As a millennial liberal and feminist, I spent the day plotting the number of ways to stage a protest against ‘Padmaavat’.

I watched Padmaavat Wednesday night, but as a form of protest.

I spent the day contemplating my modus operandi carefully and plotting the number of ways to stage a protest against a film that is so deeply antithetical to my principles.

Option 1: Not to watch the film

I didn’t want to watch the film because, according to the critics, the story glorifies a misogynist practice like jauhar, which ties a woman’s life to her husband. If he dies, she dies.  I’m also not a big fan of the filmmaker, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, or dabbling in debatable histories.

Why it didn’t work: But not going would mean giving in to what the thuggish Karni Sena wants, and as a free-thinking young citizen, I didn’t want to give in to that pressure.

Option 2: Stream it online

Watching it online would amount to protesting against the Karni Sena because I’m ultimately watching a film they didn’t want me to watch. But I wouldn’t be paying money for a movie I believe is regressive.

Why it didn’t work: Deepika Padukone received death threats and a bounty was placed on Bhansali’s head. The least they deserved after going through such a traumatic period was an audience.

Option 3: Buy a ticket and not watch the film 

Buying the ticket would mean standing in solidarity with the harassed cast and crew that were not only physically beaten up, but recipients of death threats. But by not watching it, I can still register my protest against the glorification of jauhar.

Why it didn’t work: Curiosity got the better of me. What if Bhansali found a way to retell the story in a progressive manner?

Option 4: Pay for the ticket, and watch the movie till the interval

I’d be catering to every form of registered protest I’d thought of thus far. I’d be supporting the film’s cast and crew, but I’d also be sticking to my feminism by not staying for the jauhar scene.

Why it didn’t work: My companions convinced me to stay…the women seemed authoritative enough so far. Maybe the film wouldn’t end in the way we expected.

Option 5: Watch the whole movie

I actually ended up watching the entire film. And it didn’t work.

I had hoped for a redeeming moment in what was supposed to be a modern retelling of the legend of Rani Padmini. I was waiting for a plot twist that signalled that Bhansali might have actually listened and learnt from the criticism he received from liberals. Instead, there was a cut to a shot of a pregnant woman, and Deepika Padukone smiled as she walked into the flames. Bhansali made jauhar look like an honourable practice, instead of mass suicide.

This might have been a fictional film set in the 13-14th century, but the fact that real life Rajput women had threatened to the do same thing because a movie dishonoured their caste in 2018 was not lost on me.

I’d walked in with a grand resolve. I’d stage a dramatic exit, make a gesture of some sort. Instead, I watched the film with deep disgust, unable to shake off the feeling of anger and its simultaneous futility.

Padmaavat and the entire storm surrounding it represents the fact that we’ve taken one step closer to the dystopia we’ve been fighting against.

Like a friend pointed out, privileged young people tend to join trendy protests without always knowing what we’re protesting for, and perhaps that’s what lends a sense of radical recklessness to our methods. Our clothes are brighter, our signs are sassier, our screams are louder, our symbols more outrageous. But is anyone in power taking note of us?

The culture of protest in our country is such that violence and bullying find higher success rates. But that should not deter the liberal youth from expanding the conversation beyond Padmaavat. It is our future, after all.

The film’s release is a Pyrrhic victory for Bollywood and freedom of expression advocates. Bhansali and his crew did not lose in the end and he put out his film, despite all the pressure and censure. The Karni Sena didn’t lose out either because the film they were protesting ended up showing everything that they would have approved of.

Guess who did lose? We, who call ourselves progressive feminists and modern millennials.

Ultimately, I am confronted with a horrifying thought: Did I end up watching Padmaavat Wednesday night because I’m a creature of hype and suffer from an intense FOMO (fear of missing out)?

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9 COMMENTS

  1. No I think you wanted to take down notes to write this piece. It’s not a great criticism of what is wrong with Bhansali – there is lots, but yes, how do I break this to you: Padmini wasn’t for real. Even if she was, Bhansali can show whatever he wants. It’s his money. You have a choice to not watch. Which you didn’t exercise. What a cop out. Now that you have, I hope the popcorn was nice.

  2. The practice of Sati was a retrograde step and good that it has been abolished both by law and banished from our psyche. If history is accurate then the so called Jauhar has to be seen in a different context. Did those Rajput ladies have any way out if the only option was to surrender to Khillji? Seeing what happened to Kurdish women taken prisoner by ISIS only a few years ago, some of whom might still be suffering the barbarism, I believe this criticism of Jauhar by modern feminists is most superficial, ridiculous and devoid of any substance. There is no reason to believe that Khilji, a known barbarian, would have treated the captured women anyway different that ISIS’s treatment Kurdish women in our so called modern times.

  3. There may be more to this than meets the eye. These protests may staged to boost collections and divert a part of that as donations to some political party. While Sanjay Leela Bhansali is surely a very mediocre film-maker, he doesn’t seem the apolitical types who do art purely for creative purposes.

  4. Hi, I went through your opinion. I think you have missed a big point here. Jauhar was committed because of the fact that in case Rajputs lost in battle/war, they(Rajput Women) were certain to be raped by Mughal Soldiers and Padmavati herself would have been forced to be married to Allaudin Khilji. Hence, they decided to end their lives instead of being subjected to such traumatic experience awaiting them. So I feel there is nothing wrong in jauhar committed by Padmavati. You must also remember what was the situation then. Had it been today’s times, I support your view but you are missing the whole situation. Also, why Sanjay Bhansali should change facts in a period movie? Just because today it is not the right thing to do, he can not change the fact that it was the right thing to do then. Please look at all aspects before coming to a conclusion.

