Dear Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Women Deserve Better Than “Padmaavat”

Dear Bhansali Sir,

As I was reading about Rani Abbakka II, a warrior queen of Ullal, Karnataka a parallel thought was passing through my mind. How would it be if Sanjay Leela Bhansali could do a movie on this? That was thrilling! Arguably in India, if somebody can give justice to a historical movie, it is you! I am enthralled by the journeys you take us through, set in times of war and valour. “Bajirao Mastani” and “Padmaavat” have made me wonder at your passion. You create the perfect frame where characters flourish on the big screen. You create characters that penetrate deep into our hearts. And that is the reason I write this letter expecting much more from you.

I do have a particular reason to suggest this story, in the background of the much-talked “Padmaavat”. Sir, I believe any piece of art created at any period owes responsibility towards the times it is created. Though the story is a few centuries old, since you are recreating it now and, most importantly, people of ‘today’ are watching it and carrying home some message, you owe responsibility towards ‘today’.

Your “Bajirao Mastani” looked so very apt and was a real masterpiece as it stroked different shades of characters. It had looked real. Through your movie, you had questioned age-old prejudices and religious blindness. More importantly, your characters were real. Your characters were not black and white but full of colours. Some scenes are stamped in my mind. The strong rebuttal of Mastani against Chimaji’s shaming remark, the bitter laugh of Kashibai and Radhabai while stitching the saffron flag, the fuming orthodox Krishna Bhatt and the most touching scene of the mother and son (Mastani and her son) departing from each other.

When I came out of the theatre after watching “Padmaavat”, I was disappointed, sir. I had come expecting much more. This time your characters were too plain. They were either black or white. Khilji and Malik Kafur were full of foulness, villains. While Ratan Singh and Padmaavati were the noblest.

Thus, sir, you have betrayed your characters of their realness. Portraying the Hindu king as the noblest while the Muslim ruler is shown as a demon without a speck of goodness will not only make history look like a fairytale of a king and demon, but will also fuel vile attempts of portraying Muslims as successors of demons and Hindus as progeny with noble blood.

Sir, humans are not so plain. We are combinations of both positives and negatives. Ratan Singh’s first wife and Mehrunissa (Khiji’s wife) were the two characters you betrayed the most. You told so less and so plainly about the former and made the latter pale in comparison to the extreme radiance of Padmavati.

Sir, it is not so easy to get into the fire with a smile on the face; pregnant women with girl children, many with smiles and some teary-eyed. This portrayal is compliant with the popular disdainful glorification of womanhood; the other face of it is the ugly patriarchal outlook which snatches away the human face of women. This portrayal of women as Kali, Durga, Bhavani who are endowed with a superhuman capability to withstand anything to save their dignity will not only nullify the mental turmoil and endless torture women go through but also strengthens male insensitivity towards the pain women bear. I sincerely feel it is more dignified to be like Mastani who was ready to die at the sharp edge of a sword than sacrifice oneself to fire to escape from a villain, like Padmavati.

So sir, here I suggest a tale of a woman who lived a warrior life. Who challenged patriarchy and the mindset that considers women weak, which is existent even today.

And also I suggest to you, in that case, to be prepared for the protests and oppositions before the release of the movie. Meanwhile, I assure you that many like me will keep supporting you for your right to expression.