Ugly, and how. And we’ve not seen or heard the last of it. For the past week and this one, there has been such ugliness and emptiness about the film Padmavati, it is disturbing. It shines a light – or absence of it – on Indians. The film’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali – who was earlier beaten and forced to move the shooting site – continues to be called by the choicest abuses including some scatological ones.
On television appearances one G37 (regular) on prime time television fell to the level of making scandalous jokes about private lives of the star cast, injecting further free wheeling ignominy. Not to be outdone, a minister said projecting queen Padmavati in such light is tantamount to throwing acid on a girl’s face. The film has not been released.
There’s more. Director Bhansali has been called a greedy man out to titillate India’s innocent minds with a dream sequence about sex. Indians don’t have sex, you see. But here, it’s between a Hindu queen and a Muslim invader. Big time bad. The director has clarified there’s no such sequence – he should have done so earlier given the sensitivities running high on the film. But let’s forget Padmavati for a minute and look at an average Indian film. Some of them are so sexually vulgar it is embarrassing to watch. But that’s okay because for us sex is dirty and the only way it can be portrayed on screen is by being honest about it – ie., dirty.
There is promise of violence if the film is screened as it is. India's Censor Board appears sitting between two stools about certification, and some members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are behaving like members of the Congress party who tried to ban a recent film on Indira Gandhi. An erstwhile queen has also thrown her hat in the ring adding to the controversy. Heavy, heavy. The film has not been screened yet. ‘Saviours’ insist Bhansali should have shown them the film first. Why?
By the logic of the preceding paragraphs, there is only one way to sing Hamsadhwani and Bhoop is not Mohanam. Or, for that matter there’s only one way to play Mozart and Four Seasons and the rest can go fly. There can be no Kalpana swarams (leap of imagination within the audav and shadav) or arranging western classical music as the artiste’s inspiration carries them. Rasam and dal in every Indian house must taste the same and heaven forbid if a Michelin certified cook experiments with spices and sauces with dal makhani. S/he must be sent to the gallows.
That’s how ridiculous this brouhaha is. So what is the controversy if Bhansali’s pockets are better lined? He would be a pretty stupid person to not expect a handsome and serious return on investment (ROI). Here too, he could have cleared the air earlier – that’s the only unclear piece for me in this. He was too defensive in the beginning which means he knew he would succeed. That's what my understanding says.
The larger picture is this: Indians are disrespectful about their entertainment and film industry, because they come without any suffixes like IIT or IIM or Stanford. My friends speak so disparagingly about the modelling and film industry and just a little digging reveals the disdain springs from their children not making the cut. Few understand just how difficult the daily life of a successful actor is, and fewer know what it means to compose a piece of music that plays in every house in a country of 1.3 billion people.
I don’t see any of our top directors, actors and musicians at the high table when foreign leaders visit India, nor do I see them as part of India Inc. Our film industry is a global brand and a massive job creator in the country. They Make in India, for Indians and have grown from strength to strength, genre to genre in the country. They are rarely promoted as such because I suspect they are not viewed as “intellectuals.”
Here’s an earlier piece I wrote on the subject: India's film and entertainment industry is a global brand and a massive job creator
I am not a film buff, but I watch Bhansali’s films for the immaculate detailing and soul-stirring music. In my opinion the music in his films is the stuff of genius. In Padmavati, I loved the Ghoomar song. It was breathing culture and pride, grandeur, imminent sadness and love. The second song Ek Dil Ek Jaan was not in the same league for me.
So when he gets called a dog that will be lynched and a man who should be sent to the gallows, it bothers me. When he is insulted for using his imagination to create a piece of art, I find India diminished. I think of the many great artistes the world despised – some buried in common graves – and subsequently eulogised after they were gone, their work selling for billions of dollars in art shows.
Give Padmavati a chance. Curse afterwards if there’s something to curse about. Protest, but not violently, and please, please do not insult artistes and their creativity. Your ugliness reflects on you.
Views expressed are the author's own.