  5. This article is probably a satire of the entire “young starry-eyed liberal” narrative. But there are people who internalize things without the slightest mental vigilance. So, let me criticize it as a genuine one.

    Before I continue, please watch this short (4-min) video about Sati and Jauhar by Meenakshi Jain https://youtu.be/apTNtSWjsQk . I’ll not give historial references here, because she has done an excellent job of destroying the entire Sati nonsense in her book “Sati” (https://www.amazon.in/Sati-Evangelicals-Missionaries-Changing-Discourse/dp/8173055521)

    [1] “…according to the critics…”
    This is simply ridiculous. “According to the critics” tells us how blinded you are. You formed an unshakable opinion on something you don’t even know, just because some critics said so. It still wouldn’t make sense, but at least would have been somewhat respectable if you had formed the opinion AFTER watching the movie and reading the related history (and I am not talking about the twisted history written by Marxist scholars.)

    [2] “…the story glorifies a misogynist practice like jauhar, which ties a woman’s life to her husband.”
    It’s quite contemptible that feminist convert every single thing into a gender issue, even when it is manifestly not. Jauhar was not enforced by men unlike what your feminist gurus love to shove down your throat. Jauhar was a way of preserving a woman’s honour, which the fiery Rajput mind held above everything else. Reading history lets us understand that it was common for the Muslim invaders to rape and take the women as sex-slaves after winning a battle. And Jauhar was a way for the Rajput women to preserve their honour. Those valient women chose death rather than being raped. This CHOSE that end.

    [3] “Bhansali made jauhar look like an honourable practice, instead of mass suicide.”
    What you should have probably understood is that “mass suicide” always seemed better to the women than being captured by the savage invaders. Oh, but I keep forgetting that you’ve been told that Hinduism is mysogynist. Of course, your feminist gurus CAN’T BE WRONG, can they? If you defeat them with reason, they just say reasoning is a tool of patriarchy to enslave women. Life is so easy when you’re a feminist — you’re ALWAYS the victim, everything wrong in this world is because of men and patriarchy, and NOBODY can say you’re wrong. Surprisingly, these feminists who keep bashing Hinduism, don’t seem to have any issues when Muslim treats women as objects made for sexual pleasure and breeding. Somehow, everything “wrong” in India is because of the Hinduism. And practices like Sati are the ones these feminists *love* to bring up as an example of Hinduism’s “inherent cruelty to women”. Unsurprisingly, the history which they like to refer to in these instances, is the one that was written by their predecessors. Some of then even go to a greater extent by bringing in fake scriptures to prove their point. If that is valid, then I have perfectly valid proof that cats are just baby tigers.

    [4] “Instead, I watched the film with deep disgust, unable to shake off the feeling of anger and its simultaneous futility.”
    I bet. That’s because you’ve accepted feminism before even understanding what it is about. You’re not to blame, though. Your feminist gurus are.

    [5] “But that should not deter the liberal youth from expanding the conversation beyond Padmaavat. It is our future, after all.”
    A correction: The future belongs to the youth — CORRECT. The future belongs to the “liberal” youth — WRONG. Most of this “liberal youth” you’re talking about is liberal only because they do not have the intellectual capacity to comprehend feminism in entirety, and have “become feminists” because they watched a YouTube video that said “feminism is .”

    Feminism in India is only surviving because the vocal “liberal” (an irony in itself) minority is survived by the mainstream media and popular social platforms. I hope the energetic youth of this country first understands feminism before jumping into the bandwagon.

  6. Are you saying that just because you are a feminist, we should change the incidents that have happened? Now, I am a feminist too, but if i was in Syria and the choice was between death and dishonor, are you saying I should have enjoyed my abuse, called the perpetrators, bhaiyya and also stood firm on the fact that my uterus and honour is ravaged but my mind has continued to be a feminist? Vandana, dear, there is nothing wrong in the film…If Bhansalli were to show Padmavati pull out a stengun on that rapist and fraud, fanatic Khilji, then Bhansali would be on the crucifixion meet of some pseudo-intellectuals. What should that poor man do? Stop making films? are we serious? we burn women, dogs, kill, kill and rape and are we as a nation have become regressive, that we cant tolerate anything. are we woman the so-called intelligent half becoming like the other half. Acid victims, rapes, murders, everything we take, all women are oppressed, whether we walk on 2 or 4 legs or more than that. Do you have the guts to self-immolate when the rapist of Nirbhaya was set free? we are all becoming talkers…and you are a malayali…So can we use a bit more buddi instead of using more buddi moshams?
    And this article could have been a lot more sensible..can you jot down ten points to stop acid attacks, nope, manage stray animal and stray children population, nope, can you get dawood back, nope…but we have time to plan online supari for Bhansali…we as a nation should be thankful we have him…at least he has the balls to make the movie…

  7. I get your point. I just couldn’t bring myself to watch the movie. Watched scenes of self immolation to save honor in Begum Jaan. Wrenches one’s heart and leaves one angered, disgusted and helpless. They were really dark times, when a woman, be she a revered queen or a mere prostitute, was forced by circumstances/society to choose such a terrible end. Thank goodness for women empowerment, for the suffragette, for feminism, for awakening…

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