While an unerring ability to correctly predict the future isn’t exactly a trait we associate with our politicians, it is remarkable how so many of them from all across the country have managed to so precisely deduce the content of the unreleased Padmavati.
And while a thick skin is certainly an attribute we do associate with our netas – as demonstrated by their tendency to opportunistically switch parties and alliances and cling on to power even in the face of court proceedings against them – it is interesting to see how so many of them have discovered their sensitive side and realised that their tender feelings have been offended by the film. Even though, to repeat, they haven’t seen it yet!
Given the high profile of the film industry, and therefore the newsworthiness of any controversy related to it, we have often had fringe elements making all sorts of unfounded allegations against our profession, fraternity and products for the sake of their 15 minutes of (shrieking) fame on news channels. However, what makes the hue-and-cry surrounding Padmavati particularly worrisome is the fact that in addition to the usual band of publicity seeking rabble-rousers, unreasonable demands and threats are also being made by people in position of elected power, including members of state legislative assemblies, the national Parliament and Union Cabinet ministers.
It is natural, even essential, for all shades of opinion to be vented in the world’s most populous democracy. Occasionally, some of this discourse might not be based on truth and may even stem from a vested agenda. As long as this debate remains within the realm of reasonable civility, the film industry – so often having to fight for its own right to freedom of expression – would be the last to object to anyone voicing their opinion.
However, when criticism takes the form of grievous threats to life, property and vocation, it ceases to be a matter related to our fundamental rights. It becomes a criminal act that has to be prosecuted. Especially since, as the film industry has seen repeatedly – particularly in the case of Padmavati – these are often not just empty threats. But to whom do we turn for our protection when the ones charged with that responsibility are among those making the threats?
The persistent and high-decibel targeting of Padmavati is so farcical that it would have been almost funny were the repercussions not so real or damaging. Not only is offence being taken at a film that the offended parties haven’t watched, a purported dream sequence in the film keeps being cited as a key source of their ire even though the director of the film has gone on record to emphatically state that no such scene exists. Bizarre!
But since we seem to be in the midst of a frenzy of expressing outrage, let us join in and share some of the things that offend us too, with one key difference — unlike those opposing Padmavati, our grouses are based on verifiable reality.
For starters, we are deeply offended by the fact that despite the large-scale revisions in GST rates last week, film tickets continue to remain in the highest rate slab. We find ourselves in the company of socially undesirable or ultra-luxurious goods and services like bidis, pan masala, private planes, yachts, fur coats, lotteries, race club betting and the like.
But then, it doesn’t really matter what the sinful, pampered and wildly affluent film industry wants for itself, right? So let’s leave that aside and just talk about what gets our goat as ordinary, tax-paying citizens of this nation.
We find it hugely offensive that half the children in India below the age of five have stunted growth due to chronic malnutrition and that 3,000 kids die every day in our country from poor diet-related issues alone.
We take umbrage at the fact that with one out of every five poor persons in the world being Indian, we are home to the planet’s largest number of people below the poverty line, and that almost 200 million of our fellow citizens go hungry every day.
We think it is shameful that the poor quality of our roads and infrastructure contribute to India having the highest number of road accident fatalities in the world. Likewise, when it comes to healthcare, our only claim to ‘fame’ is that we have the world’s highest incidence of such ailments as tuberculosis, diabetes, coronary heart disease and more.
We find it outrageous that almost 600 million of our fellow citizens defecate in the open and that 75 per cent of our country’s population doesn’t get drinking water in their premises. And the few that are ‘lucky’ enough to get water supply have to cope with the contaminants that come along with it. These include iron and arsenic that can cause respiratory system haemorrhage and skin cancer, respectively.
Incidentally, this information is sourced from an answer tabled by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation in the Rajya Sabha in March this year. Perhaps this may be a more pressing concern for the Honourable Minister heading that department, Ms Uma Bharti, to address rather than fret over the imagined threat posed by Padmavati.
And that’s true for anyone else who may have a problem with Padmavati or any other film. There’s a very simple solution to ensure that your sensitivities aren’t offended – don’t watch the film.
In any case, there’s nothing that Mr Bhansali or any other filmmaker could pack into a 2-3 hour long film that is more obscene or more insulting to our national pride than the dreadful lives that millions of our brethren lead. The self-appointed guardians of our national pride would do well to spend their energies on making life livable for the public they claim to serve rather than tilting at windmills.