SANJAY LEELA BHANSALI, 54
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.