called for a war to reunite the two nations once again. Meanwhile, two Supreme Court decisions of the same year had overturned a ban on a left-leaning journal and pre-censorship of a right-wing journal. Nehru and Sardar Vallabhai Patel corresponded with alacrity over these developments, and it all came down to the first amendment of the Constitution which added ‘public order’ and ‘incitement to offence’ to Clause 2 of Article 19. Significantly, the restrictions that the amended clause introduced were ‘reasonable’, leaving the door open to judicial review of any related action by the executive. The clause now reads: (2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. Films— like the unreleased Padmavati is alleged to—can threaten public order, decency and morality. The last word on this is with the Central Board of Film Certification, a statutory body established in 1951. Padmavati has not yet been cleared by the board which only last year did not allow the release of a film called Mohalla Assi because it offended Hindu sentiments. On November 28, the Supreme Court refused—for the third time in November—to ban Padmavati, saying it is the prerogative of the censor board to review the film and make a decision on whether it is suitable for screening.  The court also rebuked persons holding public office—read chief ministers of states who have spoken against the film—for their comments on the film. “When the matter is pending the consideration of the CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification), how can persons holding public offices comment on whether CBFC should issue certificate or not? That will prejudice the decision of the CBFC,” the court said. And there the matter rests. For now, that is. This means that if the CBFC clears the film, with or without cuts and/or changes, it can be due for nationwide release sometime next month. Therein lies the rub. State governments have the option to invoke their duty to uphold public order, decency and morality and ban the film. The BJP-ruled states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh have already indicated so. Congress-ruled Punjab may just follow their cue, as can others like Bihar. Sectarian politics can yield results that overpower any agency of the state. Even if state governments do not block the film, theatre owners can refuse to screen the film for fear of violence by fringe groups, as was the case with Jodhaa Akbar in Rajasthan nine years ago. That time, it was the same Rajput Karni Sena that had taken to the streets with the all-too familiar complaint of ‘distortion of historical facts’. Thirty theatres in Rajasthan did not screen the movie that year because members of the Karni Sena sent them threatening letters written in blood. Street politics, too, can sometimes beat the state and the operation of the law of the land. Certified fit for public viewing or not, it is likely that Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati will not make it to screens across more than half the country. But the legend of Padmavati that has inspired the protests against the film will live on. Padmavati is dead, Long Live Padmavati!


By Nardeep Singh Dahiya // ]]>

'Free for all': Nihalani talks about Padmavati

Former CBFC Chairperson and producer Pahlaj Nihalani is shocked by a Parliamentary Committee’s decision to question director Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Padmavati before the censor board can view the film. He claimed the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting had also “bullied” him during his tenure.

“By all means, the Parliamentary Committee has every right to question Bhansali or any other filmmaker. But only after the Central Board of Film Certification views and certifies the film. “By questioning him before the censor certificate, you are challenging the authority of the CBFC as the final arbitrary body to decide the fate of a film,” said Nihalani. Nihalani feels the CBFC seems to have lost its authority. “During my tenure, I was bullied by the I&B Ministry into taking decisions. “Now it’s a free-for all. Any and every governing body can question a film. Where does that leave the CBFC?” As for Padmavati, Nihalani wonders where the film’s persecution stops. “To how many committees is Bhansali answerable? And where does this end? “Why is one of India’s best filmmakers being made to explain himself over and over again? And why is the CBFC not taking steps to clear the air once and for all,” questioned Nihalani, whose own tenure as the CBFC chief was dogged by controversies. (IANS)    
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'All rumours': Padmavati director stands his ground

In the midst of a raging controversy over his film Padmavati, its director Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Thursday appeared before a Parliamentary committee here and maintained that the row over his yet-to-be released movie was just based on rumours, strongly rejecting criticism that he had distorted historical facts about the 16th century Rajput queen.

Bhansali was grilled for over two hours by members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT as he appeared before it in Parliament House with Prasoon Joshi, who heads the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). Sources said  that the filmmaker was asked why he had screened the movie for a few select journalists even before it was cleared by the censor board. “All the controversy over the film is based on rumours. I have not distorted facts. The film is based on a poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi,” Bhansali said, referring to the 16th century Indian sufi poet’s epic poem Padmavat. “We don’t intend to hurt anyone’s sentiments,” Bhansali told the 30-member panel headed by BJP MP Anurag Thakur. Among those who attended the meeting included Congress’ Raj Babbar and BJP patriarch L.K. Advani. The director has been given time till December 14 to reply to the panel. The Parliamentary panel had asked him to attend its meeting to explain his point of view as several states have threatened to block the screening of the film, whose release was scheduled for Friday. The film stoked controversy over assumptions that it has a dream sequence depicting romance between Rajput warrior queen Padmini and Delhi sultan Alauddin Khilji. Joshi told the panel that the censor board was yet to take a decision about the movie as it would be shown to regional and central screening committees. Earlier in the day, the censor board chief also appeared before the Parliamentary Committee on Petitions to brief its members about the controversy. Joshi told the panel that the film had not yet been approved and the board only cleared the trailer and promos of the period film. The Rajput Karni Sena, an organisation of the Rajput community, has urged a nationwide ban on Bhansali’s Padmavati. Activists of the Sena and some other groups have been protesting against the movie, claiming it “distorts” historical facts. As six states, including Rajasthan, have already announced that they will not release the film, the Supreme Court on Tuesday took exception to people holding official positions making “prejudicial comments” about the movie, saying these breached the principle of rule of law. The apex court asked when the matter was pending for consideration before CBFC, how could persons in public authority comment on whether the censor board should issue certificate or not. (IANS) // ]]>

