With Padmaavat creating history, as it managed to release amidst a series of chaotic conditions, many actors have raved it. With filmmakers considering it as a victory to their freedom, the film has gained a lot of positive reviews from colleagues who have also appreciated the performances of actors. However, Padmaavat doesn’t seem to have found fans in everyone from the industry. In fact, when Swara Bhasker was asked about her opinion, the actress unabashedly maintained that she felt like she reduced to a vagina only after watching the film.
Women have the right to live, despite being raped sir.
Women have the right to live, despite the death of their husbands, male ‘protectors’, ‘owners’, ‘controllers of their sexuality’.. whatever you understand the men to be.
Women have the right to live — independent of whether men are living or not.
Women have the right to live. Period.”
Although Swara appreciated the magnum opus and the brilliant performances of her co-actors like Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor, Swara actually was disappointed with the regressive plotline as she further went on to explain her feelings about this particular story. “Sir, that’s what I felt like at the end of your magnum opus. I felt like a vagina. I felt reduced to a vagina–only. I felt like all the ‘minor’ achievements that women and women’s movements have made over the years– like the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to education, equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, the Vishakha judgement, the right to adopt children…… all of it was pointless; because we were back to basics. We were back to the basic question — of right to life. Your film, it felt, had brought us back to that question from the Dark Ages – do women – widowed, raped, young, old, pregnant, pre-pubescent… do they have the right to live?”
Stressing on the fact about the existence of Sati and how the film glorified it, Swara expressed her objection over the concept of Rani Padmavati doing jauhar.
“I understand that Jauhar and Sati are a part of our social history. These happened. I understand that they are sensational, shocking dramatic occurrences that lend themselves to splendid, stark and stunning visual representation; especially in the hands of a consummate maker like yourself — but then so were the lynchings of blacks by murderous white mobs in the 19th century in the US – sensational, shocking dramatic social occurrences. Does that mean one should make a film about it with no perspective on racism? Or, without a comment on racial hatred? Worse, should one make a film glorifying lynchings as a sign of some warped notion of hot-bloodedness, purity, bravery – I don’t know, I have no idea how possibly one could glorify such a heinous hate crime.
Surely Sir, you agree that Sati, and Jauhar are not practices to be glorified. Surely, you agree that notwithstanding whatever archaic idea of honour, sacrifice, purity propels women and men to participate in and condone such practices; that basically Sati and Jauhar, like the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Honour Killings, are steeped in deeply patriarchal, misogynist and problematic ideas. A mentality that believes that the worth of women lies in their vaginas, that female lives are worthless if the women are no longer controlled by male owners or if their bodies have been ‘desecrated’ by the touch of ; or even the gaze of a male who doesn’t by social sanction ‘own’ or ‘control’ the female.
Sir, you will say to me that I am over-reacting and that I must see the film in its context. That it’s a story about people in the 13th Century. And in the 13th century that’s what life was– polygamy was accepted, Muslims were beasts who devoured meat and women alike, and honourable Hindu women happily jumped into their husbands funeral pyre, and if they couldn’t make it to the funeral, they built a pyre and rushed into it — in fact, they liked the idea of collective suicide so much that they gleefully discussed it over their daily beautification rituals. “Verisimilitude” you will say to me.
No Sir; Rajasthan in the 13th century with its cruel practices is merely the historical setting of the ballad you have adapted into the film Padmaavat. The context of your film is India in the 21st century; where five years ago, a girl was gang-raped brutally in the country’s capital inside a moving bus. She didn’t commit suicide because her honour had been desecrated, Sir. She fought her six rapists. She fought them so hard that one of those monsters shoved an iron rod up her vagina. She was found on the road with her intestines spilling out. Apologies for the graphic details, Sir, but this is the real ‘context’ of your film.
A week before your film released, a 15-year-old Dalit girl was brutally gang-raped in Jind in Haryana; a crime bearing sinister similarities to the rape of Nirbhaya.
