Sanjay Leela Bhansali has become controversy’s favourite child these days. His latest offering Padmavati, a fictional reconstruction of the life of Rani Padmini, is finding itself in troubled waters. The film is facing widespread violent protests in the northern parts of India. Over all these years, art has generally been the softest target, but the present wave of unrest has surpassed all acceptable limits of fair criticism.
Criticism is fine, dissent is fine as well, but what is completely unacceptable is threats of death, killing them, and hanging them in the name of ‘nationalism’. The problem with us is that we end up asking the wrong questions whenever a community or a group says that its sentiments have been hurt. People generally ask if there is any merit in the protests. Did the actors involved do something that was genuinely offensive? Were the sentiments really hurt? Is the ban on that particular piece of art really justified? Etc etc.
A question we don’t ask is: How valid and genuine are the demands of those who have demanded the ban? The constitution of India imposes reasonable restrictions’ under the fundamental law guarantying Freedom of Speech and Expression. The restrictions can be imposed if there’s a danger to the nation’s sovereignty, if friendly relations with other states or countries are being hampered etc.
But nowhere in the constitution is this mentioned that hurting a community’s sentiments can be a ground for curtailing the Freedom of Speech and Expression. Moreover, the reasons for confining the freedom of expression have to be rational and not sentimental. Reasons are morally debatable, but sentiments and emotions cannot be quantified for that matter.
The defining feature of sentiments and feelings is subjectivity. Many consider films depicting sexual content as indecent and immoral. While there are many who don’t label them as indecent and offensive. Therefore, there is no such standard which says that the feelings of the ‘hurt’ weigh more than those of the tolerant.
Without the scale of rationality, sentiments and emotions are hollow and hold less substance, to say the least. Indian democracy is often ridiculed in the west, yet we don’t see an uproar from the Indian community living there criticizing and slamming the political setup in the west. It is because the rule of law still exists in the west and is not a mere slogan as it is in India. The democratic setup in India is no longer being followed democratically.
The aforementioned statement finds substantiation in the fact that Yogi Adityanath, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh has joined the bandwagon of people condemning Padmavati and its makers for hurting people’s sentiments. His statement that ‘Bhansali has become accustomed to hurting the sentiments of people’ further throws light on how politicians in India are standing up for hyper-nationalism.
To draw the curtains on the argument, it certainly won’t be an overstatement to say that the Indian society is witnessing a desperate flux. We label something as inappropriate if we find it hard to accept. That is the real problem with our society. History is nothing but a constant interpretation of facts. Therefore, censoring a film for ‘hurting a community’s sentiments’ does not hold true in this case.
For instance: In India, Bhagat Singh is considered a frontline freedom fighter who fought and sacrificed his life for his country’s independence. If we flip through our history books here in India, he is considered a martyr, a champion, and rightly so, but there’s every possibility that he is considered an outlaw who tried to overpower the colonial setup by force if we flip through the history books back there in England.
The sense of history in India is a moral tale which is not at all factual and rational. History is often showcased through a lens of sentimentality for it to sound relevant to the present generation.