Padmavati controversy echoes around the world
International visitors at the Goa film festival react to the problems surrounding Padmavati’s release
All the uproar over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati has made visiting international movie talent at the 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) sit up and take note of the “autocratic” and “dangerous” voices in India’s film industry. Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi and Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) artistic director, Cameron Bailey, who were at the just-concluded 48th International Film Festival of India (IFFI), were vocal in their support for Bhansali.
“Artists face these situations because of the talent and desire they have. That extends to filmmakers too. They should not stop innovation in their work because of adverse conditions,” Majidi said on the opening day of the festival.
He was among a string of artistes and filmmakers who visited IFFI, which was also caught in a controversy over the exclusion of two films— S Durga and Nude—from its Indian Panorama section. The brouhaha over these films and Padmavati, which is under attack for alleged distortion of facts, became a crucial talking point throughout the fest.
Michael J Werner, a film and media strategic consultant who attended the Film Bazaar at the festival believed this to be a dangerous trend. “You shouldn’t have a government dictating history. What is happening with Padmavati is a state saying that we don’t accept that representation of history. I don’t know whether it is factual or not, but it is still a kind of an autocratic response,” he said.
Padmavati which tells the tale of the valour and courage of Rani Padmavati, whose historicity is in doubt, has been under the scanner since its shoot began. Its National Award-winning director was assaulted and the set vandalised in Jaipur by Rajput organisation Karni Sena over the conjecture that the film features intimate scenes between the characters of Padmavati and the invader Alauddin Khilji. Thereafter, the Karni Sena has continued its protest and has been intense in its effort to stall the film’s release, which has been deferred from its original December 1 date till now.
There were threats to burn down theatres if the film got released and a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader announced a reward of `10 crore for beheading Bhansali and the film’s lead actor Deepika Padukone. Meanwhile, Padmavati got a go-ahead from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) for release, but the makers are waiting for a decision from India’s censor board.
French producer Ilann Girard feels a film shouldn’t be held hostage by any conflict. “I have been talking to my Indian friends about the situation,” he said. Girard, Managing Director of Online Film Financing (OLFI), didn’t want to pass any judgment as it’s an “Indian topic”, but said: “My perception is that film and cultural industry should not be taken hostage by conflicts.”
Narrating his own struggle with freedom of expression, he said: “I have produced a film in Israel about the war in Lebanon, and we are facing an embargo from those trying to pressurise film festivals not to take our film. I think it is a wrong thing to do. Filmmakers should remain free to tell the story that they want.”
TIFF’s Bailey said people must wait for censor clearance before drawing conclusions. “One of the small mercies with censor authorities is that they actually do watch the film before they pass judgment. So one hopes that anyone who hears about a film they might have an objection to, should first watch the film,” Bailey said. “We can all have differences of opinion with any art form, but I think we should see if the film merits criticism. Also, what I might not like to see on-screen, some others might. That doesn’t mean I should prevent that person from seeing it.”
Mike Dougherty from Radiant Films International, a worldwide distribution company, feels the controversy is unfortunate for “the filmmakers and for the audiences eager to see the film”. He, however, felt that the row could draw more eyeballs to the film across the world.
“The issues causing unrest around Padmavati here in India are not known in other parts of the world. If anything, I think controversies like this just increase a film’s profile and its value internationally,” he added.