Padmavat(i) issue is about our, film industry’s hypocricy

Padmavat(i) issue is about our, film industry’s hypocricy

By Aishwarya P. Sharma | 13 January, 2018
The protests are a threat to the non-existent freedoms that we hold so dear.

The controversy surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s now titled film Padmavat tell us a great deal of the state of art, and its form of expression today: that art, cinema, historical characters and freedoms—that comprise much of freedom of press, speech and expression—are underrated in the country. It is a dangerous yet intriguing example of hypocrisy steeped in our culture, our history writing, or rather rewriting, and attempts to bring to life historical characters in cinema. More so, it demonstrates fissures and underlying tensions among historians, academicians and directors who make such movies. Distortion of history is a fact, born out of the machinations of political parties and their electoral agendas. Congress party mastered the art much before the fringe elements realised the electoral benefits of such an exercise.

In a film industry flooded with new talent, big production houses, internationally renowned stars, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the cast of his film must find themselves hopelessly alone. Apart from a few condemnations of the Karni Sena and its aggression, the industry has remained somewhat silent. It is not surprising that the industry was riled up when Kangana Ranaut spoke of hypocrisy and rampant nepotism in the industry. The buck doesn’t stop with Padmavat. It’s a warning to all, anyone daring to make a film on any historical character will have to seek approval before money and time can be invested in the film. So films are no longer about creative expression, but about forging a consensus. Case in point is Udta Punjab, a film that exposed the dark underbelly of the illegal drug trade in India’s wheat bowl. The filmmakers and producers were accused of distorting the image of Punjab rather than lifting the cover on the after-effects of drugs on thousands of youth in the country. Films such as Raees, Indu Sarkar, all became a part of political chorus, while the country stood silent and watched. This is not only a dangerous precedent but the larger message of these protests and death threats go beyond the films. Rather, they are a threat to the non-existent freedoms that we hold so dear. What is even more problematic is that we as a nation have become immune to such aggression or have aided the process of its normalisation in the social and political discourse. The hate towards Gurmehar Kaur for showcasing the hypocrisy of the so-called nationalists was there for all to see. It is not only that social media has become an arena for hate; rather it has slowly and sheepishly crept into our lives.

In a film industry flooded with new talent, big production houses, internationally renowned stars, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the cast of his film must find themselves hopelessly alone. 

The suicide of a 20-year-old girl after repeated harassment by right-wing activists is an example of this trend. Her only crime was that she is believed to have posted on WhatsApp that she liked Muslims. Whether the girl was talking about her Muslim friends or Muslims in general was something that nobody seems to have bothered; the blunder that cost her life was her freedom of speech and expression, which she believed she possessed. The attack on Padmavat and the public shaming of Bhansali and the leading lady of the film is highly condemnable and objectionable.

It’s funny how we dare to dream that our films make it to the Oscars, Golden Globes and BAFTAs, yet we are not aspiring to come up with the cinema worthy of such adulation. Rather, scuttling filmmakers, artists and whistle-blowers seems to have become the norm. The film industry is not a victim, neither is it a supporter of the so-called free speech cause, rather filmmakers, leading producers and even actors ridicule anyone who seeks to bring them closer to reality.

It’s high time the country woke up to the reality that we need quality cinema and freedom for creative expression. Otherwise, all that we are likely to see are action packed pot-boilers, devoid of meaning and content and are more of a propaganda tool like those films we were shown during the Emergency in 1975. It is also a lesson for filmmakers; we are not a banana republic and nor can we accept the gross distortion of facts in the name of protection of creative freedoms. The public are deserving of a quality cinema.

 

