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Mainstream, VOL LV No 49 New Delhi November 25, 2017

On a Film and its Screening

Sunday 26 November 2017, by SC


As the protests over the screening of the controversial film Padmavati show no signs of abating, with Congress-ruled Punjab (led by CM Amarinder Singh) joining three BJP-run States of Madhya Pradesh (under CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan), UP (under CM Yogi Adityanath) and Rajasthan (under CM Vasundhara Raje) in banning the public viewing of the film, the producer of the Sanjay Bhansali-directed movie (featuring Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh), Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, announced last Sunday (November 19) that it had “voluntarily deferred” its release date; it was set to be released on December 1. The consequence of this announcement was that the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, the caste group spearheading the protests, withdrew its call for Bharat Bandh on December 1 while simultaneously rejecting the studio’s announcement as an “attempt to fool the people”.

Despite distinguished medieval historian Prof Harbans Mukhia cogently arguing in the pages of The Indian Express that the controversy had wilfully ignored that Rani Padmavati “belonged to cultural memory, not historical fact” and the film should be treated as such and legal luminary Soli J. Sorabjee, a former Attorney General of India, projecting the path-breaking judgement of the Supreme Court, while dismissing a petition on the release of a film, An Insignificant Man, that “courts should allow the respect that a creative man enjoys in writing a drama, a play, a playlet, a book on philosophy, or any kind of thought that is expressed on the celluloid or theatre”, these have had no effect whatsoever on the protests. Why? The answer is simple: these are being instigated by vested interests (primarily the Sangh Parivar even though the Congress CM in Punjab has also backed the protests).

And the proof is in what has been written by a BJP MP, Tarun Vijay, a stalwart of the Sangh Parivar, on the subject. He sarcastically observes:

If Bhansali has the power to make millions watch his film, he should realise he has a responsibility to respect a people’s collective memory. His depictions on celluloid shouldn’t make India look as regressive as Saudi Arabia, where women got the right to drive in an era when women from India are sending satellites to Mars.

 He establishes beyond doubt Prof Mukhia’s assertion: “It is notable that no professional historian of the Parivar, if there is one, has come forward to engage in a discussion of what the Parivar claims is the wrong, Left-liberal history, whatever it means.” And Vice-Chancellor of Ashoka University Pratap Bhanu Mehta describes Vijay’s submission as an example of “Orwellian inversion”. Thereafter he adds:

 I have no idea what Bhansali has made. But is Bhansali making India look like Saudi Arabia or those who threaten their fellow citizens, and the Chief Ministers who put up with them? Yes, Padmavati may be a sideshow in the context of India’s challenges. But it is an ominous one: For it shows India under a weight of suffocating cowardice.

However, there is a silver-lining. Prof Mukhia referred to what a descendant of Mewar’s erstwhile royal family, Vishwajeet Singh, had recently suggested: that in regard to the film Padmavati history should be differentiated from fiction. This, in Prof Mukhia’s view, had come as a “refreshing surprise” and today’s newspapers report that the Karni Sena had said they would stop the protests if the erstwhile royal family of Mewar found nothing objectionable in the film.

Yet the whole episode speaks volumes of the manner in which the Sangh Parivar is seeking to whip up frenzy on the issue, as Tarun Vijay’s writing clearly establishes.

Meanwhile, the media has not been playing the role it is expected to play. The Capital in the last few days was witness to two large rallies—one highlighting the growing demands and grievances of the peasantry and the other focusing attention on the mounting problems of the organised working class. Both these developments were almost completely blacked out in both the print and electronic media.

Is this the way in which the media is helping the ruling party at the Centre to mould public opinion in the latter’s favour?

November 23 S.C.

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