Padmavati suffers another jauhar

The attack on Padmavati film’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali in Jaipur marks new lows in India: the assault came not after the release of the film but during its making; it happened not because something somebody found objectionable in the movie but because somebody heard some rumor about something they thought was objectionable. They came, they hit Bhansali, they vandalized the set. Everybody knows who they are; in fact, they themselves have made statements admitting their role in violence; and yet nobody has been arrested. There is a lot that is rotten in the state of India—and nobody is interested in stemming the rot.

There is a complete reversal of roles of culpability and innocence. Mahipal Makrana, state president of Karni Sena that indulged in violence, is unrepentant and unafraid. His goons carried out the attack on rumors that in the movie (in the making) the valiant Queen of Chittor has a love sequence with and Alauddin Khilji, the Delhi Sultan, who letched after her. “This is an outrageous distortion of Rajasthan’s history as Raniji self-immolated herself along with other women of the fort when they heard that Khilji is marching ahead to take over the fort,” Makrana said.

The filmmaker, on the other hand, is offering explanations about his innocence. “We clarify that there is no dream sequence or any objectionable scene between Rani Padmavati and Allauddin Khilji. We have been carefully researching and making the film… The attack on the shoot and crew was uncalled for and was extremely damaging to the image of the beautiful city of Jaipur,” said an official statement issued on behalf of Bhansali.

The statement went on to buttress the nothing-objectionable claim: “SLB had directed the opera Padmavati to packed houses in Paris and earned worldwide praise for it. He was inspired by the beautiful and courageous queen and is making a feature film on the story.”

Further, as per the statement, the entire crew of Padmavati is “grateful to the authorities at Jaipur who responded promptly and limited the damage.” Grateful to the authorities for having failed in stopping the assault and bringing the culprits to justice!

On the face of it, this sounds cravenly but this is not just the plight of filmmakers but all of us: we get used to whatever injustice our political masters inflict upon us. This reminds me of an incident that was recently (in the wake of demonetization) circulated on Whatsapp. I found it mentioned on website, “During those final days of the collapsing Marxist experiment in the Soviet Union, Soviet novelist Chingiz Aitmatov retold the following story, which has been paraphrased here.

“On one occasion, so it was narrated, Stalin called for a live chicken and proceeded to use it to make an unforgettable point before some of his henchmen. Forcefully clutching the chicken in one hand, with the other he began to systematically pluck out its feathers. As the chicken struggled in vain to escape, he continued with the painful denuding until the bird was completely stripped. ‘Now you watch,’ Stalin said as he placed the chicken on the floor and walked away with some bread crumbs in his hand. Incredibly, the fear-crazed chicken hobbled toward him and clung to the legs of his trousers. Stalin threw a handful of grain to the bird, and it began to follow him around the room, he turned to his dumbfounded colleagues and said quietly, ‘This is the way to rule the people. Did you see how that chicken followed me for food, even though I had caused it such torture? People are like that chicken. If you inflict inordinate pain on them they will follow you for food the rest of their lives’.”

We, the people of India, are little better than Stalin’s chicken. Fundamental Rights scrapped and curtailed, subject to the whims and fancies of quixotic politicians, we live in an age in which bullies swagger around while law-abiding citizens like Bhansali have to keep the former in good humor. The biggest casualty is freedom of expression.