The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) cleared the Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed Padmavat for public screening with a few modifications and a change in its title on December 28. The film is reportedly slated for release in theatres on January 25. However, the Rajasthan government, on Monday, announced that it will not allow the film to be screened in the state. Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje said, “Rani Padmini’s sacrifice is associated with honour, esteem and pride of the state, so Rani Padmini is not merely a history chapter for us, but is our self-esteem. We will not allow her dignity to be hurt howsoever.” This is an extremely unfortunate statement from an elected chief minister who has sworn to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.
The chief minister’s statement puts the government imprimatur on the vicious campaign that seeks to deliberately confuse a work of art based on a 16th century Sufi text with history. In fact, the CBFC got the filmmakers to change the title of the film from Padmavati to Padmavat to underline that it is an adaptation of the work of Malik Muhammad Jayasi and not based on any historical records. Second, like the mob that has threatened cinema hall owners and the film’s director and cast with violence, Raje associates the state’s “honour, esteem and pride” with Rani Padmini’s “sacrifice” and presumes that the film, as yet unreleased, misrepresents these. Third, the Rajasthan government shows disrespect to the CBFC, a statutory body under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
The Cinematograph Act 1952 entrusts the CBFC with the task of certifying and regulating the public exhibition of films in the country. The CBFC is the final authority to decide if a film can be allowed public exhibition, which the Supreme Court pointed out while dismissing a petition last year that pleaded for a ban on the film. An attempt on the part of a state government to overrule the CBFC is a challenge to due process.
The Rajasthan government is duty-bound to ensure the release of Padmavat while also keeping the peace. However, all through this controversy, it has chosen to abdicate and abandon its constitutional responsibility. Raje, once thought of as a moderniser within the BJP, has preferred to embrace a regressive agenda at the cost of undermining free speech.