What is it?
On November 19, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the studio behind Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati, decided to voluntarily defer the December 1 release of the film. Reportedly drawn from Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem Padmavat, the film has been in the eye of the storm for the whole year, held hostage by various aggrieved religious and political organisations, with the protests peaking and threatening to turn violent this month in the run-up to the release.
How did it come about?
The troubles for Padmavati started during the shoot itself, with Shri Rajput Karni Sena, an organisation of the Rajput community, damaging sets at Jaipur’s Jaigarh Fort and assaulting Mr. Bhansali in January. Vandalism followed at the shoot in Kolhapur in March. Other groups like Jai Rajputana Sangh joined the protests even as Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani kept promising a safe passage for the film. In October, a Surat artist’s rangoli, featuring the lead Deepika Padukone, was destroyed in a matter of minutes. Protests were held earlier this month in Chittorgarh.
The Karni Sena claims the film distorts facts and hurts their pride and sentiments — the queen shown dancing without a ghoonghat (veil), allegations of an intimate dream scene between her and the villain of the piece, Allauddin Khilji. The filmmaker has clarified that the two characters don’t feature together in any scene. A few weeks ago, the Karni Sena called for a ban on the film, threatening to burn down theatres and called a countrywide bandh on December 1, the film’s original date of release. Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Punjab have decided to disallow the screening of the film, even as it awaits certification from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).
A debate has been continuing on the sidelines about whether Rani Padmini was for real or just a figure of legends and myths, a figment of the poet’s imagination, not a historical entity. Meanwhile, the CBFC returned the supposedly incomplete application form of the film, with its chief Prasoon Joshi also citing the 68-day rule (films should be submitted to the CBFC at least 68 days before release).
He has also been piqued by the film being shown to, and getting endorsement from, some mediapersons before getting certified by the CBFC.
Why does it matter?
A lot is at stake when it comes to the Padmavati issue. On the one hand is the perennial question of censorship. On the other hand, the response to the film from various quarters exposes the deep-seated patriarchal, conservative mindset to the depiction of women on screen. The issue also brings to light the continued threats and censorship imposed by extra-constitutional bodies and States on films. Tamas, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, My Name Is Khan, Vishwaroopam, The Da Vinci Code, Fanaa, Parzania, Aarakshan — the list goes on. It has always been up to the judiciary to come to the rescue of films. Even in the case of Padmavati, the Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a plea to stay the release and initiate criminal prosecution against Mr. Bhansali. It made it clear that it wants the CBFC to come to an independent and considered decision on certifying the movie.
At the moment things seem to be in a limbo and the film’s team has been told to stay silent. A note from Viacom 18 says: “We have faith that we will soon obtain the requisite clearances to release the film. We will announce the revised release date of the film in due course.” There could be other ramifications for the industry at large. If the CBFC holds other films to the 68-day rule, it could mean potential postponements for films like Salman Khan’s Tiger Zinda Hai lined up for a December release. With uncertainty over a big ticket film like Padmavati, 2017’s box office revenues are set to take a huge, painful beating. According to trade experts, there has been a slump in revenues since 2014 with the drop likely to get sharper this year. Business is where it eventually will hurt the most.