Yesterday news surfaced on the Internet about Sanjay Leela Bhansali being assaulted in public. The incident happened due to an outburst of protests against his new film, ‘Padmavati.’ The violence was perpetrated by members of Rajput Karni Sena who proceeded to damage equipment on the set and attack the director himself. As of now, the police have declared that Sanjay Leela Bhansali has expressed his intention to discontinue filming in the area.
For those of us who keep up with the happenings of the world, things like this are not new. There was widespread controversy regarding Ram Leela too. An FIR was lodged against the producers of the film that alleged they hurt religious sentiments and the images of the poster were offensive. The same took place for Udta Punjab when in Ludhiana protests broke out over the fact that the film was ‘defaming Punjab.’ Films like OMG and PK have been through similar predicaments, where opposition has been made on the basis of religious sentiments being hurt.
Speaking out against anything is part and parcel of any democracy, yes sure. Free speech is a given and sometimes it falls to the common citizens to make their thoughts known. However, those thoughts need not always be for the government. Very recently, Marvel Studios’ ‘Doctor Strange‘ was accused of “whitewashing” their cast. The protests were targeted against actress Tilda Swinton, who was cast in the role of the Ancient One, a role many believed to be a better fit for an actor of Asian or Chinese descent. Times like these call for backlash from the public and it is warranted. If the film makers do not see it, then we are the ones who must remind them of their obvious fallacies, or in this particular case, narrow mindedness.
But where does one draw the line? What is the extent to which protests are healthy? What is the after which they become ugly and vicious? Why do we hear so many of such incidents?
Make no mistake, ours is not the only country whose film industry faces such problems. Movie makers all over the world have faced the brunt of hate groups, activists and minority groups coming out against their creations for various reasons. Native American groups calling out mistreatment of cast members on the sets of ‘The Revenant’ is a good example of said situation. However, as mentioned before, most of these protests are justified in their reasoning. So, would protests against the accuracy of Padmavati be justified?
Padmavati is a historical movie, with an acclaimed director retelling the story of the queen who refused to surrender and proceeded to kill herself in reply. As with any historical movie, historical accuracy is a must, if not a requirement. History is an important part of India’s culture. In fact, almost all of our diverse and rich culture comes from our equally eventful history. It goes with doubt, therefore, that any movie of this like would come under scrutiny and should be able to hold up to it. A protest that happens against the accuracy and the way these important and inspirational figures are being portrayed seems very justified. That is, of course, as long as the protests remain peaceful.
As a producer, protests are nothing but an inconvenience. In fact any kind of controversy generated by the film would be assumed as such but should it be condemned outright? B.R.Chopra’s ‘Insaf ka Tarazu‘ was the subject of a huge controversy because it displayed the brutal rape of a 13 year old. So, the question of whether the film should be released falls, in the end, under the category of perspective. And that is all it should be – a matter of opinion.
It is all right to dislike a movie, even based solely on its premise. A protest wouldn’t be considered out of the world, although it would take up a lot of your time. A message on social media about why you’re not watching the movie, maybe a discussion with friends and maybe a suggestion to people you love about why this movie shouldn’t be watched – these would make for great ways to go against a film you feel is wrong. It would mean respecting the fact that a film has been made and at the same time, respecting other people’s choices to watch the film as well. That doesn’t sound hard, yet it is impossible for a lot of people. Sadly, the number of such people is inconsiderably large.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s run in with such a group only goes to show how normal it has become for groups like Rajput Karni Sena and Shiv Sena to cross the line like this. While eminent directors are slapped and punched, others like Karan Johar are asked to pay 5 crores as penalty for casting Pakistani actors. Very recently, before the release of ‘Dangal’, a reward of 1 lakh rupees was announced for the person who would slap Aamir Khan for his “intolerance” remarks. The reward was announced by Shiv Sena but as of now, no one has stepped up.
Why does this happen then? Politics is the first answer that comes to mind, but more than that it is a blatant mixture of hypocrisy, greed and sheer hate. Supremacist groups like the Shiv Sena follow guidelines and ideologies that will always elude us. An example would be their most recent propaganda, mostly surrounding casting Pakistani actors and actresses. It is not they that are the problem. It is what groups like these feed on.
Open any social networking site and locate any anti-Pak post. The next step would be to read the comments and all will be clear. “These bloody Muslims should go back to Pakistan” and “Pakistan Murdabad” are the cleanest ones I could find, honestly. Hate like this is not just directed towards our neighbour but at our own brothers and sisters as well. At least ten posts have come up from ‘pure Hindu supporter’ Facebook pages, Twitter users etc. All these posts contain the same thing, jubilation at the treatment Bhansali has received for ‘disrespecting our Rani Padmavati.’
There are many among us educated youth, who believe that we should never go against our culture but are we doing so by making a film about what may be considered such a thing? It is alleged that Padmavati has love scenes featuring Deepika and Ranveer, and is that a bad thing if it is true? Is there no such thing as artistic expression? Hypocrisy runs deep along the lines of such incidents. People scratching heart shapes on monuments seem to become the guardians of history when it seems like a trend. Religious sentiment is preached by groups in the background of religion based mob violence and atrocities too vile to name. How else does one explain people who decry Bollywood for making similar films but literally attack film makers who decide to do the opposite?
A film buff would be saddened by the state of events, as long as they remain such. Creativity is a pool that has many facets and many personalities. Each and every one of these personalities has a right to be known and displayed. There is no better medium than the artist who wields it. Once unleashed, it can be a powerful weapon, a soothing act or something that provokes the mind. The one thing that should never be done, however, is to stifle such creativity.
Films, especially, have always been a source of joy for the Indian public. They have brought relaxation, escapism and unbridled entertainment to generations of our country’s population. However, incidents like the one in question, stunt the growth of the art of film making. Would a budding film maker dare to make a film now? How about a movie that portrayed an Indian historical figure, say Gandhi, in an unflattering light? Will the Shiva trilogy written by Amish be made? Or would it be too controversial to make a film on a God? Films like Black Friday and Paanch are examples of films that spoke boldly. However, these were either heard too late by the audience or never heard at all.
Peaceful protest is not a bad thing. Whether it is justified or not is a matter of perspective. Using said opinion to propagate acts like these is what needs to stop. However, as this debate rages on, another film has suffered. Sanjay Leela Bhansali has gone through what nobody should. him feels. People have called out in support but there are many who decry his interpretation. There are many who want the ‘objectionable scenes’ to be removed. After all, how dare a film maker display love making in the second most populated country on the planet.
As for us, we need to remember that we have the right to express ourselves. However, this is not the way. We need to do better. We have to.
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