Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat has rubbed many people the wrong way for its depiction of jauhar, Rajputs and Muslims. Anaarkali Of Aarah actress Swara Bhasker slammed the director and his film in an open letter, which was first published in The Wire.
Swara began by establishing that she is all for freedom of expression and had been rooting for Padmaavat to have a smooth release. However, on watching the film, she felt that it reduced women to “walking talking vaginas”.
She emphasised that women have the right to live – whether they were raped or their husbands/’protectors’/’owners’/’controllers of their sexuality’ died is not a determinant of this right.
Swara went on to write that the times have changed, and women’s lives no longer revolve around protecting their vagina or maintaining its purity. “There is life outside the vagina, and so there can be life after rape,” she wrote.
The actress said that she “felt reduced to a vagina – only” after watching Padmaavat. It was almost as if all the steps taken towards equality were “pointless, because we were back to basics”. Swara added, “We were back to the basic question – of right to life.”
She argued that jauhar and sati might be part of our social history, but it was wrong to glorify them because they are “steeped in deeply patriarchal, misogynist and problematic ideas” and they “don’t merely deny women equality, they deny women personhood”.
Swara then cited the examples of Nirbhaya and the 15-year-old girl from Jind, Haryana, who was brutally gang-raped last week. “You do know that acts like sati and raping women are two sides of the same mindset. A rapist attempts to violate and attack a woman in her genital area, penetrate it forcibly, mutilate it in an effort to control the woman, dominate her or annihilate her. A sati-jauhar apologist or supporter attempts to annihilate the woman altogether if the genitals have been violated or if her genitals are no longer in the control of a ‘rightful’ male owner. In both cases the attempt and idea is to reduce women to a sum total of their genitals,” she wrote.
“The context of art, any art is the time and place when it was created and consumed. And that’s why this gang-rape infested India, this rape condoning mindset, this victim blaming society is the actual context of your film, Sir. Surely in this context, you could have offered some sort of a critique of sati and jauhar in your film?” the actress added.
Despite the disclaimer that Padmaavat did not support or encourage the practices of sati or jauhar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film was a “two-hour-45-minute-long paean on Rajput honour, and the bravery of honourable Rajput women who chose happily to sacrifice their lives in raging flames, than to be touched by enemy men who were not their husbands but were incidentally Muslim”, Swara claimed.
She concluded that cinema was an influential medium, and that Sanjay Leela Bhansali should have been “responsible” in making Padmaavat.