<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>When the first trailer of Padmavati hit the screens a month and a half ago, it captured little imagination and looked like just another fancy Sanjay Leela Bhansali magnum opus.With top actors and grandiose sets, the trailer was easily a time-tested Bhansali match, bought quickly by Bollywood fans.It went viral instantly. In 24 hours, it garnered 20 million views on YouTube, considered the most received by a Hindi film trailer in a day. It was talked about by social and mainstream media alike, the curiosity catalysed by top influencers.The magic, however, was short-lived, as protests against Padmavati makers spiralled, accusing them of distorting history and hurting sentiments of the Rajput community. The opposition to the film kept mounting, making Padmavati one of the most controversial movies.The December 1 release now stands deferred indefinitely, while the highly anticipated movie has been banned in multiple states, mostly ruled by the BJP. Threats of beheading and nose-chopping were issued against the director and actors unabashedly, without fear of the law, by fringe elements, and have also been endorsed by a section of politicians.
ALSO READ Padmavati row: Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu warns against violence, bountiesThis, even before the masses or even India’s film certification body, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), could manage to see the film. The ongoing, sensational saga begs the question: Who are the censors and custodians of the freedom of expression? It has also proved that the CBFC, called the censor board in common parlance, has little role in such a situation and is no more than a mere rubber stamp.Fringe, the new mainstreamTrouble had started brewing in January this year when a Rajasthan-based fringe group, the Rajput Karni Sena, assaulted Bhansali on the sets in Jaipur. In March, unidentified people vandalised the movie sets in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district. Days after the trailer released, the Karni Sena and other fringe Rajput groups came out on the streets to protest in the hundreds and blocked entry to the Chittorgarh Fort and the Kumbhalgarh Fort. They also issued threats and bounties for beheading Bhansali and cutting off actor Deepika Padukone’s nose.
ALSO READ Padmavati | Don’t forget Shurpnakaha’s fate, BJP leader threatens Mamata Banerjee for backing Deepika Padukone’s filmSena chief Lokendra Singh Kalvi had earlier refused to settle for any compromise over the film, saying that it should be scrapped outright. The group has now mellowed down to say the movie should be shown to the erstwhile royal family of Mewar, and the protests would be withdrawn if the family does not find anything objectionable.A trader’s body was found hanging in Jaipur’s famous Nahargarh Fort with “we don’t just hang effigies… Padmavati” scribbled on a nearby rock on Friday, potentially marking a grotesque turn in the protests by groups claiming to represent the Rajput community. They say the depiction of the romance between Padmini and Delhi Sultanate ruler Alauddin Khilji insults the Rajput community. The film’s makers have been denying allegations of any distortion of history, promising there will be “no romantic scene or song or dream sequence between the two.
ALSO READ ‘Padmavati’ row: Karni Sena demands full ban on Bhansali’s film in HaryanaBut this has failed to assuage increasingly violent threats against cast and crew.Historians are divided over whether the queen ever existed. The movie is based on an epic 16th-century poem, ‘Padmavat’ by Sufi Muslim author Malik Muhammad Jayasi.Political backingFringe groups have, time and again, tried disrupting law and order in the country over a host of issues, including films. What emboldens them are endorsements from a section of politicians for their demands. Haryana BJP leader Suraj Pal Amu openly supported a call to behead Padukone and Bhansali and threatened to burn every cinema screen in the country if the movie was released.Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have banned the movie. Uttar Pradesh has held Bhansali responsible for hurting the sentiments of the Rajput community, while Rajasthan has sought edits. Even the Congress government in Punjab has backed protesters. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said nobody will accept the distortion of history and those who are protesting are rightly doing so.However, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has called the protests a “super emergency” and a calculated plan of “a political party” to destroy the freedom of expression. She said on Friday that her state was ready to welcome the film and its crew. “They are welcome here if they can’t release it in other states. We can make special arrangements.”Interestingly, Gujarat is staring at high-octane state elections next month, while UP is going through civic polls. Assembly elections are due in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan next year. In this situation, banning a film is the easiest move the states could have made, given that they are home to a large number of Rajputs, whose community leaders have been at the forefront of the protests.Strangely, none of the states decided to wait for the decision of the CBFC to arrive at a conclusion over its public screening. Talking to DNA, senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar justified the opposition to the film and put the blame squarely on its makers. “For any film which has the potential to hurt sentiments, it is important for its makers to show it to community leaders first. No film should hurt the sentiments of any caste or community. Their opinion should be taken, and if they feel that there are certain objectionable scenes the should be deleted, filmmakers should delete them,” Kumar said.He said Bhansali was overlooking the easy solution and attracting further trouble by being adamant and not showing the film to caste leaders who feel it is an attack on their honour. But if caste leaders are to decide the fate of a film, what does the CBFC do, which is yet to even see this particular film? “Yes, let the CBFC see the film and arrive at a decision, but when so many states are banning it, the filmmakers should ponder over the reason. The film should be screened for members of the community protesting its release, to give them an assurance that it has nothing which can hurt their sensibilities,” he said.Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has also said that the director is as guilty as those who threatened to harm Padukone and Bhansali, “who has hurt public sentiments.” Ajmer Dargah Deewan Zainul Abedin Ali Khan also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ban the film, stating that it hurts religious sentiments and could have an adverse effect on the law-and-order situation of the country.Rajasthan RoyalsThe royal family of Mewar has expressed strong displeasure with Padmavati makers and has urged the government to withhold the release of the film in its current form. Talking to DNA, MK Vishvaraj Singh of Udaipur, Mewar, said that in the interests of the film as well as keeping in mind plain courtesy, the makers should have let the family know that they are making a movie on their ancestor, Maharani Padmini, who is revered by many.”Take the case of films made on cricketers like MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar. The films were made in consultation with them to avoid any errors and all seem to be happy with the result. In case of Padmavati, we were not consulted even once, though we belong to the same lineage,” he said.Singh also pointed out that the recent selective screening of the film and the fact of those who viewed it making their review public has been criticised by the censor board. Talking about Karni Sena’s demand that the film be shown to the royal family to weed out any objections, Singh said it remains to be seen if this is possible in light of the recent criticism of the selective screening by the CBFC.”We have certain objections and they continue to be there. Even though the film is yet to be released, the trailer makes the mistakes reasonably clear, as the clips are parts of the film,” he said, adding that if there is the intention, any issue can be sorted out by a direct dialogue between all concerned. “Even if we see the film and put forth our objections, it is yet to be seen if and how the makers will address them,” he said.In a letter to the Prime Minister, Singh has urged him not to allow the movie’s release, stating that it is the responsibility of the government to safeguard the history of the country and the dignity of its citizens. “It will be ironic if films like Padmavati that are in our history and heritage are permitted to misrepresent and exploit this same heritage that is flaunted at home and abroad before all.”The family has also objected to the song Ghoomar and said in the letter, “If the film professes to be history and its maker goes on record to claim that he has kept in mind cultural sensitivities, it is an artistic and historic fraud to portray an incorrectly attired courtesan-like painted doll in the song as the very ‘queen’ the film purports to pay obeisance to.” He, however, disapproved of the threats of physical violence issued to Padukone and Bhansali.BJP MLA and member of the erstwhile Jaipur royal family, Diya Kumari, is also opposed to Padmavati. She has warned that the movie will not be released if it does not depict history authentically. She has also said that Bhansali should get the facts in the film verified by a forum of historians and then release it.Bhansali’s blunderWhile a consortium of fringe groups across several states took the law into their own hands, Bhansali also subverted the due process. In an arbitrary move, he held a special screening for personnel of select media establishments, eroding the authority of the censor board. What the filmmaker thought would be a smart move, backfired angering CBFC members. Board chief Prasoon Joshi publicly criticised the action.A filmmaker could choose to show his/her product to a private audience. It does not violate any rule. But Bhansali’s audience went on to submit its views on the film, influencing people’s opinions, while the film awaited certification. He invited trouble for himself as his move further angered and alienated political leaders and fringe groups who felt sidelined in the whole process. He also chose against consulting Mewar’s royal family, though his earlier film Bajirao Mastani had faced stiff opposition from the descendants of Maratha warrior Peshwa Bajirao.CBFC, a rubber stamp?India’s top film certification authority has looked completely sidelined in the entire controversy. Former CBFC chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani told DNA that the CBFC cannot take any action against Bhansali, for there are no rules against the private screening of a movie.RSS leader Kumar also told DNA that even if the CBFC sees the film, it also has to be screened for those opposing it for their clarification.While the Shyam Benegal committee report on the CBFC’s revamp remains to be implemented by the government, the veteran filmmaker has questioned the nationwide protests when hardly anyone has seen the film. Viacom 18 — a joint venture between Viacom Inc and Reliance Industries’ Network 18 — is the studio behind the film that is said to have cost some $23 million.Ranjani Mazumdar, professor of Cinema