Photo by: MT MINDS / YouTube
Photo by: MT MINDS / YouTube

The ‘i’ of the storm

The Bollywood hit ‘Padmaavat’, India’s anti-sati laws and the failure to confront misogyny.

A naked midriff was demurely covered, an 'i' was dropped from 'Padmavati', all allusions to history were jettisoned and a fatuous disclaimer about not glorifying sati inserted. The honour of a 14th-century fictional queen was restored and the real business of the INR 200-crore (USD 29.7 million) film was back on track. Once Padmaavat – about the siege of Chittorgarh by Allauddin Khilji, the Turkic ruler of the Delhi sultanate – was finally released on 25 January 2018, it quickly became the first blockbuster of the year. This, despite it not being released in five states in India, a government ban in Haryana, and the Multiplex Association of India deciding not to screen the film in order to protect its assets in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Goa from the Shri Rajput Karni Sena, whose threats had only intensified after the film's clearance from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) following revisions.

The Karni Sena, an organisation of unemployed Rajput youth launched in 2006 under the leadership of one Lokendra Singh Kalvi, had, as its main aim, caste-based reservation for Rajputs in education and government jobs. In its spare time – which apparently was a lot – it agitated against what it perceived to be the "sidelining" of Rajput figures in history textbooks. Twelve years down the line, there are three factions of the group, with an ongoing legal battle over who owns the name, but all with the mandate of garnering more privileges for an already privileged upper-caste community. In 2008, they got busy agitating against the Hrithik Roshan-Aishwarya Rai starrer Jodhaa Akbar, claiming it had distorted history by showing Jodhaa as Akbar's wife and not his daughter-in-law; the latter, they claimed, was fact. At the heart of the protest, however, seemed to be an outrage over the depiction of a marriage between a Muslim emperor and a Hindu princess. At the time, director Ashutosh Gowarikar refused to apologise despite protests, road blocks and slogan shouting. Some burning of posters later, it was business as usual. The next opportunity for protest presented itself in 2010, with the Salman Khan film Veer (meaning brave), which they alleged depicted Rajputs in poor light, thus hurting their sentiments. Vehicles were damaged and movie theatres vandalised. That this substandard film didn't do well at the box office had more to do with its stale storyline and ham-fisted acting than the Rajput outcry.

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