The first time I heard the story of Padmini, I was a four-year-old and the narrator was my grandfather. His post-dinner stories introduced me to a world of mythology, history, and folklore of India. I was captivated by the story of Padmini, I could not imagine how beautiful the queen must have been and how entranced by her Alauddin Khilji must have been to actually attack the city. The bravery of the queen to commit Jauhar than fall into the hands of the marauder fired my imagination, I could not picture out how she would have jumped into the fire. The story was soon tucked away in the recesses of the mind along with the stories of Prithviraj Chauhan and Sanghmitra, Alexander and Porus, of Karnavati and so many more. Even now I do not know the historical accuracy of the story, my only frame of reference is the story my grandfather told me, so many moons ago. The purpose of this post is not to debate the historical accuracy of the story. I am not a historian, I am a homemaker who has been wondering about the hoopla surrounding the making /release of this movie.
My grandfather taught me that Rajputs are a proud, brave race. Countless stories abound about their valour, how they held out against the Mughals, fought till their last breath, how important their honour was to them. Honour, according to Collins dictionary, means doing what you believe to be right and being confident that you have done what is right. Thus, the Rajputs fought against the Mughals for their homeland and honour as they believed they were doing the right thing. Rani Padmini committed Jauhar as she believed that it was the right thing to do at that time.
Shri Rajput Karni Sena also believes it is upholding the Rajput honour by protesting against the movie Padmavati. They are choosing to uphold honour by threatening to burn down cinema halls, block the fort of Chittor(thus depriving the guides of their day’s wages and embarrass India in front of the tourists), threatening to cut-off nose/head of the actress playing the role of Rani Padmini. A conundrum isn’t it? They are proposing to uphold the honour of their clan and a woman who has been dead for seven centuries by cutting off the nose of a living woman.
The whole protest and the wrath of the protestors seem to prove the patriarchal mindset of the honour upholders. I have seen comments against the actress but none of the other two main male actors. She and her moral character have been maligned, she has been threatened with bodily harm with one person saying that her nose will be chopped off and the other saying that she will be beheaded. She has been compared to Surpanakha, the demon princess, just because the actress spoke her own mind. They are equating an actress playing a character in a motion picture with a demon princess in mythology just because she refuses to back down and stands by her hard work. And that seems to be their way of upholding honour, by threatening harm to the actress. The threats of the protestors alarms and horrifies me as a woman. They have spent centuries subjugating the women using arcane rituals and customs. They feel threatened by any woman who is courageous enough to stand up for her rights and speaks her mind. The only way they think they can come out stronger is not by improving themselves but by threatening the opposing person.
That the misogyny of the fringe group is blatant comes as no surprise. Rajasthan has been way backward as compared to other states in giving equal rights to women, child marriages are still prevalent, girl to boy ratio is abysmal and the most recent documented case of Sati was in 1987 (more than 150 years after Sati was abolished). But how did a fringe group from Rajasthan become so powerful that four states of Indian Republic are calling for a ban/change in the movie? Is it because the elections are around the corner and they need the powerful “caste” vote, for the political parties, the women are not a vote-block.
Even more surprising is the fact that the Karni Sena and BJP leaders have been shooting their mouths off without any fear or repercussions. Prime Minister Modi who was elected with a massive mandate and coined the inspirational slogan “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” to save the girl child is also silent on the issue. While I totally agree that he is the Prime Minister of the country and thus has too much on his plate, his inaction and silence on the issue seems suspicious, especially now that the PM’s pet, Yogi Adityanath has also spoken out against the movie. The Karni Sena protest seems to have brought to the fore once again the point that dissent against the ruling government is not acceptable. If you are not toeing the government’s line you are branded either anti-national; a communist; if you are a Muslim then you will be asked to leave India; easiest is to defame you if you are a woman, simply threaten to cut off the nose.
The protest also raises the issue of the difference between the real and imaginary. The line between History, historical fiction and folklore are thin, but it is there. Most of the historical movies and serials (which are absolutely appalling in my opinion) are factually incorrect. They are dramatized, fictional interpretations of a story. Especially in India, purely historical movies are seldom even fifty percent accurate, a fact which most of us seem to have forgotten. It is cinema, it is supposed to take cinematic liberties and it rarely sticks to facts as facts are hardly entertaining. The people, however, seem to think it is history. History has always been a contentious subject in India, rather than looking at History as plain facts, successive governments have put their political colour on it, making it factually ambiguous.
I recently read the statement by the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh saying that Mr.Bhansali, the director of the movie, should not play with the emotions of the people. Emotions of the people are the easiest excuse which people give to protest against books, movies, shows, art. We, the people, are to be blamed in this case. When we gave in and banned the book Lajja; when we gave in and banned the movie Water, we gave in to such hooliganism. We gave them the right to protest and create a ruckus in the garb of “people’s emotions”. Somehow “people’s emotions” has become a synonym for using brawn over brain and push to get your way. I am surprised when such people’s emotions are not hurt when there are long power cuts or when trains don’t run on time or when roads are riddled with potholes or when it is not safe for a woman to step out of the house after dark. I guess the “emotions” are all spent up by that time.
I personally am not very fond of Sanjay Bhansali’s movies. They are too grandiose, every frame is just too perfect, the movies are too long and too many cinematic liberties are taken. Some even say that such controversies are created by him just before the release of his movies to ensure that he gets spectacular openings and his films are a hit. It may or may not be true, but even if it were true, does it excuse the direction the protests have taken against the lead actress? It should be alarming to the general populace of the country that someone can threaten to cut off one’s nose just because one has spoken her mind.I don’t see any protests for the “honour” of the actress.
You know what the biggest irony is? None of the people who are protesting against the movie have actually seen the movie. It is the classic case of the cart before the donkey where they are protesting a slight they “imagine” in the movie.
Maybe before they look out for the honour of the clan they first look up what honor really means.
Or maybe they have confused honor with ego?