Among the most irritating pieces of news I have read over the last two days is that no less than six petitioners have presumed to take Ram-Leela to court, saying the movie will “hurt [the] religious sentiments of Hindus as it contains sex, violence and vulgarity.”
It also annoys me that despite the court fining the petitioners for their asinine contention, the filmmakers have sought to prove that the name of their film has been changed – to Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela.
First up, how can anyone decide to go to court “on behalf of Hindus”?
I, for one, am a Hindu, and I don’t find the name offensive. Nor do I associate ‘Ram Leela’ exclusively with the god, or expect the film to give me a condensed version of The Ramayana. Even if I went in with “the expectation that the film would be about Lord Ram’s life”, I would not walk out feeling offended if it were not.
This is a country where most people name their children after gods and goddesses. In fact, one of the most notorious and perverse men who has hit the headlines in recent times, Ram Singh – one of the convicts in the Delhi bus rape case – happened to be named after the same god who is held as a paragon of righteousness.
Are we then going to have someone petition the courts for a ban on the use of the names of gods and goddesses for children, since we don’t quite know how they will turn out? Or, are we going to say that someone called Sita, for instance, who has an extramarital affair must change her name, because she’s offending those of us who expect her to live like the queen she was named after?
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, are our epics really devoid of “sex, violence and vulgarity”? I can think of at least two stories, from The Ramayana and The Mahabharata respectively, that involve all three – the story of Surpanakha being attacked by Lakshmana, and the disrobing of Draupadi.
My favourite thing about the Indian epics is that they have so much room for interpretation, and carry such close parallels to a regular, human life. Our gods and demigods and warriors are not infallible. Everyone makes mistakes, and their actions allow for debate.
Suddenly, though, the epics seem to have passed into the custody of bigoted ideologues, who foist their own narratives upon what is the common property of anyone who, not only belongs to the Hindu religion or to India, but really, anyone. Anyone who reads, anyone who writes, anyone who interprets, anyone who is interested in religion, history or simply stories.
If we are to indulge these bigots, as an audience, and if filmmakers are to indulge them, our arts are in very real danger of falling victim to a hateful breed of chauvinism.
India has a terrible track record of protecting its artists in various forms. Our list of banned books mocks our claim of being a ‘democracy’. The number of literature festivals and art exhibitions that have been attacked by or threatened by bigots mocks our law enforcement authorities.
When will we step up?
When these bigots ask that no film should be released that has any reference to anything involving a god? That may have already happened – Kamal Haasan’s Dasavatharam was targeted for a scene that shows an idol being drowned in the sea. The Tamil film Aadi Bhagavan got into trouble over its name.
When these bigots ask that no book must be released that can “hurt religious sentiments”? That has happened very often, perhaps most memorably in the case of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses – the author had the dubious distinction of first being banned in the country of his birth.
When these bigots claim that their interpretation of religion and its application in our daily lives is the only one which can stand? That is happening every day. Every film that has sold out to their demands, and every book that has been banned, and every art exhibition that has been ransacked, lends validity to their claim.
So, here we are, the land of the Kama Sutra, of more than one billion people, where we will pretend no one has sex.
Here we are, the land of animal sacrifice and dowry deaths and bride burning and countless wars and insurgencies and special powers for armed forces, where we will pretend that violence hasn’t been ingrained in our past and present.
Here we are, the land where most cities fight over the title of ‘rape capital’, where people salivate over item numbers and then call for a ban on dance bars, where people watch porn and keep illegal brothels in business, and then come back home to fault the length of the women’s skirts and shorts. And yet we will pretend that vulgarity is alien to us.
Because, if you whistle loud enough and shut your eyes and ears to everything around you, you can conjure up your own reality. Indeed, Jai Ho, India.
Read More by the Author:
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Day 4 at DIFF: Curtain Call
Day 3 at DIFF: The night that wouldn't end
Day 2 at DIFF: Of documentaries and the Dalai Lama
Day 1 at DIFF: It really is all about art...and alcohol
Dear Censors, when will you let us grow up?
The author is a writer based in Chennai.
She blogs at http://disbursedmeditations.blogspot.com and tweets at @k_nandini