The Cacophony Of Opposition And A Film That Celebrates Rape Culture

First of all, I want to say that the different voices that supported and opposed Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus “Padmaavat” were quite bothersome. How could they not be? The makers of the film had invested over ₹200 crore.

Almost all news channels, sites and blogs have been covering news around the film as if there was a new state of emergency. This was done instead of covering relevant issues like women being raped, not getting the opportunity to study/work or being forced into a marriage they don’t want. These things are not as important as the ‘honour’ of a dead queen, that too one who might have been a fictional character.

The honour part is very important! A woman gave her life to save three children from a terrorist’s gun (thank you Sonam for the tribute), a woman went to space against all odds, a woman voiced the necessity for universal suffrage, a woman spied on the neighbouring country to help India win a war. But they (I mean the ‘wonderful’ filmmakers who have obviously never profited from stomping women down) would rather invest ₹200 crore, along with a revenue-generating actress (who represented India on a global platform) – on a queen who had to kill herself to avoid being raped and for the sake of her ‘honour’.

As a woman who lives in a patriarchal society, around men and women who perpetuate patriarchal norms and yet deny the very existence of the patriarchy, where women are raped and slut-shamed for the same, where therapists are working day and night to bring survivors out of the abyss of guilt in order to prevent them from committing suicide, dear filmmakers, you ‘honour’ me. Therefore, I wholeheartedly support Swara Bhaskar’s arguments.

Now, I have not seen the film, so I won’t comment on it. But we all know about Rani Padmavati and what the legend says and why Rajput men (and some women) are all feisty and full of energy when it comes to defending this legend. Earlier in 2017, Karni Sena had attacked the sets of “Padmaavat” and the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Apparently, their problem was with the depiction of Padmavati as a naachnewali (dancer).

Thanks to the constant coverage by the media, and the authorities not arresting those who showed off their “head-chopping” power, the hue and cry related to Padmaavat’s release have become international news. Who ruins the nation’s name apart from the nationalists themselves? The whole controversy is rather silly, owing to the fact that Padmavati is actually a fictional character. Assuming that Padmavati is real, the frenzy behind a film even before it was released shows Rajasthan as a state and India as a country in a poor light. The irony is that a woman’s ‘honour’ was being protected with attempts to put down another woman.

What was even more ironic was that these folks who accused Deepika and the makers of “Padmaavat” of ruining the image of the state and that of Rajputs didn’t find the idea of becoming a news item on the front page of an international newspaper more damaging to their image. Or the fact that, today, women have to face several problems in Rajasthan like child marriage, female foeticide, honour killing, etc.

Personally, the thing that bothers me is that people refuse to see the angle that is actually bothersome and affects women. Why do they have to make a film that glorifies a woman who had to burn herself to death to protect her honour? The idea of calling queen Padmavati ‘courageous’ for committing jauhar is rooted in patriarchy. Too bad that ‘feminist’ Deepika Padukone doesn’t see this. In my opinion, Bollywood, an industry that profits from putting women down, and feminism will never go hand-in-hand.

When I saw women preparing for jauhar in “Bajirao Mastani”, I was shaking in my seat because that is what war does to women. Thankfully, Mastani (with Bajirao) saved them all. What I didn’t know was how the director was then going to make an entire movie romanticising jauhar.

Padmavati (just like most women in the 13th century who committed jauhar, sati, etc.) was a victim of war, oppression, and patriarchy. She committed jauhar because she was forced into that position. Otherwise, her option was to get kidnapped and enslaved by Khilji and his army.

The scenario shows that men raping women is not seen to be as severe as women failing to protect their honour. This is fed by the notion that a woman’s honour lies in her vagina (aka her ‘loyalty’ to her husband and family). Glorifying a woman’s brutal death for the honour of her husband and her caste somehow becomes celebratory.

In blunt words, it is like saying, “Save your honour – that is, avoid rape at all costs, even if it means killing yourself. Or else we will slut-shame the shit out of you. Men are going to rape you anyway, ’cause boys will be boys.” This lays the foundation for victim blaming and slut shaming. Had Padmavati not committed jauhar, what was going to stop the same set of men and women from slut-shaming her for being Khilji’s slave?

I believe that Sanjay Leela Bhansali (or the people of Bollywood) have decided to profit off a movie that celebrates rape culture and casteism.

While men who always take on the role of an authority are celebrated, women are seen as nurturing beings, who are also denied their basic rights. An army loots a kingdom. They take away property like jewellery, and women. Funny, how a woman is reduced to a thing like “jewellery” that is meant to be protected.

Look at that scene from “Game of Thrones” where Khal Drogo’s army rapes women. This is justified by the notion that they can do whatever they want as they have won them over. This alone shows what rape culture is. Rape is about dominance or declaring victory in many ways – and not just about sexual lust. That is what needs to be called out.

A large section of people who compare jauhar with “my body, my choice” are mistaken because these women didn’t really have much of a choice but to commit jauhar at that moment. It is ludicrous since Padmavati had to seek her husband’s permission to commit jauhar – where’s the choice there?

Padmavati’s story should be shown to call out rape culture and its consequences, rather than celebrate her suicide. She deserved to live a life of dignity.

At a time like today, when elders are prone to giving lecture after lecture about how the world is dangerous just as much as they condemn feminists for calling out the same, when women are coming forward one by one to narrate their horror stories, a film like “Padmaavat” is a huge step back for feminism.

That being said, the release of the film should not be stopped. It is their right to express art and it is our right to critique-cum-scrutinise the themes of rape culture and casteism within the story.

This article was first published here.