It couldn’t be a worse publicity reel for Rajasthan. As filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali was directing his movie Padmavati in Jaipur’s Jaigarh Fort, a mobile camera captured grainy shots of Karni Sena protesters barging in, shouting slogans, damaging equipment, pushing crew members, even assaulting Bhansali, over his cinematic subject, Padmavati, the fabled Rajput queen. Expectedly, shooting stopped; Bhansali and his crew packed up and left Jaipur. The film crew is shaken by the assault. It must also feel insecure because of the desultory attitude of the state — and the resounding silence of Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje. Jaipur police did arrest five Karni Sena members; but they were released apparently as no complaint was filed. It is time Vasundhara Raje acknowledges something rotting in the state of Rajasthan.
WATCH VIDEO | MoS Giriraj Singh Backs Protests Against Filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati
Different political regimes have presided over the rot and the attack on Bhansali joins an inglorious queue. In 2012, when the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) invited writer Salman Rushdie, a right-wing Muslim group threatened to burn the venue down. The Karni Sena (which prevented Ashutosh Gowarikar’s film Jodhaa Akbar from releasing in Rajasthan in 2008, angered over Rajput Jodha shown as the Mughal emperor’s wife) was arguably emboldened and in 2014, when Ekta Kapoor addressed the JLF, the Karni Sena protested her Jodhaa Akbar TV show, smashing glass, shouting threats. Bullying entered other creative sites. The Jaipur art summit experienced vigilantism in 2015, and artists were attacked over a cow installation. In 2016, paintings were found “objectionable” enough for right-wing Hindu activists to physically assault the painter.
Significantly, the response of all politicians has been to overlook the glaring challenge to the writ of the state. From the Congress to BJP, no powerful voice supports beleaguered artists, writers or filmmakers, instead looking away from “non-state” censors crushing fundamental freedoms of individuals and groups. Today, as Bhansali is reportedly pressured into dropping certain sequences, even changing the title of his under-production movie, Vasundhara Raje must speak up. Known for initiating modern governance reforms, Raje should reach out to Bhansali now and assure Padmavati’s crew — and a wider audience — that Jaipur is not a decaying feudal palace, crumbling under its own anxieties, but a modern Hawa Mahal, open to a diverse universe, able to handle disagreement and dissonance with maturity. Raje must speak boldly against those imperilling free expression — and assure protection to those creating art under Jaipur’s pink skies.