A movie stalls the nation

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    While Modi hard-sells India at Davos, activists of Karni Sena take the country by storm over the release of film ‘Padmavat’

     

    By HARVINDER AHUJA

    While Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks of “competitiveness, protectionism and terrorism” from a world stage, hoodlums of a fringe group, tacitly supported by his party, take the entire country to ransom back home. In fact, calling these trouble-makers as“fringe” would also be a misnomer. The extent to which they have disrupted law and orderand shaken the nation, all over the release of a film, it won’t be wrong to dubthem as the “mainstream”.

    A riot-like situation has been developed in the country, public property vandalised and vehicles burnt all because one Karni Sena feels that the Rajput honour has been compromised with the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film ‘Padmavat’. In the name of “protecting” their “lost honour”, these self-styled champions of Rajputs under the banner of Karni Sena feel they have the licence to attack a school bus ferrying children back home and indulge in violence of all sorts. Nothing could be more shameful than that!

    So when Modi invites investors at Davos to India and boasts of the red carpet laid by his country, how hollow it sounds!Is he, as also the world audience he addresses at Davos, not aware that while he is doing the hard-sell, roads are being blocked, schools shut and public threatened merely because some Bollywood movie has “hurt” a particular community’s sentiments? It is not the marketing pitch ofhis speech to global investors but the mayhem caused on the streets back home which makes news for the world media.

    The saddest part is that four elected state governments, all ruled by the BJP, have not only failed to ensure law and order but also to uphold the Supreme Court order. After getting a green signal from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), ‘Padmavat’ had also cleared the SC hurdle. It is the highest court of the land which had refused to stop the film’s release and directed all state governments to ensure that the law and order is maintained when it is screened.

    Despite clear directions from the court, the movie could not see the light of the day in Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. While it was released under heavy police protection in rest of the country and the Yogi Government did well to quell stray protests in UP with some stern action, the four state CMs simply abdicated their responsibility. By their failure to uphold the court orders, they haveinvited the charge of being blatantly complicit. Therefore, it will be in the fitness of things if the governments in these four states are dismissed forthwith.

    But it will never happen because the Centre has all along been turning a blind eye to such acts of commission. It’s the silence of those holding reins of power which has been fanning atmosphere of intolerance in the country. It is the lack of any firm action by the Prime Minister which is emboldening these divisive forces to hold sway. Things like these have happened in the past as well but it is, perhaps, now only that the complicity of state players is so obvious.

    It is sad that when pressing issues like slowing economy, lack of jobs, crumbling infrastructure and poor state of healthcare and education should have been at the centre-stage, what has become the national discourse is a Bollywood film. It’s all the more tragic that most of those fighting on streets to “save” the Rajput honour“threatened” by ‘Padmavat’ have no knowledge of its contents because they have not seen the movie. They are out indulging in violence only to further some hidden political agenda being set by someone else.

    Instead of launching a violent campaign and denying people their freedom of choice, these protestors would have done better to let the film get released. Their so-called objections had already been met and both the CBFC and the SC had given a go-ahead to ‘Padmavat’, which was originally titled ‘Padmavati’. It should have been left to the viewers to make a judgment on the film’s merits (or demerits).

    A critic has commented after seeing ‘Padmavat’ that the film is a celebration of Rajput valour. In fact, he went as far as to say that if the KarniSena had wanted a production sponsored on Rajput honour and pride, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Padmavat’ would have been the right choice for it.

    (The author is consulting Editor from New Delhi and can be reached at harrysnigi@gmail.com)