Free­dom’s Cham­pion

SANJAY LEELA BHANSALI, 54

India Today - - OTHER NEWS MAKER - —Suhani Singh

Co­erced into a cor­ner by thugs mas­querad­ing as de­fend­ers of Ra­jput pride, the di­rec­tor emerged as the cen­tre­piece of a high-deci­bel de­bate on free­dom of ex­pres­sion

Dis­torter of his­tory. De­stroyer of Ra­jput pride. Traitor. Man with a Rs 10 crore bounty on his head. Stuck with so many la­bels, 2017 has been any­thing but good for Sanjay Leela Bhansali, whose ninth fea­ture Pad­ma­vati has dom­i­nated head­lines for all the wrong rea­sons. It all started in Jaipur in Jan­uary when the Ra­jput fringe group Karni Sena at­tacked Bhansali and dis­rupted the film’s shoot in Jaigarh Fort al­leg­ing that the di­rec­tor was go­ing to in­clude a dream se­quence be­tween the Ra­jput queen (Deepika Padukone) and Alaud­din Khilji (Ran­veer Singh), the Sul­tan of Delhi. Bar­ring the dis­turb­ing footage of the at­tack, lit­tle of Bhansali had been seen or heard. That was un­til Novem­ber, when he too had to fol­low in the foot­steps of Ae Dil Hai Mushkil writer-di­rec­tor Karan Jo­har to is­sue a clar­i­fi­ca­tion to en­sure a smooth re­lease for his film. “Maine yeh film bahut iman­dari, zimmedari aur mehnat se ba­nayi

hai [I’ve made this film with a lot of hon­esty, re­spon­si­bil­ity and hard work],” he says in the video be­fore go­ing on to deny the ex­is­tence of a dream se­quence in his epic.

But, un­like Jo­har, Bhansali’s film is yet to make its way to the cine­mas, with chief min­is­ters and politi­cians all weigh­ing in on a film they have not seen. The brew­ing con­tro­versy around Pad­ma­vati is proof of how ru­mours, pre­con­ceived no­tions and vote­bank pol­i­tics can dam­age the fate of a film. The Cen­tre and states shun­ning re­spon­si­bil­ity of main­tain­ing law and or­der and call­ing for bans is also a wor­ry­ing sign for both the film in­dus­try and ad­vo­cates of free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

With the film’s re­lease pushed to 2018, we know Bhansali will [have to] be back, but it re­mains to be seen if the di­rec­tor will speak up for his labour of love. Given how his re­as­sur­ances—both in writ­ing and video—were set aside and his vi­sion and in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a char­ac­ter and episode whose ex­is­tence is no ab­so­lute cer­tainty, there is good rea­son to be­lieve he may shun the spot­light and let his work speak for it­self. Now only if they let it be shown.

SAU­RABH DAS/AP

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