Well, the Padmavati issue has taken a slightly different turn, the release is actually delayed. I haven’t seen that with a big Hindi film recently, although I know it has happened before, both in Hindi and other language industries. And the delay and some other comments indicate that this is beginning to move into a different category, politics and violence. Which means you are all going to get mad at me again when I try to address it, and I may lose a few more readers (well, a lot of readers). And get a fair amount of notice by trolls and hate groups (don’t worry, I will block most of them). But I also feel a bit of an obligation to address it. And this is the toned down version, my original post was a lot angrier.
Non-Usual Disclaimer: I am not an expert on Indian politics or history or anything like that. But in my study of the films, I have ended up learning a bit about Indian society, and it might be helpful for you to have this knowledge that I can pass on. And if I am to address this issue at all, I feel an obligation to address it in its entirety.
Film in India is a soft target. It gets political groups a lot of headlines, and the government, the police, the media, even the most vocal part of the public, are not interested in defending it. And so there is a pattern that happens. A big name film is about to be released, the filmmakers have done a lot of publicity, and everyone is excited. And at that point a political group swoops in and siphons off some of that publicity for themselves by coming up with a random objection to the film.
What bothers me must, every time, is how incredibly gullible the vocal part of the Indian public is. It seems as though there are three categories. The regular audience members who just want to be able to watch the movie. Who care more about enjoying art than about any trumped up political motivation. They are the victims here, the ones who are denied the enjoyment they want because of forces beyond their control, and who aren’t really allowed to have their voices heard. Taking Padmavati as an example, the trailer set records for views as soon as it was released, cleary millions of people were excited to see this film. And yet I’m not hearing a lot of people speaking for them, or them being allowed to speak for themselves, to simply say “I like watching movies. I was looking forward to watching this film. Now, there is nothing for me to see for the next several weeks and that is a disappointment to me.”
(These people. The nice people who just want to go out with the wife and see a movie on Friday night)
And there are the filmmakers, and other intelligent people, who are perfectly aware of this pattern and how hypocritical it is and are just clenching their teeth and trying to swim through the sewage of it. They are to some degree also victims, but at least they have a tad more control, they can speak up and be heard, make moves for their own defence, and so on and so on, instead of just reading the news and hoping it turns out they way they want.
And finally, there is the group that we hear from the most, the group that I find most unpleasant. The bullies, the ones who get their kicks from feeling they are in the right, they are justified in their anger. And the ones who refuse to, or are not capable of, thinking beyond the inane talking points vomited into their mouths by immoral leaders benefiting from these toxic lies. Which brings me to Padmavati! Which I will use as my first case study for how this, the “Big Lie” of propaganda, works.
In this case, the “big lie” is: Padmavati is history. It is NOT history!!!!! I already went over this in my last post, but it bears repeating. The objections to the film revolve around the depiction of Rani Padmavati not being historically accurate. There is no way to make it historically accurate, because the very existence of Rani Padmavati does not hold up to scrutiny, cannot be accepted as fact. It may or may not be true, it may or may not have happened exactly as Bhansali chooses to show it. There is no possible justification for an argument as to historical accuracy one way or the other.
(This one, on the other hand, yes! It is history, you can object to accuracy, and you can ask historians whether or not it is accurate. But no one suggested it)
The people protesting Padmavati are selling to the public a fantasy that they are under attack, that they have a common enemy, that they have a justification for their anger, for making themselves the center of attention. And the public are eager to buy this fantasy, so eager that they are not willing to put in one moment of rational thought and spot the flaws within it. The argument is that the way Rani Padmavati is presented in the film is not accurate to her “true” story, and therefore is insulting to Rajputs. The “true” story, as close as we can come, the only source that even mentions her, says she is from Sri Lanka. So any changes to her story are an insult to Sri Lankans, not Rajputs. Or else that version isn’t the “true” story, in which case nothing is necessarily true (since it is the only source that even mentions a person named Padmavati), and Bhansali can change the film as needed without insulting anyone.
This is always the case with these controversies, one second of thought unclouded by self-indulgent emotions would show that there is no real controversy. Last year it was Ae Dil Hai Mushkil that was in trouble for daring to star a Pakistani actor. At the time the film was made, India and Pakistan had a good relationship. Fawad Khan was generally welcomed in the country, this was his 3rd Hindi film, no one brought up any issues or seemed to care that he was Pakistani instead of Indian. He finished the movie, and went home to Pakistan, Karan Johar and the team at Dharma edited the movie and planned the promotions and set the release and got a distribution plan set and everything. And then, weeks before the film came out, the situation between Pakistan and India worsened. And suddenly groups sprung up saying Karan was a terrible person, the film industry was terrible, this movie should not release.
