Battle for pride: the Padmavati row

The recent turn of events has an uncanny similarity to what happened in Panchkula.

Until and unless you have been living under a rock all this while, you must be aware of the ugly spat between the makers of Padmavati and the Rajput Karni Sena, the self-proclaimed guardians of Rajput pride. What began with the protests of few hardliners has somehow engulfed the whole nation. Quite astonishingly, this issue has garnered a lot of attention considering the fact that we have much more pressing issues at hand. Well, that’s India for you, truly Incredible.

Padmavati has become the hottest topic right now and everyone wants to ride this wave, leveraging its popularity for their personal gain or to merely get a sense of false relevance in their otherwise insignificant lives. A typical example of the saying ‘Make hay while the sun shines’. Many political leaders, for instance, have found a good way of diverting public’s attention and appeasing their vote banks. Their need to get involved in this matter is beyond my comprehension and at the same time utterly unnecessary. All this noise is only leaving the neutral audience intrigued, leading to piqued curiosities which will only benefit the movie. Publicity is good, whether positive or negative.

Events like these are not isolated as they are common in our country where the liberty to express is precautiously curtailed, owing to the fear of displeasing someone. But when Bollywood, our alternate religion, is involved, these events get a much higher media attention. The same could be the reason why I feel there are vested interests behind such episodes rather than righteousness.

This dispute has been going on for a while now, stretching back to over a year. The Karni Sena began protesting against Padmavati in 2016, claiming that the film distorts historical facts and shows Rajput queen Padmini in a bad light. The film is reportedly based on an epic poem ‘Padmavat’ (1540) in which the queen chooses self-immolation instead of being captured by the barbaric Muslim ruler, Alauddin Khilji. Many prominent historians have come out in support of the makers by claiming that the Sufi poet who wrote ‘Padmavat’ made up the story that later got legend status so Bhansali cannot be threatened for taking creative license with the tale. Many of the protestors agree with the fact that the story is fictional. So there is no proof that queen Padmini even existed. Simply put, all this hullabaloo is happening for a fictional queen. I wonder if we take living people as seriously as we take our legends. Definitely incredible India.

The controversy has moved past those initial allegations as with each passing day, a new accusation joins the scene. While some are upset over the distortion of historical facts, others are offended by the portrayal of queen Padmini or the alleged glorification of Khilji. Some even went a step ahead by suggesting that this movie is financed by Dubai as a part of an international conspiracy to defame Hindus. According to some rumors, there is even a romantic dream sequence between queen Padmini and Khilji in the movie. The makers have vehemently denied all such allegations time and again. But it was of no use. Afterall, how would you wake someone up who pretends to sleep? It is hilarious as no one has actually watched the movie yet.

Their claims are highly unverified; mostly rumors planted as a means of extorting money from the filmmakers. The makers have always maintained that in no way they have disrespected the Rajputs or shown them in a bad light. Recently, few journalists including Arnab Goswami were invited to a special screening of the movie. They all came out claiming that if anything, this movie is a glaring tribute to Rajputs. But that did not make any difference as I said earlier “Pretending to sleep”. Their actions seem to be motivated by money.

These people have been relentless in the pursuit of their demands. They have been quite vocal about it, with ‘vocal’ being a euphemistic expression. They have been engaged in nationwide protests while threatening the filmmakers, vandalizing the movie sets and even physically assaulting Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the director of the film. These fanatics hit a new low when they threatened to chop off the lead actress Deepika Padukone’s nose. It was even more disgusting to see some prominent political leaders join this lunacy. Haryana BJP leader Suraj Pal Amu even went a step ahead and offered cash rewards to anyone who beheads Deepika Padukone and Sanjay Leela Bhansali. One has to question, what have the cops been doing all this while when such threats were issued openly in public. The same cops who are usually proactive when it comes to handling dissenters and liberals. And how is it even justified? How can you hurt a woman on the pretext of protecting another woman’s honor, who by the way is probably a fictional character. Hypocrisy at its best.

