On Padmavati and Selective Outrage

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.







20 thoughts on “On Padmavati and Selective Outrage

  1. You have a very simplistic view of free speech. If a movie that very terribly demeans African Americans becomes popular in the US and the media encourages it, riots will break all over. But American free speech survives only because people don’t make such a movie.

    In other words, there is only one way to have absolute free speech on paper: the society should implicitly make a commitment – by means of cultural conventions – to not cross certain lines.

    The reason is simple: words are powerful, they can destroy and have destroyed entire lives, and we can’t take for granted that they won’t destroy societies either.

    The comparison with SLB’s movie on Bengal is a bit disingenuous – that lacks the power to hurt you at the core of their being as Padmavati does to people who are horrified with a cultural memory of Khilji. If I were privileged in the sense of having no cultural affiliation that had a traumatic effect on me, I too would perhaps have virtue-signaled about free speech. But I am not, so I am forced to live with the reality that free speech is inconsistent with human nervous wiring and human history, for all but privileged people.

    You probably don’t agree with any of the above, but here is someone (perhaps the best blogger ever) who articulates milder but somewhat similar ideas far better than I every can:


    1. You are so off. Forget movies, actual aggressive acts offending the most vocal community on this planet (burning quran) have been performed in US, and there have been no riots, simply because of the rule (and fear) of law by and large.

      The day movies demeaning african-americans can be expected to be commercially successful, lalaland shall make it, have no doubts.

      1. You have no idea how the US works. Social sanctioning against politically incorrect opinion is pretty strong, what with people keep getting fired for expressing their opinion. They recently forced James Watson, one of the greatest scientists of the last century, to resign because he made pretty mild comments that IQ may be related to race. This is why a movie adversely targeting African Americans will not get made, not because US doesn’t have enough racists to make such a movie commercially successful. The comparison with Quran burning is pretty dumb since US doesn’t have many Muslims.

  2. Did you mean ‘flailing their arms’? Flaying is what happened to Greyjoy’s little bits.

  3. 16 Thousand indian women jumped in fire to avoid become slave like YAZIDI women. After some time ISIS fighter would be shown on silver screen represented by Ranveer Singh, Shahid Kapoor etc.
    They would dance in front of yazidi temple hinting at some conspiracy by yazidis. (like haider movie) .

  4. You are a bit off your game in this post.

    Selective outrage isnt the exclusive premise of liberals, MF Hussein and Taslima both illutrate the outrages on both sides during the 90s. Perhaps because the so-called intellectuals have far more liberals than others, and the earlier dispensations yielded much more to outrage of liberals, one might say the noise created was dominated by them, but almost every individual on the other side has been selective too. Many of the most respected RW names havent called out the lunacy that this beheading call is, while having jumped at the most insignificant fatwa in the past.

    The point of this post is not to justify the current outrage of Saba and ilk, it is to critisize the manner in which you completely dump the responsibility of current insanity at their door. Pointing out one side’s hypocrisy is perhaps another form of whatabboutery, and I say perhaps because having read your blog and books over last decade, I dont think you wanted to do that. You are just temporarily depressed you turned 40 🙂

    1. The line “MF Hussein and Taslima both illutrate the outrages on both sides during the 90s” is inconsistent in logic.
      Even the fringest of hindu groups when outraging against Hussain did very little or no physical harm to him. They legally fought a case and won, after which Hussain like a true liberal coward ran away from the country.
      Taslima on the other hand got a very hard deal from all sides. And is still fighting.

  5. “Sure, they dont do death threats, I will give them that.” — Isn’t that rather an important distinction? Any rational person will agree that a lot of “liberal” intellectuals are guilty of condoning islamic fundamentalism. That Bansali is a pathetic example of a movie director. That no government — BJP or otherwise — has ever stood up for the principle of free speech in India. What amuses me is that you chose to focus the bulk of your post on the double-standard of “liberal”s, instead of the open death threat issued against a prominent actress in front of national media. It is somewhat akin to reading an article immediately after Taslima was forced out of Kolkata by a gang of islamic thugs, where the author focuses on asking the pertinent question: “WHAT ABOUT BABRI?” I will not be surprised if I come across an article by Mani Shankar Aiyar making exactly the same point. Your post is no different.

    1. Agree with Sayan completely.

    2. But to destroy a person in every way, save his life perhaps, should count as equally reprehensible; simply ( or, maybe, not so simply ) because their views may not dovetail our own. And quite clearly far more insidious than some half crazed sabre-rattler.

  6. 1. ‘In that respect, again minus the threats of physical violence, they are no different from the assorted Senas that occupy the headlines today’
    Cute how ‘Threat to physical violence’ is such a small matter to you.

    2. BJP media head of Himachal Pradesh, willing to pay 1Cr. for beheading Deepika, is not a fringe element IMO.

  7. Bang on Target.

    UPA or NDA, United Front or National Front, India has turned so much land of stupidity, Producers & Distributors have to testify in Courts to stuff like, Mangal Pandey is not Freedom Fighter, Child Marriage doesn’t happen in India, ….

    Like MunnaBhai thunders in Lago Raho…
    Baapu shouted till his last moment, Speak Truth, Speak Truth, but no one dares to speak truth today.

    Electricity, Medicine and Ladies Education seem to be the solution for most of issues we face today.

  8. Bhai, this bong needs some kinda dna test. He has grown a common sense in Momta di`s land. WTF.

  9. GB,

    <> that’s the whole point…

    the logic you’re putting is totally against your own post Mob Violence–India at 70 and you nailed it there <>

  10. Love the way you put it : selective outrage. As though others watching the epic drama are not Hindus! The strange thing is that Rani Padmini probably never existed and is a myth. Here is the link to my blog post about the blurred versions of history of the legendary queen https://www.rommanne.com/2017/11/27/padmavati-recreating-history/. Wonder how people make an issue of something which never existed in the name of religion

  11. Dear greatbong, your previous blogs have been centered around a topic. This blog is a mix and mash of your take on several socially relevant ones. As a result, i could not get anything out of it and as is evident from the other comments, neither did the others…. could you go back to having a central topic splashed with some masala? A big fan!

  12. I used to like your posts earlier, but there is too much what-about-ery in this post. The threat of fundamentalism is today very real in India. While minority appeasement is wrong, it does not pay off electorally that well. The current rise of fundamentalism in India plays on victim-hood (both real and imagined) of the Hindu community and pays good electoral benefits. If one condones this or play it down calling it a reaction to earlier wrongs, India would go down as a Hindu equivalent of our Islamic neighbour. The lynching for beef eating, gunning down of rationalists is really depressing and should be for any Indian. If moderate Hindus try to point at others instead of admitting that this is a problem which needs to be addressed, they are ignoring a problem which may get too big.

  13. Agree, the haters can stay away. They needn’t create a hullabaloo about some fictitious scene they imagine in a movie, which is obviously fiction, inspired by a poem. The Karni Sena have become laughing stock today, but that can’t replace the damage done and erase the impact of their vandalism. I would love to know your views on the movie since it had received mixed criticism, here’s my point of view. https://www.rommanne.com/2018/02/01/movie-review-of-padmavaat-or-padmavati-the-story-of-rani-padmini-of-chittor-acted-by-deepika-padukone-as-rani-padmavati/

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