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You Told Us About Rajput Honour. How About The Honour Of A Film-maker, Mr Bhansali?

Through your Mise-en-scène (or choices in telling the story), you could have shown the mass-suicide as a tragic end. But you chose glorification

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


A Jewish Jauhar?
As a thought experiment, consider this?-?an influential beautiful Jewish woman burns herself alive. She'd rather do this, than go to a German concentration camp. I don't know about you, but I would personally call it an unfortunate choice in a difficult situation. I'd empathise with her. But I'd certainly not celebrate it or hold it up as a role model choice for future generations.

Now consider if she uses her position of influence and powers of persuasion, to convince hundreds of other women to join her; she converts it into a mass suicide for Jewish pride! And it spares no one?-?not even pregnant women, or even little girls!

Consider a different choice that Guido makes, in the Italian classic?-?'Life is Beautiful!' Guido, played by Roberto Benigni, finds himself in a concentration camp with his ~7 year old son. Unlike Padmavati, Guido is unlikely to be sexually violated. But he is put through every indignity we know of, in concentration camps. Through sheer ingenuity, wit and presence of mind, he protects his child from the horror of it all. He makes it seem like a game?-?a reality show of sorts, where you get points to be never spotted, to never cry! He creates hope, in a hopeless situation. In the end, he does find a way for his son to escape the hell, though he himself doesn't make it.

To me that's a choice worth celebrating through cinema.

The Real High of Udta Punjab

Kumari Pinky fights her way in 'Udta Punjab'
Take Kumari Pinky of Udta Punjab, played by Aalia Bhatt. A Bihari migrant labourer, she gets trapped in the web of circumstances. Before she knows it, she is a sex slave at a farm house of drug dealers. She is repeatedly and brutally violated?-?mentally, physically and sexually. However the sheer life spirit in her, seeks inspiration from a hoarding she can see from her tiny window. The hoarding promises freedom and paradise to tourists on the beaches of Goa. By the end, the bruised and battered Kumari Pinky is on that beach?-?her feet tickled by the gushing waves of the sea; salty sea-winds caressing her smiling face. To me, she is the undoubted hero of Udta Punjab!

Whose honour is it anyway? 

So am I taking an anti-suicide stand? Not really. I respect Chandrashekhar Azad's choice to pump the last bullet into his own head. For that matter, I also respect the personal choice of Padmavati to choose death over torture, or even death over defeat. What does make me deeply uncomfortable though, is the notion of death over so called 'dishonour'.

Lets get this straight?-?honourable men don't rape! 100% of the shame in a case of rape is on the rapist, not the victim! It is the rapists' honor that is lost, not of the victim. Her family and community are brought to shame when they blame the woman, or cast aspersions on her; when they banish her; or place an obligation on her, to end her life!

Today, the shame is on you sir.

Dear Mr. Bhansali, through your movie, you have strengthened the hands of those that subscribe to this sick definition of community honour. In that, I'd say, you have brought shame upon yourself. Until the release, you were the victim of the mob that issued threats to your right to expression. Today, you are a creative leader of the mob that lynches in the name of honour. We the people, stood up and shouted 'Shame!' when they did this to you.

I stand with Swara Bhaskar when she reminds you in an Open Letter that a woman is more than her vagina. Yes, the vagina must be respected. But in the situation that it is forcefully violated, there is more to a woman and her life. That more deserves life, all else notwithstanding.

I stand and request you in the name of all those that you consider your mentors and gurus in film making. What a gorgeous film you have made! What a good story teller you are! For the sake of the greats, I also ask you to tell great stories that uplift the human spirit.

I stand and request you in the name of all those that fought and made sacrifices so you and I could exercise creative freedom. In their name, I ask you to use your brilliance to help reduce misogyny in society, not add to it. I must admit, your story telling through parts of the movie was heading that way. Your Padmavati was no Barbie Doll. Alas, what she did with her intellect and persuasive powers at the end, was mass pressure in the name of honour.The shot of the little girl and the pregnant woman heading towards the flames was completely repulsive. These weren't independent personal choices of theirs. It was mob pressure. The same one you were appealing against until the day of your movie release.

Through your Mise-en-scène (or choices in telling the story), you could have shown the mass-suicide as a tragic end. But you chose glorification. Are there tragedies that are glorious as well? Sure. But as a film maker you know the tell-tale sign of a moving tragic-glorious end - tears in eyes as they laud the act of bravery of Bhagat Singh embracing the noose; or Neerja falling to hijackers bullets but protecting the child; or Azad pulling the trigger on himself; or when Guru Gobind Singh ji's little sons embrace death with dignity in Chaar Saahibzaade.

But as women are going to be consigned to flames in your climax, there were cheers and whistles in the hall. You set it up that way - it was all about honor! Honor was winning, as they marched on. It was never about the woman, the human being. There were others, who were uncertain and uncomfortable. But I saw no moist eyes.  

Whether it was motivated by Box Office considerations or your own creative interpretations, do know that real women out there will pay real prices.

Do know, a votary of the imaginary 'Love Jihad' walks out of your theatre with a re-assurance that he is right. "These meat eating Muslims have been doing this since a while now", he says to himself.

You are not just an entertaining clown.

"It's only a movie", kind of response will be disrespect to you and your own art. You are not just an entertaining clown. Movie halls are adult education classrooms where we engage audiences on the subject called, 'Life, values and choices' and we do so engagingly. 'No one killed Jessica', 'Rang De Basanti' and the Munnabhai series taught us new ways of protesting injustice. They were the build-up to the Anna Movement and the Nirbhaya protests.

What are you building up to? How are you using the creative freedom that our founding fathers fought for? You told us about Rajput honour. What does honour mean for a film maker?

Let's use our skills to build lives, not burn them.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Sanjay Leela Bhansali media and entertainment wellness

Rajen Makhijani

The author is a Strategy Consultant, Leadership Coach, Screenwriter and TEDx speaker based in Delhi

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