Padmavati: Hindutva’s Cultural Repression

THE way the film Padmavati is being pilloried and the director and the main actor threatened with beheading shows how mob rule has become one of the hallmarks of Modi raj. No artistic, or, cultural production is safe from the chauvinist mobs unless they conform to the sectarian-reactionary values of the Hindutva forces. 

The film is about the legend of Queen Padmavati of Chittor, who was supposed to have committed jauhar (self-immolation) rather than fall into the hands of the Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji who had invaded Chittor in the 13th century.  Padmavati is not a historic figure, but is a myth which has become a cultural memory.  Therefore, there are many narratives about Padmavati.  So to accuse the film of distorting history is meaningless.

The film is being attacked without anyone having seen it. The alleged objectionable scenes in the film have been denied by the director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

A film is released only after it is certified by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), which is the only authorised body to decide whether a film is fit for public release.  Even before the CBFC has viewed the film, demands have been raised to ban the film.  The opposition to the film being screened is not being  voiced just by some fringe groups but by mainstream politicians and BJP chief ministers. 

What began as protests by Rajput organisations in Rajasthan has now been supported by the chief ministers of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.  Shivraj Chauhan, the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, had declared that the film will not be released in the state as it insults the `Rashtramata’ Padmavati.  This should displease Yogi Adityanath who had much earlier called for the cow being declared the `Rashtramata’.  Adityanath has also announced that his government will not allow the film’s release till the “controversial portions” are removed.  He went on shockingly to claim that the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali is no less guilty than those issuing threats to the actors and others involved with the film.  This was nothing but an attempt to shield those who issued threats to the lives of the director and the actor Deepika Padukone.   

It is reprehensible that some Congress leaders in Rajasthan too have stridently opposed the film.  The Punjab chief minister, Amarinder Singh, also joined the BJP chief ministers in voicing his objections to the film and supporting the protests.  

The stand taken by the BJP chief ministers has not been contradicted or disowned by the prime minister or the BJP leadership.  In fact, another BJP leader in Haryana, Suraj Pal Amu, promised a Rs 10 crore reward for the heads of Bhansali and Deepika.

Not a single arrest or case has been filed against those who issued such threats in the BJP ruled states. On the contrary, the language and the strident stand taken by the chief ministers of these states are only encouraging the mob frenzy. 

The effort to suppress Padmavati is not just vote bank politics. It is a more sinister effort to curb freedom of expression and to force cultural productions to conform to the regressive and reactionary values of Hindutva.  The use of mobs to police culture is similar to the depredations of the cow vigilantes.

That the BJP central government is complicit in this cultural repression is evident from the way two films selected by the jury were dropped for screening at the International Film Festival in Goa by the ministry of information and broadcasting. 

It is important to ensure that the film Padmavati gets the CBFC certification and is released for public viewing. It should be incumbent on the state governments concerned to ensure that the film is shown in the cinema halls and anyone who seeks to disturb the shows is dealt with by the law. 

(November 22, 2017)

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