Is India really world’s largest democracy? Is India a free country? Is there any place for liberals and free thinkers in India? These questions are raised and one wonders where is India headed in light of controversy surrounding a film. Yes, we are talking about a form of entertainment ‘Padmavati’, which has created quite an uproar because we Indians are very touchy and sensitive, and are hurt because certain groups and fringe elements have an issue with celebrated film maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmavati.
India, ever since it got independence, has always been preaching about freedom of speech and freedom of expression and according to our political class, we follow our constitution cent percent and they would like us to believe that India is truly a great country. Indians, over the years, have taken immense pride in films and art and we love any genre of film which serves entertainment.
Bhansali is a director who has always followed his heart and has given master classes like Devdas, Bajirao Mastani and is an individual who is not after the money, but for him excellence supersedes monetary gains and is one of the rare Indian filmmakers who is obsessed with history and wants to give his interpretation of certain events. Bhansali has won four national awards and for that you have to be a top-notch director and the work done by Bhansali speaks for itself and the irony is his film is being held to ransom by anti-national (read: Rajput Karni Sena) elements.
Padmavati has been facing trouble since its inception with self-proclaimed groups like Rajput Karni Sena protesting the film because, according to them, it hurts Indian culture and shows celebrated and historical figure Rani Padmini in poor light. This fringe group can see and predict future because they have got to know that there is a dream sequence between Rani Padmini, essayed by Deepika Padukone, and Alauddin Khilji, portrayed by Ranveer Singh, have lovemaking scenes between them and despite Bhansali denying out rightly on record, Karni Sena has threatened that they will vandalise and disrupt the proceedings of the film if it is released on December 1.
Indian political class deserves kudos because no political party has taken a stand because vote banks like Karni Sena are very dear to them and also elections for the state of Gujarat are due in short time. The lumpen elements have threatened to chop off Deepika Padukone’s nose and when the actress says that we have regressed as a nation, we (read: pseudo nationalists) are deeply offended and try to bully the cine star by raising questions over her nationality.
Bollywood has always been a soft target and just last year we had the unfortunate incident of Karan Johar begging on his knees to a regional political party (one MLA in Maharashtra assembly) to get his film released and was forced to release a video to prove his patriotism. Everyone expressed sympathy, but nobody supported Johar and to get his film release, the mediation was done by elected chief minister of Maharashtra and the director had to pay Rs 5 crore as penance.
Udta Punjab (because it dared to show the reality of Punjab) had 89 cuts and after the intervention of Bombay High Court it was released with one cut, but nobody took a stand because we (Bollywood) are so spineless that it will never support its peers. The problems faced by film industry is not a one-off incident and when stars like Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan speak about intolerance, they are criticised for speaking the truth and are given tags like anti-national and agents of Pakistan. The Hindi film industry is only united during the awards season but is so weak that they will never fight the real battles.
Why doesn’t India win Oscars? The simple answer is we are so scared and shallow that we never stand up for our fundamental rights and fight for causes. Bhansali is currently facing a crisis, but all will be forgotten with latest breaking news and Padmavati will become history. Countries like Iran, which are so challenged and where free speech is in dire straits makes moving and important films that we should be really ashamed and should do honest soul searching.
Padmavati is now not just a film, it has become a movement. And, if the film doesn’t release on its due date, then we have failed as a democracy and everything we stand for counts for nothing. No film maker in the future will dare to make a film, which might upset a few people and groups. Bollywood has to wake up from its slumber to fight for its rights and, if it doesn’t do, then India and Bollywood has let Sanjay Leela Bhansali down. And, in the near future, we will be making films just to suit our political masters.