The Hindi film industry is still reeling from the year-long controversy that plagued Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s historical-epic, Padmaavat. From accusations of distorting history to charges of vilifying Rajput culture, the film received criticism and flak from various corners of society. Even after the film’s release, the debates surrounding the Deepika Padukone-starrer refuse to die down with many slamming the film for its alleged glorification of ‘Jauhar’.
Siddharth Roy Kapur, former managing director of The Walt Disney Company India and founder of Roy Kapur Films, said, “I think we have become more sensitive as a society to any perceived slights on our culture or heritage. This has come about because of decades of cynical vote bank politics and a divisive approach to attaining power, rather than an approach that brings people together. Add to that a media hungry for the next outrageous sound byte, and you have an environment that enables any fringe group to garner instant fame by making outrageous statements without any consequence. This has emboldened many attention-hungry groups to use the film industry as an easy vehicle for national fame or notoriety.
“If and when I make a historical movie, I would prefer to prescribe do’s rather than don’ts. DO your research thoroughly and rigorously, so you know your subject better than anyone who chooses to challenge you on it. DO have a strong legal team to advise you on any permissions or life rights you might need in order to protect yourself as much as possible from potential legal challenges. DO take the plunge and make the film if you believe in it, and then back your decision all the way, with faith in the institutions of our country to do the right thing at the end.”
Director-producer Madhur Bhandarkar, whose 2017 film Indu Sarkar faced nation-wide protests by the Congress party, added, “I believe it is difficult to make a film set in a political or historical context rooted in reality since our country is a diverse land. I had to add the word ‘fiction’ to the disclaimer of the film. It’s always the same thing… someone’s sentiments are hurt, some public figure is demeaned, someone is shown in the wrong light, etc. People take unnecessary offense at everything. There have been so many novels, documentaries and serials written and made on historical and political issues but the minute you convert them into a film, there are many who pounce at you.”
Wirter-director Subhash Kapoor opined, “In the case of Padmaavat, the Censor did pass it with cuts, so it is sad to see how our freedom of expression and the right of an artiste has been curbed. Things have changed and now, people tend to react to just about anything happening around them without even trying to understand the other point of view. This kind of behaviour pollutes and corrupts the socio-political atmosphere in the country.
I wouldn’t call it intolerance but people are definitely becoming touchy about many things and sometimes react in extreme ways. Also, when you read the literature penned in the early part of the 20th century, you will notice how innovatively people used to write and you will be struck by the quality of their writing. I think today’s generation of filmmakers and writers should not shy away from expressing their thoughts and should take some inspiration from the ways in which earlier writers used innovative ways to express their thoughts.”