But, what changed???? None of these people were speaking up back when Fawad was first announced, or when his other two successful films came out. If they didn’t mind, why should Karan Johar? And why should Karan and his film be criticised, but not Sonam Kapoor and her film with Fawad that first brought him to India? Even if you accept that Pakistani actors should not work in the Hindi industry, it’s blatantly obvious that the only reason Ae Dil Hai Mushkil was picked as the protest site was because it was a big showy film with a lot of publicity, not because of any sincere offense. And again, I am most angry at the public and media and everyone else who was not willing to put in one millisecond of rational thought to see through the false arguments.
(And then the protest was called off, once Karan humbled himself. And so it was more about causing a stir and proving power than the actual issue)
Here’s another one. Wake Up Sid, years back, showed the characters referring to the city where they live as “Bombay”. Which is the common name, or at least a name used interchangeably with others, by Bombaiites. But the film was threatened with a boycott because everyone was now supposed to call the city “Mumbai” (this is why I use “Bombay”, by the way, because I am contrary like that, and if mob violence is telling me to say one thing, I will say the other). People in real life, and plenty of other media, were using “Bombay”. But this was a film with some good buzz around it, and a vulnerable producer. So this is the one they picked on.
You know how there are certain kids that tend to get bullied in school? The ones who are “different”, so none of the other kids really want to stand up for them? There are certain filmmakers like that too. Karan Johar is gay. Shahrukh, Salman, and Aamir are Muslim. Bhansali less frequently, but he has a track record of no one standing up for him. He had to change the name of his “Ram-Leela” film at the last moment, and since then he has been recognized as a soft target, one who gets a lot of publicity but not much defense. So he gets hit by these kinds of “controversies” over and over again too.
(The title “Ram-Leela” is insulting, but put “Goliyon Ki Raasleela” in front of it, and magically it is okay)
That is what makes me angry, furiously angry, that no one stands up for the fim industry, not really. They prevaricate, they talk about “free speech” and “art” and “film fraternity”. But they don’t stand up and say “You are bullying them simply because they are weak and you are strong. You are the ones who need to change, not them.” I don’t even want the film industry to stand up and say it, they have said it enough, they have indicated that they need support, they are in the right, they deserve the faith of the public. And they never get it, so why should they keep making themselves into a target? It is time for someone else to take a chance and say something in their defense, acknowledge that this is wrong.
A few people from film are taking a risk (again) and defending themselves (again). Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi, they both pointed out that this is clearly just to make sure the BJP wins the Gujurat elections next month. But Shahrukh and Karan and others have not yet risked speaking, possibly because they are too angry to speak, possibly because they are saving their strength for the next time they are inevitably targeted themselves.
Prasoon Joshi, head of the Censor Board, he has a difficult line to follow. I don’t know why he is delaying the certificate of Padmavati. The simple answer is that he wants to keep this controversy going, because he is in the pocket of the government that appointed him. But I like Prasoon Joshi, he has worked in the film industry for years, he knows these people, and I have to think he has some loyalty to the industry as a whole. Along with delaying the release of Padmavati (which the filmmakers already announced anyway), he is trying to ensure that other films release rapidly in its place. At the moment, most of December is a wasteland film release-wise, because everyone was trying to stay away from Padmavati competition. This is terrible, this is the real immediate danger to film, that loss of profits. And I also feel the need to mention that Bhansali is notorious for going over budget and over schedule, I find it easy to believe that he delivered his film for censorship only a week in advance, giving them barely any time to view it. Compare that with similarly controversial films that have been carefully submitted months in advance, in order to allow time for court cases and re-submissions and so on as needed. That is the one tiny part of the blame for this whole mess that I will lay at the feet of the Padmavati filmmakers, they could have predicted it and been better prepared in advance.
(This is just so beautiful. I feel like I have to believe the man who wrote it has some depth in his soul)
It is also possible that Joshi is encouraging the delay of the release, and the top stars are not speaking about it, because they want the controversy to die down. They want it to be safely set aside before the elections in Gujurat begin in a few weeks. Which brings me to another thing that has become increasingly clear over the past 30 years of Indian politics (and 10 years at least of American politics): Hate Unites. If you want to win an election and there is absolutely no good reason people should vote for you, you just need to make sure you are the flag-bearer for hate. People will rally to you and back you blindly, so long as you keep feeding their addiction to hatred. The other side, the side of love, intelligence, indifference even, they are still thinking people. They are capable of being independent, of voting for a variety of candidates based on a variety of issues. They are the majority and in a fair election, they would win. But if every unintelligent person is somehow magically brought together and herded into the polls at the same time, they will win. And thus, Padmavati. And other examples which I will not mention here as they are too serious to belong on a blog about film.
Footnote: I myself find the Padmavati film, based on what was presented in the trailer, troubling (my post on it is here), but not for the reasons mentioned by any of the groups attacking it now. And that is unrelated to this story, because this story is unrelated to the actual content of the film in anyway, it is a separate political move.