Threats to Padmavati team signal a new low

Last Updated: Fri, Nov 17, 2017 17:40 hrs

In what has become a regular occurrence; a particular religious or sectarian group has threatened the filmmakers and star of an upcoming movie. In the vein of the recent controversy over the Tamil film Mersal, though it seemed like an entire political party was lobbying against the Tamil blockbuster, this time the spotlight falls on Padmavati which is scheduled to release on December 1.

The movie directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, stars Deepika Padukone, and has generated controversy over what has been labeled “distorted historical facts”. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in a letter to the central Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has asked the release of the movie to be delayed because of “public anger” over the script. The fear is that the movie might anger certain groups who could resort to violent protests against the film which they claim distorts historical facts.

The movie is based on a 16th century poem and historians have said that there is no record of such a queen in history. The Economic Times editorial stated that the movie should be released and not screened where there is a real risk of a law and order situation –

There is no need for the film’s certification to be delayed. If he fears that screening the film in Uttar Pradesh would create law and order problems, he is perfectly entitled to ban its screening in his otherwise tranquil state”.

The decision can be left to individual district administrations of the state. Some might prohibit the film’s exhibition, some others might deploy police to protect the film-makers’ right to free speech and artistic expression, and some district magistrates might make the call”.

The letter sent by the state’s principal home secretary Arvind Kumar goes on to say, “…movies with distorted historical facts, exaggeration, false and fictional stories create a vicious atmosphere in the nation and society, develop social hatred and generate serious challenges for law and order”.

Unless the lawmakers and those who oppose it have seen the movie in advance, they’re making these assumptions and allegations against the movie sight unseen. No one would argue against them having an opinion once they have seen the movie. BJP MP Diya Kumari from the Jaipur royal family stated earlier this month that the movie should not be released if it distorts history in any way.

This particular film has faced problems in the past when it was in production. Last year, the sets were vandalized on two occasions and threats were made against the director. Now, a self-proclaimed Rajput group is leading the protest against the film and has vowed to block its screening.

A senior functionary of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS) threatened actor Deepika Padukone with physical harm. Responding to comments made by Deepika Padukone that nothing will stop the release of the film SRKS president Mahipal Singh Makrana said in part, “Why is she making such incendiary comments? We never raise our hands on women, but if we are provoked, we will do to her what Lord Ram's brother Lakshman did to Surpanakha”.

Another leader of the SRKS, Lokendra Singh Kalvi said lakhs would gather can call for a nationwide shutdown on December 1. A Rajput community in Meerut has also announced a bounty of Rs 5 crore on the filmmaker’s head.

In a column for the Hindustan Times, Vidya Subramanian writes on how various groups, and fringe elements cannot decide or dictate what the public should or shouldn’t watch –

Whether or not Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whose film about this possibly fictional queen has run into enough trouble to ensure that it does well at the box office, has managed to portray that accurately is not the reason why the movie has been in the headlines”.

Why would anyone debate rationally when one can go out and break things. Also, breaking things gets you on the news. No news channel will let you rant on primetime about the flawed depictions of historical figures in cinema”.

By capitulating to these violent groups time and again, filmmakers such as Bhansali legitimize this illegal manner of expressing discontent, and encourage these violent thugs to do this again and again. Even if they’re only doing this to get a free pre-release screening; letting them get away with this will only ensure that it happens again”.

The column goes on to state how any work of art – a book, painting, movie etc should be judged individually on its merit. Any form of art is essentially meant to entertain and often make people think and provoke rational debate and discussion.

It is not for these goons to certify whether a film should be released or not. There is an authority in the country tasked with doing this very thing called the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The problem with this approach of violence and vandalism is that it leaves no room for nuanced discussion”.

The Times of India editorial urged the protection of the law for the director and the star of the film and warned against the ‘Mobocracy’ –

Government machinery from Rajasthan to the capital has had plenty of time to squash the thuggery, to make it clear that it stands solidly with the film industry and that only CBFC certifies films in this country… authorities have allowed Padmavati’s foes to spread fanatical fires from state to state, north to south”.

Provisions like the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act and IPC Section 506, where anyone who threatens to cause death or grievous hurt can be imprisoned up to seven years, should be brought to bear on felons”.

If this cannot be done, then in order to ensure mobocracy doesn’t wind Bollywood down entirely Parliament ought to pass a law – call it the ‘Protection of Patron Saints of the Indian Republic Act’ – that publishes a negative list of revered personalities Bollywood is not allowed to film. That would have the virtue of at least clarifying matters”.

This latest episode in the recurring saga of certain groups threatening artists is a new low. It does not reflect well when the central government cannot in one forceful statement condemn these groups and say that freedom of expression is essential in a functioning democracy. Bowing down to those who threaten artists will set a dangerous precedent; if similar instances in the past already hadn’t.

In a country as diverse as India, any work of art is bound to provoke; especially when it comes to religion or caste. Instead of rational debate and discussion, people with a lot of time on their hands take it upon themselves to make threats and ignore the rule of law. Them getting a primetime audience perhaps ticks the ‘let’s hear both sides’ box. It doesn’t however add any value.

More columns by Varun Sukumar

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