'Modi govt can destroy what they don't like'

S Durga Director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, whose film was not screened at the 48th IFFI despite his best efforts, says the incident has proved how those in power can go to any extent to destroy something they don’t like.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, a day after the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) here wrapped up, Sasidharan shared his sentiments. “I am not unhappy even a bit. On the other hand, I am more than happy that my film has helped a lot of people who were asking ‘What is the problem if the Sangh come(s) to power?’ to understand what is the problem actually,” he said. “It is simply proved that those in power now can go to any extent to destroy something which they don’t like. “They can even misuse law or ignore judiciary for their purpose. They can give assurances to executives that nothing will happen to them, even if they do not obey courts. A very dangerous message indeed.” S Durga, a Malayalam movie, was initially dropped from a jury-suggested shortlist of the Indian Panorama section of the IFFI along with another film Nude, triggering controversy. Sasidharan moved the Kerala High Court, which directed IFFI to screen the film at the festival after a censored version was screened for the jury. But fresh title-related issues raised by the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC) on the gala’s last day sealed the fate of the movie at the fest.
Read at Lokmarg
S Durga misses filmfest over three new hashtags

The filmmaker said there was a wave of dissent following the row. “I have seen a lot of people who openly accept that they are supporters of this government in the past two three days so depressed and disappointed by the dirty game played by the Ministry against my film. “I have heard multiple times they murmuring that ‘this must go’. What else a film need(s) to do, even without been (being) seen.” (IANS) // ]]>

SC reminds leaders of law in Padmavati controversy

Padmavati, saying these breached the principle of rule of law. In the melee that the controversy has now become, the apex court’s comments came on a day that Bihar joined Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in banning the film. Adding to the mix was the call for a nationwide ban by the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, a caste-based organisation that has spearheaded—sometimes with violence and threats of violence—the movement against the film for its alleged ‘distortions of history’. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said: “We are governed by the rule of law. When the matter is pending before the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) for grant of certificate, nobody holding a responsible position should comment as it would amount to violation of the principle of the rule of law.” Taking exception to comments by leaders cutting across the political spectrum, the court said, “When a matter is pending for consideration before CBFC, how can persons in public authority comment on whether CBFC should issue certificate or not? It will prejudice the decision of CBFC.” “They are violating the principle of rule of law”, the court said further observing, “We say nothing more, nothing less for the time being.” The court also junked a petition by lawyer Manohar Lal Sharma objecting to the offshore release of the film Padmavati.  Taking exception to some portions of Sharma’s petition, the court said it was “unwarranted and scurrilous”. Senior counsel Harish Salve, who appeared for Padmavati director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, had pointed to the objectionable portion of the petition by Sharma. On November 20, the court, while rejecting Sharma’s plea for the blocking the release of Padmavati within the country, had said: Padmavati has not yet received certification from CBFC. In view of this, our interference will tantamount to pre-judging the matter. We don’t intend to do so.” Karni Sena ups ante to nationwide ban The Rajput Karni Sena, an organisation of the Rajput community, on Tuesday urged a nationwide ban on Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati. “Six states have already announced that they will not release the film in their states. We welcome it. Till the new release dates are announced, we want at least 20 CMs to do it. Nationwide ban is in the jurisdiction of government of India as per a section in the Cinematography Act. The Centre can ban a film even before or after clearance by the censor board,” Lokendra Singh Kalvi, founder-patron of the Rajput Karni Sena, said in Jaipur. “We request the Prime Minister to intervene and ban the film,” he said. Kalvi also demanded a high-powered and thorough probe into the death of Chetan Saini, whose body was found hanging on the outer walls of the Nahargarh Fort here on Friday morning, with messages against the film Padmavati scribbled on nearby rocks. “Whether it was a suicide or a murder, I am not interfering into that… But it was very sad. I want to point out two more points… Who wants to disturb communal harmony of Jaipur and second, a direct threat to Karni Sena that “Hum putle nahin jalate… latkate hain” (We don’t burn effigies, we hang them)… All this seems to be an attempt to divert attention from the Padmavati issue,” he said. Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Tuesday ordered a ban on Padmavati in the state. The Chief Minister ordered concerned officials to ban the release after  BJP MLA Neeraj Kumar Bablu demanded it in a letter. The ban on would be in place “till controversy surrounding it gets over”. The ban by Bihar, ruled by a JD-U-BJP coalition, follows that by BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Several groups, mainly Rajput, have been demanding a ban on Padmavati, starring Deepika Padukone with Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor in key role The film was earlier scheduled to be released on December 1, but it has been deferred.


