The Gujarat government on Sunday issued a notification banning the screening of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming controversial period drama Padmaavat (which was earlier titled Padmavati) across the state, saying the step was necessary to maintain law and order.
Only after much hue and cry, the film had finally received a green signal from the CBFC which awarded it a ‘U/A’ certificate with some modifications. But, for the four Indian states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan it wasn’t enough as they have banned the film’s screening which is scheduled to be released on 25th of January.
Isn’t it true that by banning films at the behest of a few, such states are only encouraging fringe groups like Karni Sena to take the law into their hands?
The most important aspect that is very conveniently ignored under such circumstances is the Constitution of India. The Constitution guarantees the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, and which is why it is high time that India and Indians realize the interrelationship between the Constitution and cinema too.
Consequently, the individual rights of the general public to choose what they can watch are also being blatantly violated. While the ban may or may not be illegal in order to be questioned in court, we must begin by asking questions in the court of the people- the biggest court of all.
The question that we must ask today is whether banning films and protesting against the freedom of the artists are justified under the Constitution of India or not.
In the case of S. Rangarajan v. P. Jagjivan Ram and Ors. [(1989) 2 SCC 574] the Honorable Supreme Court proclaimed,
“If the film is unobjectionable and cannot constitutionally be restricted under Article 19 (2), freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstration and processions or threats of violence. That would tantamount to negation of the rule of law and surrender (sic) to blackmail and intimidation. It is the duty of the State to protect the freedom of expression since it is a liberty guaranteed against the State. The State cannot plead its inability to handle the hostile audience problem.”
Hence, the state cannot be permitted to renounce its constitutional responsibility to protect and support the creative arts.
The question is simple- Should the state be permitted to exercise the power to decide what is right or what is wrong for the people, instead of letting people have the right to decide the same? What happened to free flow of thoughts, imagination and creativity?
We approached Abhishek Jain (filmmaker, who recently won national award for Wrong Side Raju) for a comment on this entire scenario. Mr. Abhishek Jain has worked with Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Saawariya and Guzaarish as an assistant director. Here’s what he had to say,
“When the Padmavati controversy erupted, very frankly, I thought it was one of those bollywood gimmicks. Later on, as it developed into a national issue and the outrage was clearly visible, it became a matter of concern. The filmmakers were stunned but they made sure that things did not go out of hands to an extent that it affects the nation. With immense humility and dignity, the filmmakers waited till the CBFC gave its verdict. Today, pushing a film’s release can be extremely expensive. But in spite of bearing huge losses, the filmmakers patiently waited and agreed to the title change (from Padmavati to Padmavat) and number of modifications for grant of permission to release the film. All of it was for nothing as the filmmakers did not get the expected support from dissenting quarters even after the CBFC approval. I don’t see any reason for the state to ban this film, when CBFC has given it a nod and the producers have respected all modifications. This is no more about any particular community but it’s about giving a unanimous chance to a man who has been striving to put Indian cinema on a global platform. I request to let this game be played in a fair manner, if at all there are no hidden intentions behind the curtains.”
We also got a comment from Manan Desai (standup comedian, writer) who wrote a Facebook post addressed to the CM Vijay Rupani.
“I am not supporting Padmavat, I am simply supporting freedom of expression which is a tool for every art form and for every artist. If a Government Body (CBFC) has already approved of the movie then it should not be banned as the purpose of having such a body and freedom of expression, both gets defeated.”
India remains a country where popular leaders play a huge role in shaping the public consensus. But when leaders holding public offices decide to take democratic institutions for granted, a wrong precedent is set. And before such wrong precedents are normalized and forced down our throat, we must retaliate.
The Supreme Court has now and again reiterated that it is the prerogative of the national censor board to review the film and make a decision on whether it is suitable for screening. But the states are found to be misusing their powers in the name of public order maintenance while their course of action clearly reflects the case of a caste and creed appeasement policy.
The ban imposed during elections was seen and understood as vote-bank politics but the ban imposed now citing ‘public interest’ and ‘to maintain the law and order situation’ in the state, just reflects the government’s incompetency to provide protection and also leniency towards such unsocial elements of our society.
Also, this entire dissent by the Rajputs under the leadership of Karni Sena is clearly a politically motivated act. This is proved by the renowned Journalists Arnab Goswami and Rajat Sharma who have watched Padmavati and have stated in very clear words that there’s absolutely “nothing that hurts Rajput pride” and that there is not a single scene between Padmavati and Khilji in the film. In fact, Mr. Goswami also very unhesitatingly said that Padmavati is the greatest ever tribute to Rajput pride.
When Karni sena took the law in their hands, and government failed to stop this nuisance
The Karni Sena and other dissenting quarters have now and again taken law into their own hands and resorted to violent means in order to achieve their false propaganda disguised as religious sentiments. The death threats, vandalization of sets, physical attacks on film crew, attacks on those supporting Padmavati etc are only few examples of government’s blunt failure in tackling this entire controversy.
Government has been on back foot right from the beginning and has failed to do anything to improve the situation. While it’s also true, that the Karni Sena seems to be a politically backed group of perpetrators running a secret propaganda.
The truth is that Karni Sena, and any other organisation that wants to join the bandwagon, is free to criticize and point out the discrepancies between historical documents and the movie, but calling for its ban and resorting to violent means is an extreme step and clearly violates filmmakers’ rights.
Suppression of art/ free speech
While the PM Modi says “art can’t have any restrictions or limits”, their action suggests otherwise. After Modi government came into power, we’ve heard of tons of films getting banned.
Even after CBFC clearance and tons of interviews, makers had to issue front page disclaimer in leading dailies prior to release, which is saddening to see in a country that flaunts its democracy.
While we try and remember that India still stands for inclusiveness and the ability to accept diverse thoughts, philosophies, cultures and lifestyles, Padmavati has gone from being a movie to a reminder- a living, ailing and shouting reminder of everything that is wrong with India, today.