Why Protests Against Padmavati Are Nothing To Do With Right Wing Governments Or Freedom Of Expression
If filmmakers stay true to history and not take brazen liberties with it, why would they face such raging situations.
The controversy around Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati gets ‘curiouser and curiouser’, to put it mildly.
A recent article in The Print shares some very important facts with readers, but unfortunately is hasty in drawing wrong conclusions from the facts.
The piece, written by Mahrukh Inayet, tells us about at least four previous instances, two in cinema and two on the small screen, when the story of Rani Padmini was pictured and watched by the masses.
The Print story then goes on to draw this hasty conclusion: “So is the film just an easy target for fringe groups and right-wing elements to force their beliefs on one man’s freedom of expression? History certainly seems to show that.”
Let me share a few facts before I comment on the conclusions drawn in The Print story.
Fact One – Distorting History
Jodha Akbar was a similar movie glorifying the story of Akbar, the Mughal king and Jodha, the Rajput queen. It was banned by the then governments of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttarakhand in 2008. While Rajasthan and Uttarakhand had Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana had non BJP governments. The charge of protestors then and the response of the state governments were the same - that the movie had distorted history.
While Bhansali’s movie Bajirao Mastani was not banned in any state, the descendents of Peshwas lodged strong protests against certain scenes and had asked for the removal of some songs.
Fact Two – Romanticising The Evil
In all the four earlier instances of the Padmini story, which were either televised or filmed, the role of Alauddin Khilji was either traditionally played by bad guys like M N Nambiar in the Tamil film with Vyjayantimala in the lead role or a character actor like Sajjan in the movie starring Anita Guha.
In none of these cases were popular heroes of those times cast in the role of Khilji.
However, Bhansali chose to cast Ranveer Singh, one of the most successful heroes today, to play the role of Khilji with Shahid Kapoor (who is way down in the pecking order) playing the role of Rana Ratan Singh. Ranveer and Deepika Padukone are a successful romantic pair who have worked together in several movies and have acknowledged their relationship off screen too.
With this choice of casting, one can’t blame people for assuming that Bhansali is glorifying the role of Khilji and showing a love angle between Khilji and Rani Padmini when none existed, even if it is shown as a dream sequence.
Fact Three – Going Back On Promise Of Transparency
The Karni Sena had physically assaulted Bhansali during one of his shoots and had even slapped him. He chose not to lodge an FIR and also assured them that the script or film will be shown to them before release. He has gone back on his promise and chose to show the movie to media but not the leaders who had protested.
In a similar situation, Kamal Hassan had organised a screening of Vishwaroopam to sections who protested against his movie and even made changes to pacify them before it was formally released.
Fact Four – Ambiguous Stance
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) apparently has returned its application because the necessary disclaimer about the movie being a work of fiction or history was not submitted at the time of certification. The Rajput families have a valid point when they are asking him to change names if he wants to treat it as a fictional story. He cannot claim to show it as a historic tale but take ‘creative’ liberties with it.
Fact Five – Cutting Across Party Lines
The leaders who have been threatening physical violence belong to Samajwadi Party and Congress in addition to one of the BJP leaders. Chief Minister of Punjab Captain Amarinder Singh has come out strongly supporting the protests.
If one looks at all the above facts, it is clear that it is not about right wing fringe groups attacking Bhansali’s freedom of expression and getting emboldened by the ruling government.
The protests happen when a large section feels your history is tampered with and it cuts across parties and society. It happens when filmmakers play games and focus more on a romantic angle to the exclusion of other angles, even at the cost of being economical with truth. The story of Rani Padmini is history and a story of pain and agony, of shame of not being able to defend ourselves and women having to commit jauhar to save themselves.
It should not be about “glorifying Mughal magnificence” as some of the tweets promoting the movie say. The earlier versions did not draw any protest not because right wing had less power earlier or we had more freedom of expression. It is because the makers of those versions probably stayed true to history and did not play with the emotions of the masses and did not try to hoodwink the people and governments.
The jury is out on the fate of the film and the success or failure at the box office. However, if this controversy makes the future filmmakers careful about not messing with history and not take unnecessary ‘creative’ liberties, the protests would have been worth it.
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