Having had the absolute privilege of watching ‘Padmaavat’ two days before its official release has perhaps given me a lot more to think about it than your average member of the audience or fan. The Sanjay Leela Bhansali directorial was indeed nothing but spectacular in its visuals but, as I said in my review of the film, I thought it had some shortcomings. However, the few things that I feel let the film down are absolutely unmatchable to the somewhat ill-conceived context which the open letter by Swara Bhasker seeks to achieve.
Bhasker says that she feels the film left her to feeling like a ‘vagina’ but realistically, after watching the film, I felt a sense of strength as a woman, which was depicted beautifully in ‘Padmaavat’, in various ways. Let me break it down slightly…
Rani Padmavati makes so many decisions of her own free will which are, throughout the film, bigger than any decision taken by her husband or indeed those around her. She goes against so many norms and stands up for what she believes in without worrying about how she feels as a ‘vagina’. That is the true strength of her character and ultimately of the entire film. When Padmavati decides to go and rescue her husband Maharawal Ratan Singh from the hands of Alauddin Khilji, knowing full well that the latter wants her, she doesn’t flitter at any point. Similarly, when she asks for her husband’s permission to do ‘jauhar’, at no point is the thought put into her mind by something or someone external. She chooses to do what she feels is right to protect herself and also keep her own honour in her own eyes. Does this feeling ever leave you feeling like a ‘vagina’? Does having the freedom to think freely and and perform actions to your own will make you feel reduced? No. No, it should make you feel proud of being in a world where cinema shows you that women have thought freely for centuries. Just because history doesn’t talk about it doesn’t mean it didn’t exist.
There is another instance of this strength in ‘Padmaavat’ in the form of Mehrunisa. She goes against her husband’s wishes (to cast his eyes on and make Padmavati his) to help Ratan Singh escape with Padmavati when he is being kept captive by Khilji. Is this also regressive? Is Mehrunisa doing this on the calling of someone else? Is she being made to help the couple without her own free will? No. No she isn’t. In fact, she’s doing it to save her husband from doing such a horrible thing as trying to win Padmavati when she, his wife, is still alive and well… and also while Padmavati is already married. Was this regressive? Or was it daring?
I think the thing that “offended” (I use the word loosely) me the most about this open letter was the call for a film, a story and a poem set so many centuries ago to have the context of the 21st century. How is this fair? Why call for an entire film to have the context of now when the entire story is based in an era so many years ago? The time was not only different to the current but probably difficult for most people in our generation to understand. However you have decided to go that one step further and bring to the forefront the inability of audiences to put themselves into a different world in the context of cinema. More to the point, there are terrorist groups existing even today where the lifestyle is solely about rape and control over women. It is a reality of women in the past and also of some women today. What you have done is belittle their bravery and their way of shielding themselves and their bodies. You have accused Bhansali of glorifying jauhar, but just because your thinking is so doesn’t make the mettle of the women shown in the film any less significant.
I also want to take the liberty of reminding you that the poem ‘Padmavat’ was a work of fiction. History says that while it is thought that the characters of Maharawal Ratan Singh and Alauddin Khilji are thought to have been real people, it is not known whether Padmavati even existed. As such, this makes your own context rather ill-informed and quite ill-mannered. When a work of fiction causes so much offence that, before putting your opinion about it forth, you think a disclaimer is needed about how much you respect the filmmaker, things get a little bit unmeasured. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and noone has the right of telling you whether you are right or wrong… but as you say, you have the right to ask questions, and so do others of why you needed this very long piece at the start to begin with. You did it to put context to the argument. Did ‘Padmaavat’ not give you context in the entire story for you to be able to understand jauhar?
In conclusion, I would like to say that I – hopefully like many other women – understand that ‘Padmaavat’ relies on the context of eras ago and is the reason why historians were brought in by the CBFC to view the film before deeming it acceptable for audience consumption. I felt proud of Padmavati’s warrior-like actions which very often placed her in the same space as the males in that era, where she was able to make her own feelings known and where she had the freedom to stand by her decisions with the support of her husband and others. She was very often the only female amongst male “protectors” but they still stood by her in ways that may only be truly appreciated in eras later, even if it was a fictional narrative.
In a similar fashion to the “tribute” to Bhansali, I would like to say that I am also an admirer of Bhasker’s and have remained in awe of her film and character choices. However, I believe India will remain regressive in ideology in certain areas but when vaginal-thinking is brought into play just to grab eyeballs, it becomes all the more important to understand the era of the film in question. THAT is what one calls context.
Perhaps “vaginal thinking” will show people that the more inverted you make your thoughts, the more you will curb your own country’s cinema from progressing. Well, with ‘Padmaavat’, it seems the case.
Swara Bhasker’s open letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali: here
BizAsiaLive.com ’s ‘Padmaavat review: here
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