The year 2017, in a continuation from its predecessor, has seen an unhalting barrage of symbolic as well as very real violence against Indian filmmakers. Incidents such as last night’s act of grievous mob attack with petrol bombs on Padmavati’s set near Kolhapur are chilling. Barely a month and a half had passed after the atrocious vandalism of the movie Padmavati’s Jaipur shoot in which members of the film crew including director Sanjay Leela Bhansali were physically assaulted by a mob of the fringe outfit, Karni Sena. What should we call the act of burning a set, if not a kind of terrorism? Animals were harmed and lives could have been endangered.
Watch | ‘Padmavati’ Set Vandalised, Put On Fire In Kolhapur
This serial hounding of a filmmaker who is well within his rights to make a movie with acts of serious violence casts a deep and very dark shadow on Freedom of Expression available to artistes in India. A gundaraj with a band of hooligans confidently indulges in acts of pure terror because it feels so empowered and secure in intimidating and bullying relentlessly with violence. These were reportedly about 20-strong group who thought of themselves as righteous in destroying private property and taking the law in their hands allegedly because of their personal, organizational grudges — however unfounded and proven false. It doesn’t even feel required at this point to voice support for Bhansali’s rights to make his movie, in which he and his cast members have repeatedly dismissed claims of objectionable sequences between the characters of Alauddin Khilji and the namesake. Historians too have repeatedly cast doubt on the existence of a real Padmini/Padmavati. But repeating all this is immaterial and beside the point — as if, even if a filmmaker takes artistic liberty with his characters in a history-inspired but essentially fictitious work — it would be justified to beat him up or burn and damage the production house’s property. What will it take for goon outfits to understand that what they don’t like (without knowing if it exists or not, in this case) is not for their eyes? It is beside the point now to repeat that criticise and don’t attend/watch all you want — but don’t react with blows and flames against what you don’t approve of. That is no democracy.
Before the January incident on Padmavati sets, there was the uproar created by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena against Karan Johar’s Ae Dil Hai Mushkil in October 2016 which starred Pakistani actor Fawad Khan. Johar gave in to the bullying, and pleaded to the Raj Thackeray outfit for respite for his movie’s unimpeded release, offering that he would never again work with a Pakistani artiste. Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis personally invited Thackeray and Johar then to settle the dispute — as if they were a divorced couple that needed counselling rather than one a bully and the other its victim. The Chief Minister had caved in to the bully — offering it a legit seat at the table instead of denouncing. Then Shah Rukh Khan sought a pre-settlement and reassured the organisation for providing a clean pass to his Raees, starring another Pakistani actor Mahira Khan. Can we expect anything more than a puppet performance against the culprits this time?
This new kind of hooliganism is poisoning, and authorities are doing nothing to curb it. How much ideological and violent bullying of Bollywood is acceptable and when will political leaders of top echelons castigate such acts in the strongest possible terms? They have plenty of time to spare for interviews over a JNU or a Ramjas row, but interestingly keep mum on this sort of violence. One or two leaders’ scattered criticising statements won’t suffice anymore. When will law and order ensure that these vandalising mobsters receive a fitting punishment, rather than make a few short-term arrests and never penalise the organisational masterminds condoning, permitting and encouraging these repeated acts of terror? The day when our country stand up for its artistes’ rights is no where close in sight.