Sanjay Leela Bhansali must be a worried man. What started out as a minor objection to possible contents in the movie about Rajputs has now escalated to protests against the movie in eight states across India. The Shree Rajput Karni Sena attacked Bhansali on the sets of his film in January this year and burnt down posters and effigies of him in movie theatres that screened the trailer of Padmavati. The Karni Sena believe that Padmavati is distorting historical facts about Rani Padmini’s legacy in Rajasthan… without watching the movie. Good job.
But the most infuriating part of the protest against the film is how all the fringe groups appear to have singled out Deepika Padukone, who plays the role of Padmavati in the film, as target. Last week, Karni Sena leader Mahipal Singh Makrana threatened to cut of Deepika’s nose if the film releases, à la Shurpanakha. (She’s written an open letter to him that we doubt he would read.) Now, Haryana BJP’s Chief Media Coordinator, Suraj Pal Amu has offered Rs. 10 crores to anyone who beheads Deepika, along with Bhansali. Ok. It doesn’t stop at that. According to a report, Thakur Abhishek Som of Sardhana Chaubisi, who claims affiliation to the Samajwadi Party, has announced a bounty of Rs. 5 crore on Deepika’s head on November 16. To make matters worse, yesterday, members of the Akhil Bhartiya Kshatriya Mahasabha (ABKM) announced a bounty of Rs. 1 crore for burning Deepika alive. I was hoping I was reading this wrong.
That there are even open death threats flying around like the flu is baffling as it is, but why is Deepika at the front of the attack? One can argue that since she’s the central character in the film, her being turned into the chief target of the protests make sense. (No, nothing about being threatened to be burnt alive makes sense.) But there are two other men in the film, Shahid Kapoor who plays her husband and Rajput king Maharawal Ratan Singh, along with Ranveer Singh, who plays the Turkish invader Allaudin Khilji. Goes without saying that neither of them should be subjected to bounties and death threats. But their names being completely missing from the conversation strikes me as very odd. Kapoor spoke to the media about the controversy and has asked for the film to be given a chance. Singh, on the other hand, has expressed his complete support for Bhansali. (Good job, but no word on supporting Deepika? Great boyfriend goals. Hmpf.) But their voices sound feeble, even reluctant compared to Deepika’s, who has slammed the protestors for their actions.
The Karni Sena rallied forces against the movie in astonishing numbers. Pro-brahmin group the Sarv Brahmin Mahasabha, T Raja Singh, a member of Telangana assembly, Diya Kumari, of the former royal family of Jaipur, BJP member Arjun Gupta, Maharajkumar Vishvaraj Singh, son of Mahendra Singh Mewar and Union Minister Uma Bharti are some of the forces that have rallied with Karni Sena to impede the release of the movie. And so far, they appear to have succeeded. Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the producers of Padmavati have now deferred the date of the film voluntarily. The film was slated for release on December 1 this year. But the fate of the release is currently unclear.
But what’s really clear is that turning the woman daring to speak up as the target of communal hatred is not just typical but also cowardly. Deepika has clearly displayed more grit than both her co-stars put together throughout this situation. In the trailer for the movie, Padmavati says, “Rajputi kangan mein utni hi takat hai jitni Rajputi talwar mein”, meaning the bangles that Rajput women wear have just as much strength as the swords Rajput men wield. But it looks like Deepika, at least, needs neither talwars nor kangans to stand toe-to-toe against the legion of these threat-waving dudes.