Have you wondered why every movie made by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, starring Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, becomes controversial?
Here is a recap.
At the outset, the author states that violent protests are unacceptable. Having said that, those who evoke such protests, must reflect on their conduct.
Controversy One (November 2013) Ram Leela
After Hindu groups protested, the matter landed in court which ordered that the name be changed to Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela. “A Delhi court's order came on a suit filed by six petitioners, including Prabhu Samaj Dharmik Ram Leela Committee, saying the movie hurt the religious sentiments of Hindus as it contains sex, violence and vulgarity.”
At the same time on 14 November 2013 the Punjab and Haryana High Court stayed the arrests of Bhansali, Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone.
Controversy Two (December 2015) Bajirao Mastani
"The descendant of Peshwa Bajirao I alleges that historical facts have been "altered while portraying the late king and his wives Kashibai and Mastani in the film."
Since the Maharashtrian Brahmin community are a miniscule percentage of the population, not a vote bank and did not protest violently, the issue did not escalate. Actually the movie made people aware of Bajirao Peshwa's valour, which prompted a renewed interest in him.
Controversy Three (January 2017 onwards) Padmavati
Protests turned violent when Bhansali was slapped whilst shooting at Jaipur's Jaigarh Fort.
Rumours of a dream love song between Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) and Padmini (Deepika Padukone) added fuel to the fire. The rumours upset many more. Team Bhansali did nothing to dispel these rumours then.
Casting Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, who were allegedly in a real life relationship, as Padmini and Khilji complicated matters.
Unfortunately Bollywood has failed to gauge public sentiment with respect to the anguish that continues to exist over Muslims invasions.
Things hotted up after the movie trailer was released on 9 October 2017 on social media. When Team Bhansali released the first song titled Ghoomar on 25 October, protestors said that Rajput women did not dance like that.
On 8 November 8 Divya Kumari, whose grandfather was the last ruler of Jaipur, said, "The women of Rajasthan are very upset with this film made on a queen who is the epitome of sacrifice".
According to a 16 November report in the Times of India, Deepika Padukone said, ‘It's appalling, it's absolutely appalling. What have we gotten ourselves into? And where have we reached as a nation? We have regressed’”.
Deepika's statement was badly timed and increased the divide. It reflects failure of Team Bhansali in hiring a good public relations firm.
Meanwhile, the release date was fixed for 1 December even though the movie had not been approved by the Censor Board. (Board has 68 days to certify a movie).
On 17 November, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) sent back Padmavati to the filmmakers saying that its application was "incomplete”. CBFC chief Joshi said, "The film's application came up this week only for review. The makers know and admit that the paper work is not complete – the very disclaimer whether the film is work of fiction or a historical was left blank and not stated – and on simply and legitimately being asked to provide important documents, target the CBFC for looking the other way and delay."
Around 20 November we heard, "the film apparently has been shown only to select TV anchors who have happily issued endorsement certificates to its content. Ironically, however, the film is yet to receive clearance from the Censor Board whose chief has sharply criticised the selective screening."
Perhaps, Team Bhansali thought they could use public opinion to put pressure on CBFC like what was allegedly done with earlier chief Pahlaj Nahlani. This time round the CBFC chief is Prasoon Joshi, a screenwriter, poet, marketer and CEO of McCann World group India.
Around that time, media reports stated that the British Board of Film Certifications had passed the film without any cuts and would release on 1 December. This seemed to imply, so what if CBFC has not cleared the film you can watch the unedited version in Britain.
As protests intensified, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the studio behind Padmavati deferred the release from 1 December 2017.
In short, it was a public relations disaster for Team Bhansali.
Next, a special panel was formed to see the movie. CBFC chief Joshi said, "The final decision stays with the CBFC committee. Some parts of the advice do find reflection, but as iterated, the final decision for certification is with the CBFC committee.”
Even before the movie was released the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana banned it. The Supreme Court suspended the ban. The movie was thus released on 25 January.