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What is missing in Aishwarya Sharma's criticism of a certain form of intolerance which afflicts Bollywood for making a film like PADMAVAT is that traditionally Bollywood has been anti-culture and anti-literature. Bhagavati Charan Varma made such a criticism in the late 1940s . PADMAVAT may have been a prize theme to exploit commercially because of the erotic theme at the centre of the story, as it has been constructed by the script writer. Historical distortions have occurred in the past too, though they went unobserved because they did not shock national sentiments. Nobody criticised Satyajit Ray for a scene on his DISTANT THUNDER in which he has a scene of some villagers blaming the Japanese for the Bengal famine and the distress of the people. S.Ray who wrote the script should have known that the Japanese did actually offer rice to be distributed to the starving Bengalis under the auspices of the International Red Cross. Churchill intervened and expressly ordered the Red Cross not to intervene. And the genocide was duly implemented under the euphemism of the Bengal Famine. Ray may apparently distorted the fact in order to please this British clientele. But the culture of Bollywood is such that few books, few of the established authors of novels in the regional languages get translated into non-Dabangi scripts which deliver films the importance of which are measured in tons of crores. Bollywood would go bankrupt if it made now and then a film on the destruction of Nalanda, on Amir Khusro, on Prithviraj Chauhan, on Ghaznavid Mahmud, on Bahadur Shah hiding in the Humayun Mausoleum , on Nadir Shah, on the life of Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh, on Himu, on Chandragupta , on Harsha, on the story of Hampi and Vijayanagar, and a lot more. On the founders of the AMU and BHU. Who reads a history book in Bolywood? What intellectuals are friends of the Bollywood "elite" (!)? A Bollywood film is defined by the opening credits: the list of faceless entrepreneurs, the acronyms and impersonal names of the greedy company eager for the tons of crores. They are not even ashame to produce the absurd noises which are written on the screen as "music". That is freedom of expression, the commercial corruption of aesthetic taste among the middle class. The freedom to call decadence as respect worthy Bollywood art.

What is missing in Aishwarya Sharma's criticism of a certain form of intolerance which afflicts Bollywood for making a film like PADMAVAT is that traditionally Bollywood has been anti-culture and anti-literature. Bhagavati Charan Varma made such a criticism in the late 1940s . PADMAVAT may have been a prizedtheme to exploit commercially because of the erotic theme at the centre of the story, as it has been constructed by the script writer. Historical distortions have occurred in the past too, though they went unobserved because they did not shock national sentiments. Nobody criticised Satyajit Ray for a scene in his DISTANT THUNDER in which he has a scene of some villagers blaming the Japanese for the Bengal famine and the distress of the people. S.Ray who wrote the script should have known that the Japanese did actually offer rice to be distributed to the starving Bengalis under the auspices of the International Red Cross. Churchill intervened and expressly ordered the Red Cross not to intervene. And the genocide was duly implemented under the euphemism of the Bengal Famine. Ray may apparently distorted the fact in order to please his British clientele. But the culture of Bollywood is such that few books, few of the established authors of novels in the regional languages get translated into non-Dabangi scripts which deliver films the importance of which are measured in tons of crores. Bollywood would go bankrupt if it made now and then a film on the destruction of Nalanda, on Amir Khusro, on Prithviraj Chauhan, on Ghaznavid Mahmud, on Bahadur Shah hiding in the Humayun Mausoleum , on Nadir Shah, on the life of Aurangzeb and Dara Shikoh, on Himu, on Chandragupta , on Harsha, on the story of Hampi and Vijayanagar, and a lot more. On the founders of the AMU and BHU. Who reads a history book in Bolywood? What intellectuals are friends of the Bollywood "elite" (!)? A Bollywood film is defined by the opening credits: the list of faceless entrepreneurs, the acronyms and impersonal names of the greedy company eager for the tons of crores. They are not even ashame to produce the absurd noises which are written on the screen as "music". That is freedom of expression, the commercial corruption of aesthetic taste among the middle class. The freedom to call decadence as respect worthy Bollywood art.

Film Industry is only a part of the bigger plot that Aishwarya has woven in this brilliant article. The question it has thrown is directed to our society at large with a specific reference to Indian film industry which is more of a temporal coincidence. she has shown exemplary courage in giving this debate an intellectual dimension. History is not an absolute, mathematical subject and is aptly called 'his story'. The bias can never be eliminated. Padmawat is an inspired poetry or a historical record, no one knows. We love to glorify our past always as we having very little to showcase in present the future is always uncertain. Instead of going ahead in times we want to go back to 'our glorious times' in a most atavistic instinct. There is a movement to 'correct; the history which may be simply creating another record with a different bias. Non concordance is a sign of intellectual maturity but so is the acceptance. Film industry calls it self 'entertainers' only and not 'keepers of moral values' little realising that hero worship in our country is of 'reel heroes'. People have larger than image of their's in the minds (which may in fact not be good thing for the society). The stand of Film industry does send a signal in the society that it is fragmented and unwilling to take 'unpalatable' issues head on.

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