Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmavati’ row: Why lip service is an easy way out
On Friday, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali (SLB) was shooting his film Padmavati in Jaigarh Fort in Jaipur. Activists of the Rajput Karni Sena (RKS) stormed the set, vandalized it and beat up Bhansali. Why? Because they were outraged that Bhansali was making a fictional film about the fictional tale of a Rajput princess written by 16th century Sufi poet Malik Muhamad Jayasi. So, they did what all schoolyard bullies do, which is to use physical force to get across a point they cannot make verbally.
According to Rajput Karni Sena, which earlier came into the limelight when it protested during the shooting of Jodha Akbar, this film has love scenes between Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji, played by actors Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh, respectively. And they have demanded that Bhansali delete any such scenes. According to the leader of the group, “We had warned the filmmaker against presenting wrong facts. When we came to know about the shooting, we gathered there and protested”.
Many truths have come to light with this incident.
First off, it is a sad day when grown men do not know the difference between fact and fiction. The Padmavati tale has never been proven or recorded in history. It was an allegorical poem written by Jayasi. The poem is about a Rajput queen who decided to immolate herself instead of becoming the consort of the Delhi sultan, Alauddin Khilji. Jayasi himself, as reported in the Imperial Gazetter of India, 1909, explained that the tale is an allegory in the final verses of the poem and not a retelling of history.
But to expect anyone from a religious political group to actually read and be aware of the meaning of the word “fact” is expecting the impossible.
Famously, Lokendra Singh Kalvi, who founded the Rajput Karni Sena, has said in his defence, “Kya Sanjay Leela Bhansali ki haisiyat hai Germany jaake Hitler ke khilaf film banane ki?”. (Does Sanjay Leela Bhansali have the courage to make a movie in Germany portraying Hitler in poor light) I don’t know what is more laughable here, that Kalvi is comparing India to Germany and Allaudin Khilji to Hitler, or that he has not watched any of the comedies and satires on Hitler.
Second, following the attack on Bhansali, Bollywood’s directors and actors have come out and voiced their angst and disapproval against this incident. Mainly on Twitter, though. Now while it’s heartening to see Bollywood take a stand on anything, you cannot help but wonder whether they do not realise that they’re the ones who’ve helped feed this monster of intolerance?
Kalvi and Rajput Karni Sena is just the Shiv Sena or the Maharashtra Nirman Sena or the Bajrang Dal by another name. When the film industry stays silent when My Name Is Khan or Ae Dil Hai Mushkil or Jodha Akbar or Water is threatened, and in fact goes and hobnobs with the leaders of these political parties instead of coming out against absurd demands by them—they ensure that more such people pop up. More little men with little egos who want their moment in the sun and believe that they can tell a filmmaker how to make a film and what they should show in it. Th at is what it results in.
How many actors/directors/producers came out in support of Karan Johar when his Ae Dil Hai Mushkil faced protests from Hindu groups because it starred a Pakistani actor?
As film auteur Kamaal R. Khan, who made Deshdrohi tweeted, quite accurately, “If you Bollywd ppl will just talk on Twitter without taking proper action then today SLB has got slapped n tomorrow you all will get slapped”. It’s a sad day when KRK holds up a mirror to the film industry. It is also important to note that stars such as Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn and Aishwarya Rai have not muttered a critical word against the Rajput Nirman Sena. No police complaint had been made by Bhansali so far, even though the people who were arrested following the assault were released on bail.
Finally, there is also the question of understanding freedom of expression. Of course, in this case, the vandals and assailants did not even know what was being shot by Bhansali. But even if a love scene was being shown between Khalji and Padmavati, if the RNS felt their finer sensibilities would be offended, they could have simply not gone and watched the film. But that wouldn’t have got them the publicity that beating a Bollywood director and vandalising a set has.
It’s also worrying when the actress of the film, a supposedly educated, emancipated and thinking woman, Deepika Padukone says, “As Padmavati I can assure you that there is absolutely no distortion of history”. This is how you feed the beast a buffet. First, it is not history—and it is sad that Padukone doesn’t know this. It’s like Helena Bonham Carter thinking that the Red Queen was actually a queen in a land called Wonderland. Second, even if it was a distortion, that is an artiste’s creative licence. Also, if she’d read history books she would have realised that history much like literature or art is open to interpretation and different historians have different versions of the same incident.
Of course, our Prime Minister has not tweeted—his main mode of communication—and condemned this incident, and neither has Vasundhara Raje, the chief minister of Rajasthan. But there is some solace to be taken from information and broadcasting minister M. Venkaiah Naidu’s statement condemning the incident.
What has come to the fore though, is that while Bollywood is fine with tweeting—the few who are—support to Bhansali, expecting them to come out of their ivory towers in Bandra and Juhu and SoBo is too much. Till now, no delegation has sought an audience with Modi asking for the state to allow artistes to do their job. I don’t expect any of these artistes to return or refuse state honours in protest or refuse to participate or endorse any government initiative or political party, till their rights are protected.
After all, lip-service and keying in protests in 140 characters is far easier than actually taking a real stand on an issue.