The Violent Targeting of Deepika Padukone and ‘Padmavati’ is Beyond Redemption
Bollywood movie “Padmavati,” starring Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor, and Ranveer Singh, has been indefinitely pushed back from its release date of Dec 1, 2017. There has been a fuss over the film for a long time now because of alleged reports that the movie poorly reflects the story of Rani Padmini and the Rajputs of India. This has led to members of the Rajput Karni Sena protesting the movie.
They began opposition against it even while it was being filmed, vandalizing the sets. Over the course of the last few weeks, however, the protests have taken an abhorrent turn. Leaders from this political party, backed by some politicians from the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), began proclaiming hate towards “Padmavati” actress Padukone and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, offering rewards for their beheading. Their threats include burning down theatres that screened the movie upon release, putting Bhansali on trial for treason, cutting off Padukone’s nose and mutilating her, breaking the legs of Singh who portrays Alauddin Khilji in the movie, and a $1.6 million bounty has been placed on Bhansali and Padukone.
The reason behind all of this? Rumors that “Padmavati” ruins the image, legacy, and history of the highly regarded warrior Rajput clans and the inspiration behind the movie, Queen Padmini. It’s important to know that she probably didn’t even exist. She first surfaced in the poems of Malik Muhamad Jayasi in 1540 and was used as a method of great storytelling by the poet. Historians are divided on whether there ever was a Padmini, to begin with. So, the protesters are opposing a story…based on a story.
If all of it seems ridiculous and unbelievable, it’s because it is. While the sentiment of protecting their legacy is understandable, all those protesting are inciting violence without any regard for the repercussions. Padukone has been targeted with claims of beheading as a punishment for essaying this character openly on the news. Of all the cast members, she has been criticized and blamed the most.
Protesters believe the movie shows intimate scenes between her and Muslim ruler Khilji in a dream sequence. Bhansali has repeatedly clarified that the movie includes no such scenes and in fact, Padukone and Singh don’t share screen space at all. The protesters have also said that since Padmavati is shown dancing without a ghoonghat (scarf worn by married/taken the woman to cover her head or face), which never would happen in real life in the 16th century, their community shouldn’t stand for it.
It is important to remember that none of them have even seen the movie to know what’s in it, let alone protest it. Their disdain towards it and the quick actions they’ve taken to shut it down is based on phantom knowledge of the movie. It’s a wild attempt to hamper the creative process of making a movie. Bollywood movies based on history have a tendency to exaggerate the story for their benefit, so they can add the songs and dance numbers, the romances and the fights. However, without actually watching “Padmavati,” no one has the right to assume what is in it and demand a ban and certainly not call for a beheading.
Somehow, banning movies is also the biggest trick under the sleeve if it’s about a taboo subject. In recent times, “Aligarh,” “Lipstick Under My Burkha” and “Udta Punjab” have all come under fire because of the issues they spoke about. The former was about a gay professor, the next about women empowerment, and the final about Punjab’s excessive drug abuse problem. People get triggered if these issues are tackled on-screen but rarely do anything to solve them in real life. Yet, misogynistic cinema seems to rake in all the money without any hoopla.
Their violent threats against Padukone have led the movie’s release date to be pushed back and security has been heightened for her as well as Bhansali. Ministers of several states in India including Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh claimed they will not allow the movie to be released. However, the Supreme Court of India decided against banning the movie. The Central Board of Film Certification and their chairperson Prasoon Joshi have been going back and forth with the movie’s application for approval.
The queen Padmini was allegedly the beautiful wife of Rawal Ratan Singh, the ruler of Mewar. It is rumored that when Khilji, a Turkish-Afghan ruler, heard of her beauty, he was determined to capture her. He waged war against Ratan Singh and defeated him. To ensure she isn’t a prisoner to Khilji, Padmini committed Jauhar (self-immolation) to protect her honor. That’s another reason protestors have given to opposing the film, citing that Bhansali is promoting the practice of self-immolation in women. This from the same people who threatened to mangle Padukone.
Bhansali came on record to crush the rumors about his film. In a parliamentary hearing, he presented to a 30 member panel stating that the movie is being protested based on rumors, not reality. He repeatedly suggested that their intention while making it was not to hurt sentiments. He screened the film for select few journalists last month, each of whom praised it and sided with the filmmaker on his depiction of the Rajputs. However, he is being reprimanded for the screening because the film had not been officially certified.
Another major speculation is that the real reason underlining the protests and the deferral of the film’s release is to garner support for right-wing support for the assembly elections coming up mid-December. The politicians running to be elected don’t want to disappoint their conservative voters. By creating all this chaos, they have administered even more publicity for it. Rumors are floating that Bhansali is in cahoots with them, responsible for the protests to increase the media and viewer attention on “Padmavati.” Is the whole controversy just a big PR stunt that went horribly wrong?
The film fraternity is strongly supporting everyone involved with the movie. Actors like Salman Khan, Shabana Azmi, Juhi Chawla, Katrina Kaif, Sonam Kapoor, Karan Johar, Twinkle Khanna, Javed Akhtar, Alia Bhatt, Farhan Akhtar and more have been vocal about backing up the cast and crew of “Padmavati” while acknowledging how this backlash suppresses artistic licenses and creatively portraying history.
It’s quite appalling to see all this outrageousness unravel day by day. It highlights one very significant problem with the masses: we can’t stand to see injustice done in the movies but we are indifferent to the injustice done about the very same things in actuality.
The Karni Sena has demanded the film be screened for the Rajput families and they will withdraw their protests if they find the movie unobjectionable. Suraj Pal Singh Amu, who placed the bounty on Padukone, is now claiming he’s a fan of her work and his intention wasn’t to incite violence. Well, next time he’ll have to think harder before offering tons of money to behead someone.
For now, no release date is in sight for “Padmavati.” Check back in with us for updates.