The need of the hour is ob­jec­tiv­ity

THERE IS JUS­TI­fi­ABLE CON­CERN THAT THE fiLM MAY BE an ex­er­cise to sal­vage the tainted image of Khilji.

The Sunday Guardian - - & Comment Analysis -

In­dia’s tur­bu­lent past with its in­nu­mer­able alien in­va­sions, ram­pant re­li­gious dev­as­ta­tion and in­cred­i­ble ma­te­rial pre­da­tion is a fer­tile ground for per­pet­ual polemics: dif­fer­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions of his­tory find favour with the de­scen­dants of the per­pe­tra­tors and the vic­tims. Ac­cord­ingly, the res­ur­rec­tion of an­tiq­uity, the recre­ation on the sil­ver screen of his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters and the era that they thrived in be­comes a dicey propo­si­tion; a daunt­ing ex­er­cise fraught with un­seen dangers and with the un­canny po­ten­tial to evoke an­i­mus from the un­like­li­est of quar­ters. Need­less to say, that story-telling must toe a fine line and scrupu­lously match his­tor­i­cal re­al­ity with the volatile sen­ti­men­tal­ity of cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

San­jay Leela Bhansali’s epic film Pad­ma­vati lies trapped in this dilemma hover­ing at a cru­cial in­ter­sec­tion wherein creative li­cence sup- pos­edly col­lides with the tra­di­tional sen­ti­ments of a com­mu­nity; stri­dent protests have erupted all over the coun­try, from Ben­galuru to Jaipur, with erst­while Ra­jput roy­alty tak­ing to the air and com­mon folks com­man­deer­ing the streets.

It would be in­tel­lec­tu­ally crass to com­ment on a movie with­out see­ing it. Ex­pect­edly, I will re­frain. How­ever, it is im­per­a­tive that we scru­ti­nise the an­tecedents of this can­tan­ker­ous melee for ed­i­fi­ca­tion.

To dis­miss the protest as an ex­po­si­tion of over­heated Hindu na­tion­al­ism or an out­pour­ing of right wing fringe el­e­ments is naïve, pedes­trian and a clas­sic ex­am­ple of vac­u­ous virtue sig­nalling. For an in­tel­li­gent ge­n­e­sis one needs to delve deeper and un­earth the root cause.

Is the re­mon­stra­tion by the Ra­jputs a de novo phe­nom­e­non: an iso­lated blip in an oth­er­wise tran­quil radar? Or is it a con­tin­u­a­tion of a preva­lent pat­tern of be­hav­iour? That is the mil­lion- dol­lar ques­tion.

Cen­sor­ship has a no­to­ri­ous track record in In­dia, with pro­scrip­tion of books and films go­ing back to a pe­riod when the Congress party reigned supreme and Hindu na­tion­al­ism was but a nascent force. In 1988, the Satanic Verses was banned in In­dia for hurt­ing Mus­lim sen­ti­ments. The re­lease of The Da Vinci Code in 2006 was met with vi­o­lent protest by Chris­tian groups, who van­dalised sev­eral stores in­clud­ing the fa­mous Cross­word book­store in Kolkata: pre­dom­i­nantly Chris­tian Na­ga­land led the way in ban­ning the film, with other states in­clud­ing Tamil Nadu fol­low­ing suit.

Clearly, we have fos­tered this un­healthy en­vi­ron­ment that con­sid­ers ban­ning of books and films as fair game and con­dones strong- arm tac­tics. To subscribe sud­denly to a new set of rules to tar­get the Hindu Ra­jput com­mu­nity as ret­ro­gres­sive and to in­voke lofty no­tions of free speech in this par­tic­u­lar set­ting is noth­ing short of hypocrisy and reeks of dou­ble stan­dards. Ex­pe­di­ent stan­dards of pro­pri­ety mil­i­tate against an egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety. An im­par­tial, uni­form code of con­duct is vi­tal.

Feed­ing into this fra­cas is also the sus­tained ef­forts in re­cent times to white­wash In­dian his­tory by paint­ing vil­lains as he­roes and vice versa.

Au­drey Tr­uschke’s cham­pi­oning of Au­rangzeb as a paragon of virtue via her book Au­rangzeb: The Man and the Myth has been widely pub­li­cised in our me­dia. And there is jus­ti­fi­able con­cern that Pad­ma­vati may be sim­i­lar ex­er­cise to sal­vage the tainted image of Alaud­din Khilji by giv­ing him a human face.

Lend­ing cre­dence to this per­cep­tion is the ru­mour of a ro­man­tic dream se­quence be­tween Deepika Paudukone and Ran­veer Singh. Right or wrong, the cast­ing of a pop­u­lar hero Ran­veer Singh as Bhansali’s Khilji sends out a con­fus­ing mes­sage: a cur­rent hero act­ing as a proxy for a no­to­ri­ous lecher of me­dieval his­tory.

It is al­to­gether pos­si­ble that the ac­tual film may prove th­ese mis­per­cep­tions un­founded. San­jay Leela Bhansali avers, “I have al­ways been in­spired by Rani Pad­ma­vati’s story and this film salutes her val­our and sac­ri­fice… I am re­it­er­at­ing that in our film, Rani Pad­ma­vati and Alaud­din Khilji have no such scene to­gether...”

San­jay Leela Bhansali must be given the ben­e­fit of doubt. To be fair one needs to wait for the film’s re­lease to pass a valid judge­ment on this quasi-his­tor­i­cal de­pic­tion.

Ra­jasthan Chief Min­is­ter Va­sund­hara Raje’s sug­ges­tion that a com­mit­tee of his­to­ri­ans, film ex­perts and mem­bers from the Ra­jput com­mu­nity re­view the film to edit out con­tro­ver­sial parts so as not to hurt the sen­ti­ments of any com­mu­nity is sage ad­vice that Bhansali must heed. It can put to rest a need­less con­tro­versy. Vivek Gu­maste is a US based aca­demic and po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor.

To dis­miss the protest as an ex­po­si­tion of Hindu na­tion­al­ism or an out­pour­ing of right wing fringe el­e­ments is naïve, pedes­trian, an ex­am­ple of vac­u­ous virtue sig­nalling.

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