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January 25th, 2018

All in the name of honour

Today a Bollywood film is being released, here in India.

“So what”, do I hear you say?

“Isn’t Bollywood the biggest producer of films in the world, releasing several new titles every week?”

Yes, indeed, but the release today of the film “Padmaavat” is a release like no other.

People have been injured, people have been attacked, property has been attacked.  All because of a film.

The movie title has been changed, the release delayed by nearly 2 months, the highest courts in the land have been involved, there have been death threats, there have been calls for a mass self-immolation.

And all because some people took exception to what they thought might be an unwelcome depiction of a medieval heroine who might/might not have existed in a movie no one had at that point seen.

This, you understand, was all done in the name of honour, of hurt feelings, of wounded communal sentiments and anything else you care to call it.

Here’s the trailer, which is visually gorgeous/sweeping/dramatic and suitably period-drama-esque:

I imagine now that the film has been released and people have been able to see it, we may find out exactly what it is in this historical drama that apparently offends people.

But the violence, and wanton vandalism, and breakdown of law and order lead to many serious and disturbing questions.

There is a useful, succinct account of the controversy on the website – here’s the link.

Never mind whether or not certain people feel offended by a film-y portrayal of a possibly mythical 13th century queen…it seems to me, a baffled onlooker, that this is all symptomatic of something more deep-rooted but that remains, to me, incomprehensible.

The mindless violence, the vandalism, the bizarre suggestion of mass suicide – because of a film, remember, a film – are out of all proportion.

The first reviews are out and, yet again from the website, just read this cracker of a review, which gives the film a lowly 2/5.  Brilliant writing.

“There is pizzazz aplenty in this overlong horses-and-swords yarn, but it is all so superficial – if not wholly superfluous – that nothing that the excess-obsessed filmmaker throws into the boiling pot can rustle up a broth sizzling enough to keep crackling over a runtime of nearly three hours.”

“This film’s antediluvian attitude to sex and morality are obnoxious to say the least.”

“It wends its way with intent through and around a narrative marshland overflowing with chauvinism, regression and misogyny.”

Other reviews I have read are equally unimpressed, the consensus being that the film is visually great but too long.

My friend, the critic Manisha Lakhe, wrote a laugh-out-loud review:

“The costume drama is beautiful and Rajasthan is a great setting for this tale of Rajput valor. But the talk of pride and glory is so endless, it makes you want to run into your sword out of sheer boredom.”

I would be tempted to say, therefore, that the whole controversy has been something of  “a storm in a teacup”, except that the country has seen ugly violence and a flagrant breakdown of the rule of law.

And that is very unnerving.

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