It's a shame BJP-ruled states have banned Padmaavat's release
The chief ministers are setting a dangerous precedence by showing that they can be arm-twisted by extremist groups like Karni Sena.
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“The Supreme Court is Opposition with actual powers, basically,” noted a Twitter user after the apex court, on January 18, stayed a notification by the states of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat banning Sanjay Leela Bhansali's film Padmaavat and gave the green signal for its release. The epic drama lost more than just a vowel from its title in a bid to appease pressure groups across the country.
The battle of Padmavati, or Padmaavat (if one has to use the government approved nomenclature), has been one of almost mythical proportions. A fictional movie based on a fictional poem faced fire from the very beginning. From the film’s sets being vandalised, to the director getting assaulted, to its leading stars being threatened with death and mutilation, to CMs deciding to ban the film, to the project finally being subjected to a panel of “experts” who decided that a change in the film’s name and more disclaimers were the need of the hour, the Padmaavat controversy showed how misplaced India's priorities are.
With so much arm-twisting and despite looking visibly roughed up, one would hope that Padmaavat would come out victorious, a testament to India’s most notable virtue – compromise. A compromise between artistic freedom and pressure groups who perceive just about anything as an insult to their supposedly illustrious heritage. But it was not to be.
As it turns out, the Hindu Right and several states still have enough problems with Padmaavat.
As if by design, several BJP-ruled states, one after the other, started banning the release of the film.
Rajasthan, the epicentre of this controversy, was the first to announce that the film, despite a CBFC certificate, would not be released in the state. “Rani Padmini’s sacrifice is associated with the honour, esteem and pride of the state, so Rani Padmini is not merely a history chapter for us, but is our self-esteem. We will not allow her dignity to be hurt howsoever,” said Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje on January 9.
Of course, there was also Sukhdev Singh Gogamedi, the national president of the Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena, who said, “Let me make it loud and clear that India will burn if the Central Board of Film Certification, producers or cinema hall owners release the film on January 25.”
Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, two more BJP states, followed suit. On Januray 12, MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said Padmaavat won’t release in MP: “Jo kaha hai wahi hoga (whatever I said earlier would continue to remain in force)”.
Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani echoed the MP CM's stand.
That’s not all. It is merely not enough for these states that the film does not see the light of day in their region.
Every aspect of the film, it would seem, offends the very existence of right-wing pressure groups across India. Recently, in Madhya Pradesh, the campus of a private school in Ratlam was vandalised, and its students and teachers attacked by the members of the Rajput Karni Sena. Why? The students were performing the “Ghoomar” song from the film.
If that was not all, Madhya Pradesh home minister Bhupendra Singh made it clear just where the support of the government lies, when he said: “MP government banned Padmaavat. People shouldn't even play songs from it. If someone plays a banned song, it must be reported to police and not take matter in your own hands. Action will be taken against culprits.”
There are a few pertinent takeaways from the grand fiasco that Padmaavat has turned out to be.
First, it would seem that state governments in India, particularly those led by BJP, believe they are above the CBFC, a statutory censorship and classification body under the central government. Two, despite Sanjay Leela Bhansali meeting all the state governments and extremist groups like Rajput Karni Sena midway, these state governments do not seem to share the need to do the same.
Third, and it is almost redundant to point this out — the film, its actors, its makers and all the others who invested in it are being held hostage, not just by right wing groups, but also by the ruling party that seems to believe their cause is just.
And lastly, in its complacency, BJP is not only setting a precedent that if you fight over heritage, you get a free pass, but also tacitly allowing pressure groups like the Karni Sena to assert dominance through violence and coercion.
One may defend the ruling party and say that it is only a film, and it is not that big a deal.
Indeed, if it is something as insignificant as a film, then why is a party (that has power in most states and the Centre) unable to save a small group from bullying at the hands of a motley crew of violent protesters?