It started off a meaningless fringe protest. But over the last two weeks, opposition to Padmavati’s release has acquired the status of a full-blown controversy. The protests, led by an organisation by the name of Shri Rajput Karni Sena, have acquired political overtones, with support, ranging from tacit to explicit, from governments of several BJP-ruled states, as well as some senior members of the Central Government.
I visited the Wikipedia page of Karni Sena to understand their purpose of existence. The organisation was formed in 2006. There are only five specific activities that define their “work” over the last 11 years. In 2008, they protested against the release of the film Jodhaa Akbar. In 2009, they were involved in a Jat-Rajput issue that erupted in the University of Rajasthan. In 2010, their plans to disrupt a Sonia Gandhi event were thwarted by the police. In 2013, they opposed the TV serial Jodhaa Akbar. And now, in 2017, it’s Padmavati.
Vandalism is at the heart ofall these instances. The organisation does not have any other social or cultural reason for its existence, it seems. They have a website, but it’s hosted on a server that cannot be found.
Protests within the constitutional framework are a legitimate form of expression in democracy. In fact, one would argue that if a nation loses its spirit to protest, its democratic health must be examined. However, when executed through unconstitutional means, such as violence, vandalism and threats, protests become legally untenable. And it becomes the responsibility of the State Governments involved, to address it as a law & order issue.
In Padmavati’s case, the Rajasthan government’s non-interference is tantamount to an endorsement of unconstitutional means of protests. It is now almost certain that these protests will travel to other BJP-led states, including Gujarat, which have elections scheduled in December. Unless the Supreme Court intervenes and forces the state governments to ensure a smooth release of the film, we may be in for progressively higher chaos leading up to December 1.
While the trend of protesting against a film’s release is an old one, the frequency at which such protests are happening in recent years is alarming. Filmmakers are often accused, and sometimes rightly so, of commercial exploitation of subjects of social importance, e.g. the portrayal of women in films. But here, we have a growing trend where politicians are exploiting cinema for their gains.
There have been demands that the makers show the film to Karni Sena, and engage with them in talks. When death threats are being casually given for TV cameras, that makes no sense whatsoever.
The much-maligned CBFC is the constitutional saviour here, being the official authority to certify the film’s release. It’s a rare occasion when the film industry would rather have CBFC’s word being the last word.
The next two weeks can bring with them a lot of drama, as we get closer to the release of the film. And then, it will happen again with some other film, a few months from now, when another Sena or Dal will emerge out of nowhere, and the political class will opportunistically reap the benefits.
This post first appeared on MXMIndia on my weekly column.