I’ll do my usual actual reviews, but before I get into the themes and style and blah blah, I want to pull out separately the three elements that struck me as particularly dangerously egregiously in support of the extremist religious community in India.
1.Orange Flags: Orange is a symbol in today’s India of the Hindu right wing, it is something you might wear in a riot to identify yourself as part of “our” side instead of “their” side, orange flags were triumphantly flown from the top of the rubble after the destruction of the Babri Masjid, and so on. And in this film, the orange/saffron color us used to denote the “good” side in the battle. But I find it less disturbing than in other movies, because at least this time it is not openly saffron versus green, but just saffron versus the British.
2. The protection of the temple and dismissal of Sunday: During one of the battle scenes, the British “evilly” move their canon behind a temple. Therefore the Jhansi warriors can’t fire at them, because that would mean damaging the temple. And the Jhansi warriors truly don’t fire, there is no way around this impossible challenge. Destruction to a temple is the worst possible tragedy (according to this film), worse than the fall of the fort itself.
This is extra disturbing since we had an earlier scene in which Kangana sneered at the British protesting that they could not insist on their men attending a Jhansi ceremony on a Sunday. She pointed out that they had fought battles on Sundays, and even celebrated Queen Victoria’s birthday on a Sunday. Who is she to decide how they should be celebrating their religious practices??? Who is she to determine that there is no difference between celebrating the birthday of their Queen AND THE HEAD OF THEIR CHURCH and a mandatory attendance on a ceremony that has no connection to their faith? Or their nationalism? It’s petty and mean and disrespectful of Christianity. And now, when the British do the same thing, test the Hindu’s resolve and disrespect their religion, the film declares it to be a terrible thing.
In the 1969 Gujurat riots started partly in response to damage to a Hindu temple (link here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1969_Gujarat_riots). And more recently a terrorist Christian organization killed a Hindu priest in his temple. None of these incidents are directly related to what this film is showing, but there is a general message of Christians being less of a “real” religion, and a religion that is disrespectful to Hinduism which worries me. seeing that India has rocketed up from 31 to 10th on the World Watch List for violence against Christians just in the past 8 years. Just barely beating out Syria, as of 2019, and right behind Iran (link here:
https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/india/). If they keep up at this rate (All India Christian group says, an attack on a Christian every 40 hours, ranging from families being denied water and food, to prayer meetings being violently disrupted and parishioners beaten), they could hit the top of the list in no time. Oh, and before I forget, this movie also has a scene of women and children being dragged from a church and beaten.
3. Cow Protection: Without context, this is a perfectly reasonable scene for this kind of movie. There is a nice farming couple with a newly born calf that they treat as a bit of a pet. The evil British show up and steal the calf, the farm wife yells and protests. Good Queen Kangana arrives and hears the story, then goes off to confront the British and take the calf back before they can eat it, declaring it property of the kingdom of Jhansi. She returns the calf, the couple is happy, there is a celebration. It is a nice story of the Queen bending to help those most humble, and it’s both logical and kind of cute that this poor farming couple would put so much importance on a newly born valuable animal.
But everyone in India will have the context, and certainly the filmmakers MUST have had that context, and I find it despicable for them to have done included this scene.
Since 2010, and especially since the 2014 elections, cow violence has reached unprecedented levels in India. There are now roaming gangs of “cow protectors” who watch the roads, looking for “smugglers” transporting cows illegally (it is also illegal to slaughter cows in many states). They see this as a holy crusade, and they pursue it seriously, up to and including paramilitary training camps. On the higher levels, several states have now banned all beef for sale, or to be consumed. Just so you have an idea of the kind of violence that is happening, and how wide-spread it is, here are a list of incidents from 2018, courtesy of Wikipedia:
- 13 June 2018, Jharkhand: Dullu, Sirabuddin Ansari (35) and Murtaza Ansari (30) Lynched in Jharkhand Over Alleged Cattle Theft
- 14 June 2018, Uttar Pradesh: Bareilly, Meat Seller Thrashed by UP Police for ‘Cow Slaughter’ Dies in AIIMS
- 20 June 2018, Uttar Pradesh: Hapur, 45-year-old Qasim lynched in UP over cow slaughter rumour This incident was at the center of a sting operation conducted by NDTV. The Chief Justice of India agreed to hear the case based on the sting operation footage.
- 20 July 2018, Rajasthan: 31 year old Rakbar Khan was lynched by a mob on allegation of cattle smuggling in Alwar, Rajasthan. A police officer was suspended for delaying medical treatment to the victim as he tried to arrange shelter for the cows before taking injured Rakbar to the hospital.
- 30 August 2018, Lakshmanpur village, Balrampur, Uttar Pradesh: 70 year old Kailash Nath Shukla was taking his cattles to another village for treatment, on his way a mob stopped him and assaulted him badly and threw him in a gutter.
- 3 December 2018, Uttar Pradesh: In Bulandshahr, a protest against illegal cow slaughter erupted into riots resulting in the death of two; a police officer named Subodh Kumar Singh and a protesting youth. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath described the violence as an ‘accident’ and denied the occurrence of mob lynchings in Uttar Pradesh even though the DGP hinted about the possibility of a larger conspiracy behind the incident aimed at inciting communal violence in the area
So yes, this is just a movie, and it is just a story about the British abusing a peasant family by taking their live stock. But using a story that involves Kangana rescuing an innocent calf from evil men? That is throwing gasoline on a burning building. It is, frankly, shocking. And disgusting. And that alone makes me lose all respect for this film, and the people involved with this sequence. They could have conveyed the same message (Queen Kangana is good to the peasants) any number of ways, they CHOSE to tell this particular story in this particular way.
And if you really want to get disgusted, back on August Kangana gave an interview in which she reiterated the importance of protecting cows, but said she would be changing a scene in her upcoming film from a calf to a lamb in order not to incite more violence. Clearly she did NOT change that scene, and she also doesn’t really care about inciting more violence. (link here: https://www.news18.com/news/movies/kangana-ranaut-on-rising-cow-vigilantism-a-scene-of-mine-saving-a-calf-in-manikarnika-was-replaced-1838757.html)