What is the real story behind the folklore of Padmavati, and why the uproar, is art losing it’s freedom?

Art is essentially a democratic entity. Democracy provides the platform where art can flourish without any restrictions and the artist can nurture his/her talents and skills without any impediment. A liberal, democratic society offers the promise of hearing out different voices and there is an inclusiveness of every form and mode of expression without any attempt made to silence those voices. In a democratic set-up, a diverse range of voices are encouraged and there is a proliferation of multiple thoughts and interpretations.

Now, whenever conflict arises between different ideologies, there is always room for dialogue, debate and discussion. This is exactly why, in a democracy, plurality of perspectives can co-exist. Ideological clashes can always be hoped to be resolved by peaceful means. Violence has no place in a civilised society. Issuing threats of physical harm and declaring death threats to artists and creators is grossly unconstitutional and barbaric. Artists should not have to live in an environment of fear and oppression. They should be free to assert their agency and autonomy through their artistic vision and outlook.

Art means courage. It is the expression of the individual’s creativity and imagination. By creating any form of art, be it a painting, a film or a novel, its creator makes a strong statement about their culture, society or any particular era in the history. An artist interprets reality according to his/her own standpoint on a particular aspect of life, and history, and color it in their own shades.

Art is an independent stance taken by the artist to project their desires, fears and perceptions of the world onto their canvas by incorporating their slant on how things are or how they should be. In a democracy, individuals should have the right to create art without fear of harm or death. Now, every piece of art is distinct, with its own set of ethos and mores, enclosed within its own specific order. Art attempts to convey a message or critique society. In a democratic country, artists should possess the adequate licence to exercise their rights of analysing, evaluating and critiquing societal values and speaking truth to power.

No government or community should be immune to disapproval. Art challenges conventional wisdom and prods us to rethink our own beliefs. Artists tear the veil of ignorance and prejudice in society by honestly portraying its faults and loopholes. Furthermore, art is subjective. This means that it can have varied hues of instinctive styles and renditions. Artists should not be liable to the masses or to the government for delineating their stories in the manner in which they want to. Freedom of expression is a democratic right and this right should not be curtailed by forces of violence and thuggery. The objective of art is to offend and condemn by means of satire, libel and even slander. If you disapprove, you can simply not read it or not watch it but you do not have the right to shut down or destroy art in a democratic setting.

What is happening in the country lately in the name of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus ‘Padmavati’ is appalling. Various fringe groups in the country have been abusing the idea of ‘protest’ and in its name are indulging in terrorizing the film-makers and the cast of the film. They have called for a ban on the movie and have threatened to burn down movie theaters if Padmavati is screened. In several horrifying instances, the right-wing group Karni Sena have already vandalized cinema halls, damaged property and have desecrated historical monuments in Rajasthan with the objective of intimidating the public into submission. Their primary objection to the film is that it sullies the honour of their much-revered, legendary historical figure Rani Padmini, whom they consider their ‘mother’.

They believe Padmavati, the movie, vulgarises Rajput history and reflects Rani Padmini in a bad light. When it comes to art, historical accuracy is irrelevant because first, mainstream history is itself written by those in power, i.e by one particular set of people. History should not be shielded from inspection or fault-finding. It is the responsibility of the artist to examine mainstream history and rewrite it in their own words.

‘Padmavati’ is posited to be a historical-fiction. It is a fictionalized narrative of a certain moment, episode in history. The film-maker has the artistic liberty to de-construct history and capture its story in an entirely new light. In historical fictions, there is an interplay between facts and imagination, like in all art forms. New characters are introduced and newer incidents are written down. This exercise enhances the core story and helps us understand the motivations of the protagonists better. Storytelling employs many techniques to make sense of the past and present.

The poem ‘Padmavat’ which was composed by Malik Mohammad Jayasi is an allegory. It is a mythical account of the real queen Padmini, whom Sultan Alajuddin Khilji fell in love with. The film Padmavati is based on this poem. So in conclusion, the poet Jayasi has also created art by retelling reality.

Rani Padmavati of Chittor is a poem by Malik Muhammad Jayasi, dating back to 16 century.

The current scenario regarding the film reminds us of a dictatorship in action where art is in decline and culture has been eradicated. It is worth observing that Rajasthan, from where the Karni Sena belongs, has the highest rate of female foeticides and child marriage in the country, is obsessed with a mythical woman rather than focusing on alleviating their pressing problems.

Now, these allegations are coming from people who have not seen the film even once. They have gone on to declare death threats against film-maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali and lead actress Deepika Padukone. Dreadful threats of physical violence on the artists, such as cutting off of Deepika Padukone’s nose are being brazenly put out by these groups.

Something which should be a cause of alarm for our democracy is that the Indian State has failed to act against the above mentioned criminal elements. The government has till now remained silent on this issue and has not taken any concrete action against those who are engaging in lawlessness and threatening the right to free speech. Our constitution guarantees equal rights to everyone to voice their opinions and beliefs even if they oppose another community or set of individuals. If you have a problem with a certain artistic depiction, you do not have the power to obliterate it and resort to violence against the artist. That would be breach of the law.

We as a nation must not surrender to such tactics and intimidation. This is sheer blackmail in play to make us bow down to the rule of the mob. But in a democracy, the rule of the law must always prevail and hence, the state should take adequate, measured action to prevent us from surrendering or succumbing to this mindlessness. We should stand tall in the face of this adversity. It doesn’t matter what they say, art must thrive in this land to further our goals of a free country.

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About Arundhati Roychoudhury 1 Article
An ardent cinephile. Highly interested in music and current affairs. Believes in the power of humanity. Admires wit and intelligence and has faith that all we need is love.

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