A large number of members of the film and entertainment industry gathered in Mumbai on Sunday to express their support to Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming Padmavati, and question the status of freedom of speech and expression in India’s democracy when a caste group like the Karni Sena could constantly threaten the filmmakers and travel nationwide to stop its release.
The protest started with the National Anthem in the memory of the victims of 26/11 terrorist attack as Sunday was its 9th anniversary.
Addressing the protesters and media, Ashoke Pandit of the Indian Films and TV Directors’ Association (IFTDA) said, “We, all the members of the film industry, are sensible enough to portray our history and culture in a sensible way; and it is the basic right to all the citizen of a democratic country to express thoughts freely. How could some non-constitutional bodies threaten to behead a filmmaker and cut the nose of an actress? Is this even democracy?”
“Even we want to see how they could show such audacity! Such threats crate questions on the livelihood of those junior artistes, carpenters, lightmen among many others who work on the set of big films like Padmavati. Therefore I would like to urge the government to step in to control the situation and protect our right to freedom.”
Various union groups like the Movie Stunt Artistes’ Association, the Mahila Kalakar Sangh, the Junior Aristes’ Association among many others were present there at the main entrance of Film City where all the union members put off the lights on sets and stopped shooting as a symbol of solidarity with Padmavati.
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Himanshu Bhatt, Secretary of Association of Voice Artistes, said, “I know Sanjay for years now, because we started working together as professionals from his debut film Khamoshi and continued working till Devdas. Surely I know his artistic sensibilities better than people who are protesting against Padmavati… who did not even watch a single frame of the film.”
“I don’t believe he would project any character or culture in such an insensitive manner to hurt anyone. We have the CBFC to decide what film is suitable for public view. Those groups (like Karni Sena) cannot just attack our basic right to freedom of expression. Let the film release and the criticize or appreciate in a civilized manner,” he said.
Veteran actor Pawan Malhotra, who was also present, said the situation was alarming for the nation, going beyond the film’s release. “The way a series of incidents regarding the release of Padmavati is happening is worrisome because we are living in a country where our freedom of expression is controlled by a group of people.”
“They decide all the norms – what to wear, what to eat, how to celebrate a festival, what are the subject a filmmaker can film on … the list is never ending! I ask them, Why? How come they overpower the right of the CBFC to decide on a film? How come they overpower the Constitution of India to decide on our basic right to freedom?”