Violence erupted in Haryana, Gujarat etc. The one directed against school children in Gurugram being the most unfortunate.
Nothing prevented Team Bhansali from showing protestors the movie in December or January. It appears controversy has been created at every stage. This way, even those who might not have seen Padmaavat, might end up seeing it. The reviews have not been flattering.
Is Padmaavat the first movie to evoke strong protests? No. Let us look at movies Vishwaroopam and PK.
In 2013, "The Tamil Nadu government banned the screening of Kamal Haasan's Vishwaroopam following strong protests from various Muslim organisations over alleged depiction of their community in a negative light."
"The Madras High Court passed an interim order permitting release of the film. The actor, who couldn't release his movie on Wednesday despite a Madras High Court interim order, talked about an impending bankruptcy that could swallow his personal wealth.”
Subsequently, the Madras High Court set aside a single judge order staying the government's prohibitory orders on Vishwaroopam.
Upset over the ban, Kamal Haasan threatened to quit India, he said he was serious about leaving Tamil Nadu or even India for a secular place where he could continue his work."
The movie was eventually released with cuts.
The movie PK had Hindus upset. Amish, bestselling author of the Shiva Trilogy wrote in The Hindustan Times.
"Certainly there are features of Hinduism that can and should be critically examined. But it's intriguing that the makers of PK thought it fit to criticise some strengths of idol-worshipping cultures instead.
"The fact that idol-worshipping cultures, normally, have living spiritual masters allows them to change easily in times of fast change.
"Over the last two millennia, some communities, starting with the Europeans, then the Arabs, Turks, Mongols etc, took this dislike to an extreme level to end the 'Satanic' idol-worshipping practice forcibly. There was massive violence across the world to purge idol-worship."
Professor Dheeraj Sharma of Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, wrote a very interesting article in The Hindustan Times on how communities are portrayed in Bollywood.
" I am not a regular movie viewer. However, I was cajoled into watching the Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan and I was surprised at the director’s treatment of the subject. The majority of Indians were projected as narrow-minded, conservative, and discriminating. However, a majority of the Pakistanis were shown as open-minded and non-discriminating. This led me to empirically examine if this portrayal is a one-off presentation of stereo typicality or largely prevalent in Bollywood films."
"My research team and I examined randomly selected 50 films from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s and 2000s and 2010s.
"We noted the significant presence of stereo typicality in these films with respect to religion and caste: In nearly 78% of the movies promiscuous women had a Christian name; 58% of the corrupt politicians in films had a Hindu brahmin last name; and, 62% of the corrupt businessman in films had a vaishya last name.
“Eighty-four of the Muslims in films were shown as strongly religious and honest (even when they are shown in the film as engaged in crime) and 88% of the films presented kshatriya last-name individuals to be courageous. Nearly, 74% of the films presented Sikhs as laughable."
The research team's findings on Pakistan were even more interesting.
"In addition, we examined 20 Bollywood movies that had Pakistan as the setting. In 18 of those films, Pakistanis were projected as welcoming, courteous, open-minded and courageous.
"On the contrary, the Pakistan government was demonstrated as fundamentalist, unwelcoming, and jingoist. However, in the same movie, Indians were largely projected as narrow-minded, unwelcoming, and conservative. Indian government officials were however largely shown as neutral, stand offish, procedure-oriented and indecisive."
On the one hand successive governments have spoken about terrorism emanating from Pakistan (since the 1980's) whilst on the other movies like Bajrangi Bhaijaan seek to influence public opinion and create a new reality?
Those who are upset with Bollywood must silently campaign to boycott such movies. Violence is not a solution, playing smart and hurting producers financially, is.
The author eagerly looks forward to Sanjay Leela Bhansali's next movie that hopefully is devoid of controversy.
The writer is an independent columnist, travel photojournalist and chartered accountant, and founder of eSamskriti. He tweets at @sanjeev1927.
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