By Vipin Pubby
The raging controversy over a Bollywood film, Padmavati, is currently rocking the nation as if nothing else important enough is happening in the country.
Chief ministers, senior political leaders and local goons have all jumped into the fray and some literally want the head of its director, the well known film maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali. A self-styled Rajput Karni Sena has been breathing fire over the film that is yet to be released and has claimed that it was an ‘insult’ to the Rajput community. The Sena claimed that Rajput queens “never danced” in the way that was being depicted in the trailers of the film.
The Sena, whose very existence appears to be to guard the “honour and valour” of the Rajput community, had in the past torched sets of the film and had roughed up the crew of the film. It has now threatened to set on fire any cinema hall or multiplex which may dare to screen the movie.
Chiefs ministers of Gujarat, going for the prestigious elections shortly, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have declared ban on the film which had already cleared the censors certificate although it has now been held back due to “incomplete” documents. Bhansali himself has postponed the release of the film, evidently in an effort to buy time.
The latest statement of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath is not unexpected even though it may be regressive and communal. In response to a question whether action would be taken against a party leader who had kept a bounty on the heads of the film’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and lead actor Deepika Padukone, the chief minister of the most populous state of the country had the gumption to say that Bhansali was “no less guilty than those issuing threats to actors and others involved with the film” and asserted that if there was any action to be taken “it will be against both the sides.” Pitting those who issue death threats with the director of a movie is illogical but then you really can’t expect much more from the Yogi.
The silence of the top BJP leaders, as often happens in situations like these, is deafening. The result is that some of their leaders feel encouraged to come out with stronger threats. Thus if a small time Uttar Pradesh leader announced a bounty of Rs 5 crore for the heads of Bhansali and the lead female actor Deepika Padukone, a slightly senior leader of Haryana, one of its spokesmen, doubled the amount. Such irresponsible and criminal statements have been largely ignored by the law and order authorities.
Even the National Commission for Women, which claims right to protect the dignity and honour of women, has been silent on summoning those who have threatened to cut the nose of Deepika or to behead her. The same Commission had of course lost no time to summon Congress leader Shashi Tharoor over his light hearted comment on Miss World Manushi Chillar.
None of those who had been making all the noises and had been issuing threats have watched the film. All the threats and anger is based on presumption that the movie would denigrate the Rajputs. Those who have seen the movie, including those from the media, vouch for the fact that there are nothing objectionable in the movie.
But even if there were some controversial scenes in the movie. How does it give any right to goons and self styled protectors of the honour of a community to issue life threats and how do the law and order agencies prefer to look the other way ? Doesn’t it show the sense of insecurity that these people have ? Do they think a mere movie can besmirch the valour and reputation of the Rajputs ? Are movies factual depiction of history and the last word on history ?
Ironically it is not even history. The fact that Raja Alauddin Khilji attacked Chittor and defeated Rattan Sen is undisputed. What is disputed is whether Rani Padmawati existed or not. The first reference to Padmavati came 200 years after the reign of Khilji and that too in a Awadhi language poem written by Malik Muhammad Jayasi. What must be underlined is that none of the historians who were contemporaries of Khilji mentioned anything about Padmavati in their memoirs which are part of history. It obviously indicates that the entire episode concerning Padmavati leading Jauhar was myth.
Supreme Court deserves kudos for its judgment delivered last week. It said that “freedom of speech and expression is sacrosanct and the said right should not be ordinarily interfered with.”
The court observed that : “A film or a drama or a novel or a book is a creation of art. An artist has his own freedom to express himself in a manner which is not prohibited in law and such prohibitions are not to be read by implication to crucify the rights of an expressive mind……A thought-provoking film should never mean that it has to be didactic or in any way puritanical. It can be expressive and provoking the conscious or the sub-conscious thoughts of the viewer. If there has to be any limitation, that has to be as per the prescription in law”.
It further said that courts should “allow the respect that a creative man enjoys in writing a drama, a play, a playlet, a book on philosophy, or any kind of thought that is expressed on the celluloid or theatre.”
However, these observations were made by Supreme Court while delivering judgment in a case involving another film, “An Insignificant Man”, based loosely on the life of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. On the plea to ban Padmavati it has merely said that it was the job of Central Board of Film Certification see if any film is worthy of release or not.
What is also appalling is the silence of the top leadership of the country as well as that of the film industry. None of the major stars, with the sole exception of Deepika Padukone, have raised their voice against the efforts to muzzle the freedom of expression. It’s time for the nation to stand up against such blackmail.