Assault on Sanjay Leela Bhansali shows India is more scared of its fictions than history

Violent and vicious attacks on Bollywood artists are being normalised with every passing day.

 |  4-minute read |   28-01-2017
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After Karan Johar, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan were subjected to virulent trolling online and their respective films or brand promotions compromised for airing difference, the Bollywood’s dream merchant Sanjay Leela Bhansali is now the latest target of the riotous offence cadres of India.

National award-winning Bhansali was slapped, beaten up and manhandled by members of the Karni Sena in front of his crew and security personnel in Jaipur, where he was working on the sets of his under-production movie, Padmavati. It’s a film about thirteenth century Sultan Alauddin Khilji and the battle for Mewar via his attraction for Queen Padmini, or Padmavati in the film. 

Karni Sena, a fringe rightwing group of Hindu hardliners, barged in and targeted Bhansali and his team, violently attacking them, until security personnel had to fire in the air to disperse the goons. That Bollywood is increasingly becoming the softest target for religious fundamentalists of all hues, but particularly of the Hindutva brigade, is something that only Anupam Kher can afford to deny any more. 

Bhansali was apparently attacked because the film script features a dream sequence in which Alauddin Khilji, portrayed by Ranveer Singh, and Padmavati, essayed by Deepika Padukone, are seen romancing each other. That this is a fictional extrapolation of dry historical records is obvious, and in no way alters that. In fact, without minimum imaginative licence, historical biopics cannot be created, as was the case with Ashutosh Gowarikar’s Jodha Akbar, or even Bhansali’s own Bajirao Mastani.

 It’s equally obvious that the vandals and assaulters, who have a problem with a movie that is not even made, were registering their being offended at an imagined inter-religious romance. Just like the “ghar wapsi” and “love jihad” paranoia engineered by the BJP and its apparatchiks since 2014, this is licensing and normalising violence through online and offline modes, thereby instilling permanent fear among the creative fraternity.

Just like Karan Johar was forced to pay the “ransom” of Rs 5 crore for having Fawad Khan in a cameo role in the movie Ai Dil Hai Mushkil, or Aamir Khan was eased out of Snapdeal for airing wife Kiran Rao’s views on intolerance, the assault on Bhansali is simply an additive to the series of violence that Bollywood has been subjected to. To the extent that Bollywood is vertically divided between liberals who think India is facing an intolerance problem, while others prioritise majoritarian sentiments and slyly condone the violence on their own brethren. 

Suffice to say, Bollywood is the easiest punching bag, as are writers and journalists in contemporary India. The attack on Bhansali, just like the previous instances, was an indication that these “senas” and “vahinis” are absolutely unafraid of the law and order situation, and have covert nod from the top. That they have zero fear of consequences is reason enough to see that this isn’t a random spreading of a virulent rash of the offence brigade marauding film sets and beating up renowned filmmakers. It’s a case of organised violence. 

India, unfortunately, seems more scared of a figment of imagination, its romantic fictions than it is of concocting a dubious historical pride in being Hindu. The real history is one of many secular threads interwoven and mixings that have produced brilliant architecture and art and music. But the saffron-washing of the past is hurting where it matters the most – the security and well-being of artists, writers and filmmakers in India. 

slbattack_012817045655.jpg Suffice to say, Bollywood is the easiest punching bag, as are writers and journalists in contemporary India. [Photo: DailyO]

To think that the attackers of Karni Sena hadn’t even read the script, but had heard of a possible dream sequence between the lead pair in a random interview, is telling. It’s a pointer that hearsay and rumourmongering are the premise of spreading instant fear among those whose business it is to reimagine and question how it happened. 

The culture and moral police, whether in Mumbai or Jaipur, expect to go scot-free. As Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis legitimised ransom raj of MNS chief Raj Thacheray, we expect hardly any overt condemnation from the Rajasthan CM, Vasundhara Raje, except may be a cryptic Twitter message that will hardly discourage the goons, let alone bring them to book. 

It’s sad that patriotism in today’s India means a drying up of imagination, art and culture that do not fall in line.

Also read - Dear Sanjay Leela Bhansali, tell your story, just remove Padmini from title

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