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Mainstream, VOL LV No 50 New Delhi December 2, 2017

The Intent behind the Hysteria

Saturday 2 December 2017


The mass hysteria created over the film Padmavati is acquiring dangerous dimensions. A BJP hothead of Haryana has announced a reward of Rs 10 crores to anyone who will behead the film’s director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, and mutilate the face of the film’s heroine, Deepika Padukone. He has also threatened West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that the same fate will befall her as befell Surpanakha, Ravana’s sister. Mamata has, as was to be expected, dismissed the threat with utter contempt. This man has also threatened to burn down any cinema hall where the film may be screened.

But the question is: when the Prime Minister himself has warned, time and again, that nobody would be allowed to take the law in his own hands, how dare a junior BJP functionary (head of the party’s Haryana unit’s media coordinator) issue threats of murder and mayhem with impunity? Neither the Prime Minister nor the party President, Amit Shah, has condemned their man. It is only after there was a furore in the media that he has been issued a show-cause notice by the party. The Haryana Police have not done what they should have done on the very first day—book the person and prosecute him for giving incitement to commit murder—obviously for political reasons.

The chain of events leaves no room for doubt that there is much more in the Padmavati controversy than what meets the eye. The film has not been released and the vociferous critics have not seen it. The agitators are demanding the banning of the film. They filed several petitions before the Supreme Court praying that the release of the film be stayed. The Apex Court has steadfastly refused to do so, maintaining that it cannot arrogate to itself the functions of the CBFC. But the protesters go on undeterred. The Supreme Court has also said that the banning of the film by several Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled States is wholly wrong. But the Chief Ministers concerned have refused to heed the Apex Court’s observation.

Actually the contrived ‘protest movement’ against Padmavati has a political agendum. It is part of the politics of polarisation that the BJP is pursuing before the string of elections coming ahead—the State Assembly elections beginning with Gujarat and ending with the general elections in 2019. All the drummed up protest against alleged hurting of Rajput pride and honour is a smokescreen. The real reasons lie elsewhere. There is a report that still remains officially uncontradicted that the Centre is thinking of making it obligatory on the part of anyone intending to produce a film based on a historical theme to take prior permission of the Centre.

Questions are being already asked that if the certificate given to a film by the CBFC is not enough then will the film directors and producers be required henceforth to take prior permission of a political party or a ‘Sena’ or powerful politicians who will act as extra-constitutional authorities for film certification? This is not just an assault on the right of a producer or director to produce a film but goes much beyond that. It will be an assault on the freedom of expression. It will be tantamount to control free thinking. It will be a step toward creating a regimented and totalitarian state. If you deviate in your thinking you will soon be caught and become an ‘unperson’ in no time. It looks like a phantasm but is certainly not impossible if the present situation drifts uncertainly into the future.

November 29 B.D.G.

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