Films and TV series have often taken the idea of creative liberty to preposterous heights. How is the idea of creating a side-story of Abraham Lincoln as a secret vampire hunter not preposterous? How is dressing Mary (Queen of the Scots) in contemporary gowns, and inserting a fictitious love triangle in her life (“Reign”) not preposterous? How is showing Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” being inspired by real-life events (“The Frankenstein Chronicles”) not preposterous? Creating fictional stories about real historical characters is nothing new.
And here in India, we show outrage over the exposed midriff of a Rajput queen – fictitious or real. I don’t necessarily believe in ‘art for art’s sake’. And I don’t necessarily consider the outrage shown by Rajput associations as unreasonable – although here, I’m not supporting vandalism or death threats issued by these groups. What I’m saying is that I understand their outrage. It can certainly generate dialogues around it – dialogues that doesn’t justify calling the outrage ‘ridiculous’ by saying that the character in question is fictitious and not a real historical character. It doesn’t matter if the character is fictitious or not – what matters is that the film has outraged a symbol of the Rajput community.
For the Rajput community, Padmini is a symbol of Rajput pride. In many cases, her characteristics define even the present-day identity of Rajput women. And in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t apply your sense of feminism in defining what is empowering (and what is not) when viewing a historical or fictitious character set in medieval India. For that matter, do you really criticise the actions of women in “Game of Thrones”?
India is a country of diverse social groups – hence, the probability of the groups conflicting with each other is more. Besides, in-group solidarity tends to be higher in India. And when a community believes that a representative symbol has been wrongly portrayed on the screen, their collective conscience, as Durkheim would have said, comes under attack. So, they do have the right to criticise and protest – but of course, not take it to violent levels as it often tends to happen in India. When members of the community believe that symbol to be portrayed inaccurately, it’s justified for them to feel the need to reclaim their symbol.
But the maximum that they can do here is to create awareness of the existence of an alternate narrative – their own narrative. They can let people know how their symbol ought to be portrayed, but that isn’t really facilitated by pressuring the censor board. Rather, the only way out is to create a dialogue around their grievance – get people thinking and talking about the matter.
However, the issue that always arises here concerns whether the creators have some responsibility when depicting historical times or characters or other issues. Should they be held responsible if they portray factually-inaccurate things? Should they also be held morally responsible while showing sensitive issues on screen? As the visual media is becoming more accessible to a larger mass of people and is gradually overtaking the more conventional sources of information and entertainment (like books), should the creators bear responsibility to show content which is factually and morally correct?
Many people probably came to know about Homer’s “Illiad” in greater detail through the movie “Troy”. It’s possible that a large number of people didn’t know anything about the great duel between Achilles and Hector, until that movie made it popular. But Homer’s “Illiad” didn’t have the happy ending the film had. Yet, most people would have thought that Homer’s “Illiad” ended happily, because of what they saw in the film.
Here, the ‘art for art’s sake’ logic creates misinformation, but people have the right to expression in whichever manner they see fit, unless it violates someone else’s rights. If the visual media is to be held responsible, then what about the porn industry? Why is the porn industry not regulated? Why do people have uninhibited access to porn, which might cause people to have misconceptions about sexuality, sexual prowess and body image. Some might even blame porn for increased sexual violence, especially when watched by teenagers or under-educated viewers in a country like India.
Should we, therefore, blame the creators – or should we blame the viewers who seek out only these media contents, without ever looking for the same information or cross-checking them from other more valid sources?
Featured image used for representative purposes only.