Cinema
Threats to cut off Deepika's nose have been made, along with claims of the film distorting 'historical facts'.
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“Rajputs never raise a hand on women but if need be, we will do to Deepika (Padukone) what Lakshman did to Shurpanakha.”

These are the "macho" words uttered by Mahipal Singh Makrana, a member of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, in a self-made video on Thursday. Using a reference from the Ramayana, he threatened to cut off actor Deepika’s nose in the raging controversy surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period drama Padmavati.

The Deepika Padukone, Ranveer Singh and Shahid Kapoor-starrer has been making the headlines regularly in the past few weeks. The reason? Bruised, fragile egos and self-proclaimed flag-bearing of sanskaar.

‘Distortion of facts’

The Rajput community has taken offence to the supposed “distortion of historical facts” in the film. These "distortions" include:

1. Padmini and Allauddin Khilji (played by Deepika and Ranveer Singh respectively) never met in person, nor was there any romantic relationship between them. But in the film, they allegedly meet in a dream sequence, which the director has clarified is a rumour.

2. Padmini, as a Rajput maharani, would never perform ghoomar (a traditional folk dance from Rajasthan) in front of an audience, with her midriff exposed.

3. “Our history is glorious. We will not tolerate any distortion in historical facts.” 

And we now have BJP leaders expressing the same ‘concerns’ as an outfit which openly threatens violence against a woman. Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said that people have the right to be offended against this ‘distortion of history’, because “Padmini is part of our history and filmmakers should maintain sensitivity.”

Mind you, none of these people has seen the film yet and feel it's well within their right to ask for a screening in advance.  Even the Central Board of Film Certification has not certified the film so far. And yet, on the basis of a rumour and a few bruised egos, creative liberties in one of the biggest film industries in the world are being held hostage.

There’s also the fact that according to some historians, Rani Padmini was actually a fictional character from the book Padmawat written by Malik Mohammad Jayasi during Mughal ruler Akbar’s reign. “There are stories in every country, but they cannot be accepted as part of history. England has a story of Robinhood, but it was never treated as history. But in our country, myths and stories are given a status of history,” Professor Irfan Habib, a historian, told Pradeep Saxena for Hindustan Times.

However, another historian, Krishna Gopal Sharma, professor of history at Rajasthan University acceded that Rani Padmini was indeed a real person and the 15th wife of Rawal Ratan Singh. But even he told Deep Mukherjee for Hindustan Times that Alauddin Khilji’s supposed obsession with Padmini, which apparently compelled him to attack Chittoor, is a myth, which came from Jayasi’s work.

Even if we were to discount the fact that the outrage is over a character whose historical authenticity is questionable, notice how it is only the woman actor who is getting threatened with disfigurement here? Both Bhansali and Deepika have a bounty of Rs 5 crore each on their heads (courtesy the Kshatriya community in Meerut) but it's only Deepika who is facing the threat of maiming. The gendered nature of these threats of violence is unmistakable. Disfiguring a woman to humiliate and silence her is a practice that's closely linked to patriarchal ideas of femininity. 

Government silence

Throughout this time, the government has been silent when it comes to upholding the film industry’s right to creative expression.

Whether it was Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam in 2013 or Ae Dil Hai Mushkil in 2016, the protesters’ cry of “hurt sentiments” prevailed much louder over all else. Even if we were to discount the government’s concerns for law and order issues, a resounding silence when it comes to a statement of solidarity is extremely discouraging.

It is heartening to note, however, that some actors at least have come out in support of Padmavati. Aditi Rao Hyadri for instance, told IANS we should be proud of Bhansali for the work he has done, and the fact that he has had to defend himself was very sad. "We put them through so much and we try to oppress them despite that, they are so amazing and passionate. They continue to make these films and art that they are so passionate about. I think we should support them,” she said.

Others like Salman Khan, Farhan Akhtar, Rajkummar Rao, Sushant Singh Rajput, lyricist Javed Akhtar, filmmakers Madhur Bhandarkar and Hansal Mehta have also supported Bhansali and Padmavati. Many of them mentioned how tiring repeatedly fighting for free expression is. Kannada actor Prakash Raj and Kollywood actor Arvind Swami also tweeted in support of the film.

Finally, there's one question that still begs to be addressed. India prides itself in its culture, and Hindus, who make the majority, pride themselves in the perseverance of their religion. Why does anyone have to be threatened by a film? After all, Padmavati is a work of fiction, which draws loosely from myths or debatably, history, and will vanish from conscious imagination once it has run its news cycle.

Perhaps Richa Chadha's answer is pertinent here. The actor, who has previously worked with Bhansali in Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, said: 

"With all due respect and love, I am also a Hindu, and I don't think religion is so weak that a movie can break it. And I think it is a speciality of India that we are a democracy, so watch the film before objecting," she said. 

(With IANS inputs)

(Views expressed are author's own.)