Mumbai: It could be about distorting history, hurting religious sentiments or that favourite bugbear Pakistan.
Filmmakers navigate a minefield before a release and the brouhaha over “Padmavati” is only the most recent example, say Bollywood insiders.
Be it the small-budget “Lipstick Under My Burkha” that touches on women’s sexuality or a biggie like Karan Johar’s “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”, a mainstream entertainer but with a Pakistani in a cameo, trouble comes in all shapes and sizes.
In the most recent instance of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s lavishly mounted period drama “Padmavati”, historians are divided on whether she even existed but irate Rajput groups have called the film an insult to their honour.
According to trade sources, Rs 150 crore is riding on the Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh-Shahid Kapoor starrer on the Rajput queen Padmini, whose story was narrated in Malik Mohammed Jayasi’s epic poem “Padmavat” in the 16th century.
The jury is out on whether some factions of the Rajput community, including the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, will succeed in stalling the release of the film, but the seemingly random threats have taken on a momentum of their own.
From Rajasthan, the protests have now spread across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka.
With slogan shouting crowds blocking the way to the Chittorgarh Fort and members of the Karni Sena threatening to cut Deepika’s nose for her comments against them, compromise may be the only way for the producers as they are at their most vulnerable ahead of a film’s release, the sources said.
It’s not just about creative expression, the hard work of hundreds of people and the producers’ money. It is also about distributors, said Amod Mehra, a Mumbai-based trade analyst. “These fringe elements threaten theatre owners by vandalising their property,” said Mehra.
Exhibitors and theatre owners will face the real brunt as it is not possible to secure every cinema hall. Exhibitors are scared to release the film in states such as Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh, where groups like the Karni Sena operate in large numbers, he said.
“It is a heavy film. A lot of hard work, time and money goes into making a film like ‘Padmavati’. A heavy film is like a daughter of marriageable age. You are under pressure to release it on time,” Mehra told PTI.
Film exhibitor Akshay Rathi said dialogue was the only way in the current scenario. “It is simple. The producers have Rs 150 crore to lose. What do the protestors have to lose in the end? But in India, we try to resolve every issue through dialogue. “Of course, there should be no distortion of facts but Bhansali is a sensitive filmmaker and he will never do something like that,” Rathi told PTI.
Politicians, Rajasthan’s erstwhile royalty as well as senior minister Nitin Gadkari were amongst those who waded into the controversy, saying that Bhansali should not distort history and maintain sensitivity.
Bhansali, who has courted controversy with his earlier films — in “Guzaarish” for a poster showing Aishwarya Rai smoking a cigarette and in “Ram Leela” for the title — issued a video appeal a la Karan Johar to reiterate that he has not played with historical facts.
Bhansali, who was roughed up by the Karni Sena during the shooting of the film, has remained conciliatory but the film fraternity has come out in support.
Ahead of “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil”, which came after the attack on the Army camp in Uri, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) took offense to Pakistani actor Fawad Khan’s presence in the film. The controversy forced Johar to release a video, apologising for doing so and declaring that he was a patriot.
It also ended Fawad’s Bollywood career with film associations issuing a statement that they will boycott actors from Pakistan. Sometimes it could be a stray reference in the movie itself.
Johar also faced problems with “Wake Up! Sid” as MNS threatened to stall the release for use of the word of “Bombay” instead of Mumbai. Once again, compromise was reached after Johar apologised to party supremo Raj Thackeray.
Around the same time, his “My Name is Khan” faced threats from the Shiv Sena because its star Shah Rukh Khan had advocated the participation of Pakistani players in IPL. Then there was the case of the religious satires “OMG: Oh My God! and “PK”, which earned the ire of religious groups for their attack on superstition.
The list is long and varied.
“Udta Punjab” on the drug menace in Punjab ran into trouble with the then-Pahlaj Nihalani led Censor Board. Nihalani ordered more than 90 cuts and asked that references to Punjab, which was then headed for elections, be removed.
The makers of the Abhishek Chaubey-directed movie moved the Bombay High Court last year, which ruled that the film be released with a single cut and three disclaimers.
Many times bitten, not shy, the film industry is now waiting to see if Bhansali’s film sails through its many troubles — including a nationwide bandh on December 1.