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  (Reproduced tweets do not reflect Lokmarg editorial policy)
(IANS) // ]]>

S Durga misses filmfest over three new hashtags

It’s gone from Sexy to S to S### but Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Malayalam film S### Durga just couldn’t make it past the authorities, be they the censor board, or the Union information and broadcasting ministry or the worthies running the show at the International Film Festival of India. A day after being screened for the jury at the 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) on directions of the Kerala High Court, S### Durga failed to make it to the lone remaining day of the event due to fresh title-related issues raised by the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC).

This time, it’s the three new hashtags after S in the title. IFFI director Sunit Tandon said the film could not screened at the festival which closed on Tuesday. Tandon’s letter to director Sasidharan said: “Following the (jury) screening, certain issues related to the certification of the film with reference to the title of the film were raised. This was referred to the CBFC for clarification. As a consequence to the orders of CBFC, the film cannot be exhibited till the issues are resolved.” The film was dropped from the screening schedule of the Indian Panorama section of the IFFI along with another film Nude, triggering controversy. Sasidharan intensified his fight for “justice” with a petition at the Kerala High Court last week. The court directed IFFI to screen the film at the festival after a censored version of the movie was screened for the jury. According to official sources, the jury voted 7-4 in favour of screening the film at the festival late on Monday night even as the festival was scheduled to end on the subsequent day. The CBFC has now claimed that the change in title from Sexy Durga to S Durga and then to S### Durga was problematic and that the Indian Panorama jury which watched the film on Monday had complained about the changes in the title. “Now we have received complaints from the IFFI jury at Goa that the title of the film on the title card is shown by the filmmaker as S### Durga which has totally different implications and are effectively undermining and attempting to defeat the very basis of the title registration and changes effected thereby,” Pratibha A, the CBFC regional officer from the Thiruvananthapuram division, said in a communication. The CBFC communique to the film’s producer Shaji Mathew also directs that the film should not be exhibited because of violations under Rule 33 of the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules 1983. Meanwhile, Sasidharan and the film’s actor Kannan Nayar staged a token protest near the IFFI screening facility here, against the refusal of the IFFI organisers to screen their film at the festival, despite the jury voting in the film’s favour. “It is a bias we are facing. Our film is not Sexy Durga now, it is ‘Sexy Democracy’… They are imposing silence on us. They think it is just a filmmaker and a film they are silencing. They will come to your home and silence you. That is when you will realise how serious the threat is,” Sasidharan said. (IANS) // ]]>

Now Vasundhara wants Padmavati cut to size

Shabana Azmi wants filmfest boycotted Veteran actress Shabana Azmi on Saturday urged the Indian film industry to boycott the 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa to protest against the threats to actress Deepika Padukone and filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali on their upcoming film “Padmavati”. “The entire film industry should boycott IFFI in protest against the threats to Deepika Padukone, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and ‘Padmavati’,” Shabana said in a tweet. In a series of other posts on Twitter, Shabana lashed out at the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), which has reportedly sent back the film’s application, allegedly citing it to be incomplete. She wrote: “‘Padmavati’ application to CBFC has been sent back because of incomplete formalities! Really? Or to keep fires stoked for electoral gains?” “Sabki dukaan chal rahi hai (Everybody is gaining) under the patronage not of the fringe but of the government in power. Film industry must stand as one with ‘Padmavati’. Later on, Shabana accused the film fraternity of remaining quiet on the “Padmavati” row. “Smriti Irani is preparing IFFI that’s possible only because the Indian film industry brings such acclaim to it, but keeps quiet about ‘Padmavati’,” she wrote. “This is exactly like H.K.L Bhagat and Congress celebrating IFFI in Delhi after the murder of Safdar Hashmi in 1989. Cultural annihilation”, she wrote. “Padmavati” is Bhansali’s professed tribute to the valour and sacrifice of Rajput queen Rani Padmavati. Various Rajput organisations have demanded that the movie’s release be stalled. Protests over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s movie “Padmavati” continued to rock Rajasthan as protesters blocked entry to the Kumbhalgarh fort in Rajsamand on Saturday while protests were witnessed in some other towns and cities. “Hundreds of protesters on Saturday blocked entry for a few hours to Kumbhalgarh Fort. It was a peaceful protest and no untoward incident was reported,” SHO Kelwara Yogesh Chauhan told IANS on phone. Protesters shouted slogans against Bhansali and in speech after speech demanded a ban on the movie. They said they will send memorandums to the President of India and Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting requesting a ban on “Padmavati”. Police had taken measures to deal with any untoward incident. Kumbhalgarh fort, situated in Rajsamand district, is one of the prominent forts of Rajasthan. It is the birth place of famous Rajput king Maharana Pratap. (IANS) // ]]>