Studies, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), has been following the controversy. “Cinema is increasingly emerging as a high-profile soft target to create a vitiated atmosphere. Apart from being an assault on the right to express, this kind of attack on the film by self-appointed vigilantes, who see themselves as the custodians of Indian culture, is being allowed because the government refuses to take a strong position on it,” Mazumdar told DNA.”They are, on the contrary, allowing this poison to spread. To ask for beheading, in the public domain, in this case, is shocking. I hope the film industry will take a strong position on this and demand the government’s intervention,” she said. Actors such as Shabana Azmi have urged the film industry to boycott the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in protest against the threats and disruption.Who said whatThe movie should be shown to the erstwhile royal family of Mewar; the protests will stop if the family does not find anything objectionable.—Lokendra Singh Kalvi, Rajput Karni Sena chiefCBFC cannot take any action against Bhansali, for there are no rules against the private screening of a movie.—Pahlaj Nihalani, ex-CBFC chiefLet the CBFC (also) see the film and arrive at a decision, but when so many states are banning it, the filmmakers should ponder over the reason.—Indresh Kumar, senior RSS leaderProtesters should see the film first and then demand cuts if anything is found objectionable. My opinion is very clear. Some of the historical facts may not be in consonance with our thinking… these movies are of course based on history. And I know some directors … study all angles of history. But popular sentiments should also be respected.—Birender Singh, Union MinisterKeeping in mind plain courtesy, the makers should have let the family know that they are making a movie on their ancestor, who is revered by many. We have some objections. The trailer makes the mistakes clear. It is the responsibility of the government to safeguard the history of the country and the dignity of its citizens.—Vishvaraj Singh, of Mewar’s royal familyCinema is increasingly emerging as a soft target to create a vitiated atmosphere. Apart from being an assault on the right to express, this kind of attack on the film by self-appointed vigilantes, who see themselves as the custodians of Indian culture, is being allowed because the government refuses to take a strong position.—Ranjani Mazumdar, cinema professor, JNUFilms caught in protests and politicsFireWhen: December 1998Why: The movie showed its female leads sharing a romantic relationship, which was cited as “alien to our culture”.What: Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and BJP workers vandalised theatres, some stripped down in protest. Initially passed uncut by the censor board, it was referred back to the board for re-examination.WaterWhen: January 2000Why: About the lives of widows in pre-Independence India, termed “anti-Hindu”.What: Director Deepa Mehta was forced to shut down the film’s production after protesters destroyed sets. Shiv Sena in UP organised a suicide protest to stop the film’s making. It finally released in India in 2007.Jodhaa AkbarWhen: February 2008Why: Based on the love story of Mughal emperor Akbar and Rajput princess Jodha, the Rajput community protested it for distorting historical facts.What: The film was banned in UP, Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttarakhand. The Supreme Court lifted the ban on its screening in UP and some towns of Uttarakhand and Haryana.Madras CafeWhen: August 2013Why: Set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, the movie ran into trouble for its alleged portrayal of LTTE in bad light.What: Amidst protests, Tamil political parties called for a ban on the film. It did not see a release in Tamil Nadu and UK.Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ram-LeelaWhen: November 2013Why: Initially named Ram-Leela, the film was accused of hurting religious sentiments.What: The Allahabad HC banned its release in UP. Bhansali agreed to the Kshatriya community’s demands by changing “provocative” words.Bajirao MastaniWhen: December 2015Why: Groups of Bajirao’s descendants, and BJP workers claimed the film distorted historical facts and depicted the Maratha leader in poor light.What: On the opening day, theatres across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat were forced to cancelscreenings.Udta PunjabWhen: June 2016Why: CBFC presented a list of 94 cuts and 13 pointers prior to the film’s release, one of which included removing all references to Punjab.What: Amidst protests in Punjab, the Bombay High Court later reduced the number of cuts to just one scene and directed the Board to issue an ‘Adult’ certificate to the film.Ae Dil Hai MushkilWhen: October 2016Why: Following the terrorist attack in Uri, Hindu groups protested the casting of Pakistani actor Fawad Khan.What: MNS called for a ban and threatened cinemas with vandalism. It withdrew its agitation after Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis intervened.RaeesWhen: December 2016Why: MNS and Shiv Sena party workers protested the film’s screening for starring Pakistani actress Mahira Khan, while a BJP leader termed it a “dishonest” and “anti-national” film.What: Shah Rukh Khan met MNS chief Raj Thackeray to assure him that Mahira Khan won’t visit India for its promotion.Lipstick Under My BurkhaWhen: February 2017Why: On four Muslim women yearning to break free.What: The CBFC denied the film’s release in India stating that its plot was “lady-oriented” and had “contagious sexual scenes.” It was later released with an Adult certificate.

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Lights. Camera. Censor: A 360 degree low-down on ‘Padmavati’ controversy