I firmly believe that just like other artists, filmmakers should be given creative liberties. A movie should be watched as a means of entertainment and not taken as the word of god, the gospel truth. Creativity should be allowed to prosper. A huge pool of talent and rich content is already suffocating because of our inability to tolerate, to hear the truth, to appreciate a different perspective. Even if we ‘ASSUME’ for a minute that the makers have distorted historical facts to enhance dramatization, how does that justify the violence? And what is wrong with over dramatization? Afterall, this is our own doing. I am pretty sure our beloved ‘Tiger’ Salman Khan wouldn’t be still ‘Zinda’ and single-handedly defeating the dreaded ISIS if it was not over dramatized. They make such content because we as viewers consume such content. Our Bollywood is well known for the very same thing. So why do we suddenly expect it to be any different? Just because it relates to our culture and history? Well, let me tell you a secret, my friend. Whatever you are fed in the name of history, are merely polished stories. It is someone’s interpretation of truth and not necessarily the truth itself.

There is a way of putting across your point of view. These so-called ‘Rajputs’ could have handled this with grace and dignity. The same grace and dignity they are fighting to protect. They themselves are tarnishing the image of Rajputs. Rajputs were great kings, not goons. A proper form of protest would have earned them more support. Instead, such gimmicks will only hurt their cause. In this battle for pride, they have self-immolated their pride.

Just like any other business, movies are money driven. So the smarter thing would have been to hurt them where it hurts the most, the collections. Effectively putting across your point and gathering support for a mass boycott could have easily served their purpose. But instead, they are only antagonizing everyone towards them and gathering sympathy for the movie. More and more people are coming in support of Padmavati.

After assessing the whole scenario, it seems evident that molding of historical facts is not the only reason for this outrage. It is not as much of a strong motivator as people are projecting it to be. Afterall, since when have we started to care so much about our history? Something bigger is at play here. There are vested interests and the crux of the whole issue definitely lies somewhere else. We could only speculate on the specifics but just like in most cases, monetary or political gains seem to be at the forefront.

Strangely, I feel as if history is repeating itself. This incident has an uncanny similarity to what happened in Panchkula a few months back. Both these incidents have different masks but their faces feel similar. There seems to be a general consensus about the absurdity of what’s happening, yet there is a huge uproar along with a widespread violence that is taking place; just like it did during the Panchkula fiasco. All that is left is to find the angle of power whether political or monetary; like the one uncovered later in the Ram Rahim incident. Money and power drive the world around. It won’t take a genius to figure out the same forces being responsible here too.

Relenting to the massive pressure, the makers have been forced to postpone the release date. The film hasn’t even been granted a certification by the CBFC yet, citing a lack of paperwork. Recently, there was a meeting between the makers of Padmavati, the CBFC, and a parliamentary panel. It is shameful that the government had to intervene in matters like these. I would rather see my tax money being utilized elsewhere. Even the supreme court has twice rejected the plea to ban the movie while clearly stating that CBFC should be allowed to do their work and decide the fate of this movie.

All in all, it is our movie industry that is suffering. Such incidents will only hamper the growth of the industry we proudly call our flag-bearer; the industry we hope to represent us on the world stage. I find it tragic to see such an ambitious project mired in such a senseless controversy. A project which should have been judged and appreciated on the basis of its merit is instead forced to die in silence. A movie which was touted to be the next thing in Bollywood had to face such resistance. The things which should have mattered the most are least talked about. No one is talking about the sheer grandeur of this project, the artistic nuances, the performances or the picturization. We keep lamenting the fact that our movies fall short in front of the Hollywood masterpieces. Well, Guess what! They will always fall short if we keep doing this to our movies and movie makers.

Open up your minds. Look at different perspectives. Do not get swayed by the media. Think.

#VyasSpeaks

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