Simple things first.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali is a great interior decorator but a terrible film-maker and I am offended every time he makes a movie, as it offends my religion, namely “good taste”. Which is why I stopped watching what he made after having tortured myself through “Saawariya” (review here), a blue film just because of the way it was lit, and ten years have passed since then, and I am still to recover from the trauma.
However as a firm believer in freedom of speech, I also stand with him in his right to make piles of excreta. In this case Padmavati.
If Padmavati offends you, and you don’t have to tell me why, then please don’t see it, just don’t prevent other people from seeing it, and definitely do not make calls for removing of body parts of actors and directors associated with the movie. If someone feels the movie is libelous, they are free to go to court, but then again Padmavati is fiction, so the characters aren’t real people, but the Indian courts are very sympathetic to “offense” because our Constitution does not give its citizens unqualified free speech in the way the First Amendment does, so it is is not as if those offended do not have legal recourse, and a good enough chance to win, and this sentence has gone on for long, but I will still say nothing justifies exhortations for violence. Nothing.
Of course, there is an outrage factory that keep Padmavati on the front-pages. Peripheral characters get their ten seconds of fame by upping the ante on outrageousness, news channels and their fog-horn anchors provide the padded sound-chamber for hateful voices to amplify, the movie gets priceless PR, our media mavens find that it all fits into their narrative of “intolerance” and “Hindu Taliban”, as if ISIS/Al Qaeda/global Jihad and “random Sena” are equivalent in their malignancy, and this is all a virtuous cycle for all concerned. So in a way all good, as long as all the stakeholders cash out.
But then what about the quiet replacement of “Ya Mustafa Ya Mustafa” in Aatish with “Ya Dilruba Ya Dilruba” in the released version because of “religious sentiment hurting?” What about Viswaroopam? Satanic Verses? Da Vinci Code? What about a comedy collective apologizing to the church for the content of their stand up routine? What about the fact that Taslima Nasreen was not allowed to release her book “Nirbasan” in Bengal and is not allowed to reside in the state because it would offend “certain communities” and the Bengal government still gets to maintain its “secular credentials”. What about Ms. Nasreen denied entry to Aurangabad by Owaisi’s henchmen, the same Owaisi who is provided unfettered platforms to peddle his agenda by mainstream media ?
At this point most of our garden-variety liberals, of the Sardesai persuasion, would refuse to answer your question citing “Whataboutery”, which is the “secular” get-out-of-tight-situation-shot (others are “moral compass”, “tyranny of distance” and “2002”) when there is no logical riposte . But they should, because it is this selective outrage of theirs that fuels competitive intolerance, if only a few people’s sentiments matter, then why should not everyone else’s? In the liberal tool box, some communities are the aggressors—“Zionists”, “Hindu patriarchs”, “Brahminism” and some are victims, and the narrative must be maintained through selective silence, gratuitous generalizations, and massive oversimplifications.
So some films are offensive and some films are not. Some topics absolutely fine, some topics “Oh no you did not say that”.
This happens because those who have appropriated the word “liberal” are about as fundamentalist as those they call fundamentalist. Sure, they dont do death threats, I will give them that. But they affix pejorative labels and attack in bunches and by virtue of their owning academic institutions and media, shut down, through shaming and exclusion and unfair assessments of work, anyone who they want to silence.
I know. It has happened to me.
In that respect, again minus the threats of physical violence, they are no different from the assorted Senas that occupy the headlines today. Since they own the platforms of expression, publishing houses and editorial desks and channels, they can shut out opinion they consider “offensive” silently, while those outside the circle of privilege have to resort to flailing their arms and threatening and making a spectacle of themselves.
As an example, consider Ms. Azmi. Ms. Azmi is supposedly not a member of the Owaisi camp, she I believe identifies as a Leftist.
In the context of a movie supposedly offensive to Muslims, the logic that Ms. Azmi gives is that the music director is a devout Muslim and the director is from Iran, an Islamic country, and so the movie cannot hurt the sentiments of Muslims. Read that again. Her statement does not say, as it should have, that it does not matter if sentiments are hurt, the movie must not be banned or fatwa-ed, instead it implies, that it might have been offensive if the music director had somebody not a devout Muslim, like Laxmikant Pyarelal, or was made in a country that is not Islamic, like India, and even more dangerously, then in that case, well it is as it is, people could justifiably take offense.
And what is the same person saying today about Padmavati?
This is precisely what has led to what the insanity we have today. There was a time when songs like “Chal sanyasi mandir mein” were being made, at a time when the country should have been more religious, and yet “the intolerants” were not offended. And then over the years, the message that has been conveyed is that some people have the right to be offended, and take action, and some people don’t, some sentiments need to be respected, and some not, some violence is terrorism, some violence is “Gandhism with guns”, sometimes terror has no religion, and then again sometimes it does, some people are allowed “trigger warnings” and “safe places”, while some others are “told to deal with it like adults”.
Sorry, madams and sirs, things don’t work like that. I am sorry, they just don’t.