Padmavati Row: Is India coming across as Banana Republic?

India, the land of 1.3 billion people takes pride in being called as the world’s largest democracy and India ever since the independence is a throbbing and vibrant democracy, where under the constitution we have been granted the right of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Indian film industry or more commonly known as Bollywood is one of the biggest industries in the world and its reach is across the seas and continents.

India is facing crisis on many fronts, but over the past couple of weeks Indian population and our moral guardians are debating whether a film should be allowed to release or not and the movie in question is by one of India’s finest directors Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmavati. The film is loosely based on a historical figure and Indian queen Rani Padmini and it has created quite an uproar all across India. Bollywood has over the years has been a soft target and now we have Rajput Karni Sena (a glorified fringe group) which says that their feelings are hurt and they will not allow the film to be released. This protest is based on the Karni Sena’s figment of imagination that there is a dream sequence (lovemaking scene) between Rani Padmini (Deepika Padukone) and Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh), which the director of the film (Bhansali) on record has vehemently denied it.

India, last time I checked was still a free country and was run on law and order, but this fringe groups have taken upon themselves to be the moral custodians and they will decide on what is pure and what is impure. The Padmavati row is not one-off and films such as Jodha Akbar, Bajirao Mastani in past had faced problems because it hurt the sentiments of certain religious groups. What is atrocious is that political leaders are encouraging these lumpen elements and giving it a political colour to score some brownie points (read: Gujarat assembly elections).

India is a difficult country to govern and you never know what might offend some people, but what about the population who want to see Padmavati, what about their liberty, freedom of speech and just because they are not protesting on the street doesn’t mean that they are not hurt. Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about New and vibrant India, but we are still living in the 16th century and we are so insecure that we cannot appreciate a film, which is there only for entertainment purposes.

America is a country, where they can make fun of their president Donald Trump on late night shows, award shows and that is what democracy is all about. If you don’t like Padmavati than don’t watch it, but certain thousand people cannot decide for all of India whether this film can be released or not. The Republic of India has already more on its plate and a release of a movie can’t be an issue, which should garner this much interest and prime-time debates. During the entire controversy, CBFC has come across as a weak, inefficient and unprofessional body and just by changing the chairperson (Pahlaj Nihalani to Prasoon Joshi) won’t solve the malaise.

Pakistan, China, North Korea are the countries which are known for muzzling free speech and choice is up to India, whether it wants to join these countries and be counted as the Banana Republic. If India is a free country than release of Padmavati should happen on December 1 without any cuts and the nation has to stand up to protect its fundamental rights and tell those fringe elements like Karni Sena it has no place in India.

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