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Game has changed: Karni Sena, right-wing have realised, Padmaavat doesn't violate their "pride" and "honour"

By Aditi Kundu*
We may have to wait some more time for Good Days, but undoubtedly we are living in interesting times. We never know what would become a burning issue, for which the society - at least a significant and vocal segment – is prepared to forget everything else and ready to take or give up human life!
It could be corruption, gender violence, insecurity in schools, air pollution and all these affect significantly our physical existence. Sometimes, however, it is our new found nationalism, preservation of cultural ethos and historical glory and protection of freedom of expression at the cost of offending others.
More recently “Padmaavat” has come to the centre stage of our national debate. Opinions were sharply divided before people saw the film but situation has not changed after they did, although their assessments now stand diametrically opposite to that made earlier. There are numerous reviews on the “cult” film, each one trying to find meaning in the unending jargons, costumes and fancy sets of the film. All the reviews -- from Anna MM Vetticad, finding a distinct communal bias in the movie, to Swara Bhaskar’s most talked review from a feminist perspective -- are intriguing.
The film which is based on one of the most famous “Jauhar” stories of the country was embroiled in controversies right from the time the film was being shot. The rumours of shooting of a dream sequence between Rani Padmavati and Alauddin sparked a speculation of love angle between Alauddin Khilji and the Rajput queen, which is considered as demeaning “Indian culture”, especially that of the “Rajputs”, even if it is part of anyone’s imagination.
Not many could think that the self-styled group called Karni Sena could go on such a massive violent rampage destroying public and private property and capture public media space. Open threats of chopping off nose and heads took us back to the medieval times when probably the fiction actually took place, if at all! On the other hand, the intellectuals, modernists demanded freedom of creative expression, raising strong voices against the regressive outlook of Karni Sena and other right wing outfits, lending cerebral legitimacy to a film based on regressive and obsolete rituals such as “Sati” and “Jauhar”.
Interestingly, however, the game has changed with the release of the film. Karni Sena and the right wing have realised that the film has no such content that violates their pride and honour in any way and are trying to find excuses for withdrawing from the line of protest. Why? Clearly, the film glorifies “Rajputi” tradition of bravery and honour and in no small measure.
But what made them even happier is exactly what irked the left wing and modernists. “Padmaavat”, by all means, depicts Rajputs as the upholders of traditions and values upon which humanity and civilization rest, while the “khiljis”, (reference could abashedly be to Muslims) are shown as deceitful, treacherous and cruel. And this is reflected in more than one episode.
The way the Rajputs serve food versus how the Muslims eat a whole roasted animal (it was bigger than goat but smaller than a cow). How the “Rajputs” are neat and clean, bathed and combed, while Alauddin Khilji is drenched in blood and sweat, that you can almost smell sitting in the theatre. Where are the grand Moghul traditions? Where is the Islamic art and architecture? The initial scenes, supposedly somewhere in Afghanistan or in Delhi, are forever dark and cloudy, while Chittor is bright with sunshine and colours. Hence the intellectuals are hurt that the film portrays Muslims in a negative light and thereby deepens the communal divide.
Wonder what else were they expecting out of Bhansali’s magnum opus? Were they expecting the film to be a love story between Khilji and Padmavati. Given the sensitivities of different segments of Indian population and their promptness to get offended, only Karni Sena could have suspected that? Sanjay Leela Bhansali knows better; he is a pucca businessman.
The question is what were the left wing intellectuals supporting Bhansali or the intervention by the Film Censor Board for - creative expression? They have often been at loggerheads with the decisions of the Board or, for that matter, many other institutions in the country, perceived as wings of the belligerent state. Now that they are opposing it as a regressive film glorifying “jauhar”, vanity of the age old customs and rituals like sati, one must ask, how come they did not anticipate that? How come they did not believe Bhansali while he shouted his lungs out about his intentions? Why did they not insist the Film Censor Board to exercise discretion over anyone right of free expression?
Karni Sena, Mumbai, praising Padmaavat
It could as well be that Bhansali has actually made the film for the likes of Karni Sena so that it becomes a blockbuster! So how interesting is that!! Right wing was actually doing left wings job and left was supporting the right, albeit unknowingly or naively.
The film actually seems like an attempt by Bhansali to join the league of new brand of nationalists in the Bollywood. The story line of the film has no originality, no twist to the tale, excepting designer jewellery and clothings. It is basically the same story, people at least in north India have heard over and over again that can be told in two sentences.
The grandeur and opulence cannot substitute a storyline based on a fiction written in the 14th century, further fictionalised by Bhansali in the 21st century. The film ends with Bhansali’s imagination where Khilji the conniving and villainous monster deceives Ratan Singh in a sword fight and kills him. All the take-home from the film are many such overtones making it clear that it belongs to the right wing and can only reinforce the communal divide.
There are many films that try to cash upon popular notions without bothering about the societal repercussions. But what this film exposes is that we people of this country want to believe without thinking. Whether it is the right-wing or the left-wing, given their rigid opinions, lack of empathy and openness, the centre will always be troubled.
---
*Architect, presently associated with the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA) and the Indira Gandhi Delhi Technical Institute for Women (IGDTUW)

Comments

Neeraj Nanda said…
The movie does not fit into the Right-Left scenario. It's more a polished and loud fairy tale. If we search rationality everywhere then the disappointment is obvious.
Naila said…
I liked the article overall, however, Khilji was not a Mughal and hence the grand Mughal traditions were not shown.

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