Padmavati to Padmavat: Will changing film title douse the controversy


Padmavati — now Padmavat — seems to have finally secured its spot at the much awaited silver screen outing. And all it took were five cuts, a disclaimer, and a change of the very name of the film. For that’s how the law of retaliation works — in this case, you injure Rajput sentiments, hence you get penalised to a similar degree.

An eye for an “I”. The nationwide protests relaxed soon as the “I” in Padmavati was dropped, or so it seemed.

One assumes that Sanjay Leela Bhansali called the film Padmavati in supreme celebration of the woman at the centre of the story. The change of title then also takes that sense of agency away from not just him as a filmmaker but also the character, and not to mention, the actor, Deepika Padukone, who portrays the role.

Although changing the name of a movie, in the name of dousing controversy, is a ridiculous step to take — but it’s certainly not the first time that this has happened. In 2015, Udta Punjab got into trouble with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and had to approach the Appellate Tribunal to get the movie to release with Punjab still in its name. But the CBFC isn’t the only reason why movie name changes are mandated, there are others that a filmmaker must please.

Members of various associations of Indian film and television industry protest to demand the release of Padmavati, in Mumbai. PC: Reuters

For instance, the Shah Rukh Khan starrer Billu was earlier called Billu Barber. Hairdressers across the country protested the name, and it had to be changed. And how can Sanjay Leela Bhansali — now a designated serial offender for Hindu right wing groups — not feature on this list? A double whammy for him, yes!

Goliyon Ki Rasleela: Ramleela, another film by Bhansali, saw him being dragged to court, on grounds of being an affront to Lord Ram when it was merely called Ram Leela.

Also more recently, S Durga director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, had to see his film controversially getting dropped from the International Film Festival of India because he added three asterisks after “S”, making it S***.

Lest we get down to concluding this can happen only in India, remembering the 2009 Quentin Tarantino classic Inglorious Bastards and Mike Myer’s Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me — both of which had to succumb to name change. We now know them as Inglourious Basterds and Austin Powers 2.

So here’s how it stands: on January 25, the rechristened Bhansali magnum opus may release across the country, but not in Rajasthan! Yes you heard that right, Rajasthani pride would settle for nothing less than a ban!

Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje is dead against the release of the film in the state. “Rani Padmini’s martyrdom and sacrifice were an honour for everyone. She was more than just history,” her statement read.

But isn’t this a shoddy argument in the face of the film not claiming historical accuracy; and with the change of the title from Padmavati to Padmavat, also clearly attributing the creative source as the “fictional” poem by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi?

Why then, this furious defence of the “honour” of a fictitious character?

Come to think of it, Rajasthan has banned Padmavat, and now Himachal Pradesh and Goa are likely to join the ban brigade. BJP ruled states seems to be opposing Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus.

The Mumbai police, too, is likely to submit a report regarding the movie’s release in the city, citing law and order problems on January 26, Republic Day, due to threats issued by Karni Sena and the statements made by some leaders.

This is probably the right moment to underline the inherent discomfort in dealing with creative interpretations of history and reality. But irrespective of how this changed timetable plays out, the conduct of politicians over this entire period surrounding this epic controversy is worth recalling, as it provides a benchmark to map the race to the bottom in the current row over Padmavati. And isn’t it playing on loop!

In the past year, many chief ministers across north India railed against the film and threatened to disallow its screening without requisite cuts. And no, it wasn’t just the case of governments cowing down under pressure from extremist groups such as the Karni Sena. Chief ministers actually rallied opinion against the film to whip up caste and religious anxieties.

Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath forged an absurd equivalence between those giving death threats to the cast and the filmmaker of Padmavati and the film’s director “hurting” public sentiments.

Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani took a cue from neighbouring Madhya Pradesh’s CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan and called for a ban. And their counterpart Amarinder Singh in Punjab was quite vocal about how cinematic licence cannot extend to twisting historical facts — brazen appeals against cinematic expression that went mostly unchallenged across the political spectrum.

The spectacle of state functionaries ignoring their constitutional responsibility in upholding free expression, and placing themselves alongside those out to intimidate and release sectarian furies, was concerning, to say the least.

Take it from the woman essaying the “now no-longer titular” character, who stood up to protests and threats against her film and called out the regression that the country has fallen to the pits of. This however was contested! And by none other than a BJP MP; Subramanian Swamy was quick to rubbish Deepika’s statement, and that too on a public forum.

After Padmavati’s sets were attacked, Deepika, in a series of tweets tagging Union information and broadcasting minister Smriti Irani’s handle, had asked: “Who are these people? Who is responsible for their actions? For how long are we going to allow them to take law into their own hands & attack our freedom & right to individual expression time & again? This has to stop NOW & action must be taken!”

But politics superseded the all important “action”, which only came in the form of a series of death threats and bounties in the name of the film’s director and the woman playing a queen on celluloid. The more nosey ones, in fact, went on to lay wagers on cutting off Deepika Padukone’s nose!

If Padmavat does manage to come out of this ordeal, this tale of grandeur by Sanjay Leela Bhansali may just rise from the ashes à la phoenix on January 25.

If only this period drama can keep from getting embroiled in another conflict — this time it could be all about the clash with Akshay Kumar’s biographical social drama, Padman. And if that really were to be the case, period!

Also read: When ‘Chikni Chameli’ Katrina Kaif talks about gender equality

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