You do know that acts like Sati and raping women are two sides of the same mindset. A rapist attempts to violate and attack a woman in her genital area, penetrate it forcibly, mutilate it in an effort to control the woman, dominate her or annihilate her. A Sati- Jauhar apologist or supporter attempts to annihilate the woman altogether if the genitals have been violated or if her genitals are no longer in the control of a ‘rightful’ male owner. In both cases the attempt and idea is to reduce women to a sum total of their genitals.
The context of art, any art is the time and place when it was created and consumed. And that’s why this gang-rape infested India, this rape condoning mindset, this victim blaming society is the actual context of your film, Sir. Surely in this context, you could have offered some sort of a critique of Sati and Jauhar in your film?
You will say that you put out a disclaimer at the beginning of the film claiming that the film did not support Sati or Jauhar. Sure Sir, but you followed that up with a two-hour-45-minute-long paean on Rajput honour, and the bravery of honourable Rajput women who chose happily to sacrifice their lives in raging flames, than to be touched by enemy men who were not their husbands but were incidentally Muslim.
There were more than three instances of the ‘good’ characters of your story speaking of Sati/Jauhar as the honourable choice, your female protagonist – epitome of both beauty, brains and virtue sought permission from her husband to commit Jauhar, because she could not even die without his permission; soon after she delivered a long speech about the war between Satya and Asatya, Dharm and Adharm and presented collective Sati to be the path of Truth and Dharm.
Then in the climax, breathtakingly shot of course – hundreds of women bedecked in red like Goddess Durga as bride rushed into the Jauhar fire while a raving Muslim psychopathic villain loomed over them and a pulsating musical track – that had the power of an anthem; seduced the audience into being awestruck and admiring of this act. Sir, if this is not glorification and support of Sati and Jauhar, I really do not know what is.
Your cinema particularly is inspiring, evocative and powerful. It can move audiences to emotional highs and lows. It can influence thinking and that, Sir, is why you must be responsible as to what it is you are doing and saying in your film.
It was with great difficulty that a group of reform-minded Indians, and the provincial British Colonial governments and Princely States in India abolished and criminalised Sati in a series of judgments between 1829 and 1861. In independent India, The Indian Sati Prevention Act (1988) further criminalised any type of aiding, abetting, and glorifying of Sati. Your act of thoughtlessly glorifying this misogynistic criminal practice is something you ought to answer for, Sir. As your ticket- buying audience, I have the right to ask you how and why you did this.
You must be aware that modern Indian history has recorded some more recent Jauhar– like acts. During India and Pakistan’s bloody Partition some 75,000 women were raped, kidnapped, abducted, forcibly impregnated by men of the ‘other’ religion. There were numerous instances of voluntary and assisted suicides by women, in some cases husbands and fathers themselves beheaded their wives and daughters before men of the ‘other’ religion could touch them.
Bir Bahadur Singh, survivor of the riots in Thoa Khalsa in Punjab, described a scene of women jumping into the village well to commit suicide. In about half an hour, he recalled, the well was full. The women on top survived. His mother was a survivor. Singh, recalls author Urvashi Butalia in her 1998 book The Other Side Of Silence, was ashamed of his mother for living for the remainder of her life. This is among the darkest periods of Indian history and ought to be remembered with shame, horror, sadness, reflection, empathy, nuance; not with thoughtless sensational glorification. These sad tales of the Partition, too, are a less obvious context of your film Padmaavat.
Mr. Bhansali, I will end in peace; wishing that you make many more films the way you want to, and are allowed to shoot and release them in peace; that you, your actors, your producers, your studio and your audiences remain safe from threats and vandalism. I promise to fight trolls and television commentators for your freedom to express; but I also promise to ask you questions about the art you make for public consumption. Meanwhile, let’s hope that no zealot member of any Karni Sena or some Marni Sena gets the idea to demand decriminalisation of the practice of Sati!
Desirous of Life.”
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