The appalling violence around Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s under-production movie, Padmavati, continues unchecked. In January, Rajasthan’s Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS), objecting to the depiction of the fabled Rajput queen, attacked Padmavati’s set in Jaipur, manhandled the crew, slapped the director. The crew decided to shoot elsewhere; but the ire of “like-minded organisations”, as described by an SRKS member, chased them there too, with the film’s set burned in Kolhapur by miscreants. Now, Rajasthan’s Social Justice and Empowerment Minister, Arun Chaturvedi, has announced that the film’s release in the state would first be cleared — by its attackers. A screening would be held for the Shri Rashtriya Rajput Karni Sena (SRRKS) — a variant of the SRKS — who, with other “knowledgeable members of society”, would voice their “objections”. This is outrageous.
The SRKS and SRRKS join a lengthening list of unofficial censors. India has dense formal censorship, presided over by a Censor Board, currently run by Pahlaj Nihalani, whose heavy-handedness — cutting kisses in a James Bond movie, demanding 89 cuts in Udta Punjab — is the stuff of bitter legend. But filmmakers can at least approach the courts if they feel unduly censored; a Bombay High Court decision allowed Udta Punjab to be released with one cut. However, India’s unofficial censors are apparently out of control. Instead of being penalised for their violence — the breaking of mirrors in the historic Chittorgarh Fort, for instance, apparently to prevent the Padmavati crew from filming a scene showing the queen’s face — the SRKS is being rewarded by the Rajasthan government, their vandalism termed “knowledge”, an unofficial Ministry of Hurt Sentiments invited to dictate its terms.
It is high time Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje took a stand. The fracas over Padmavati was preceded by participants at both 2015 and 2016’s Jaipur Art Summit being attacked. In the Ashok Gehlot administration, writer Salman Rushdie wasn’t even permitted to appear on screen at 2012’s Jaipur Literature Festival. But by all accounts, Raje’s administration has been even more limiting towards art. Her party too must clarify its stand. The BJP is on a high after electoral victories in this round of assembly elections. But its victory is premised largely on the promise of development. Such development does not mean simply bijli, sadak, paani and phones and e-wallets. It also means ensuring that creativity grows, and freedom of expression, as promised by the Constitution, prevails. Bullies threatening artists, and being rewarded for it, is the opposite of development.