Swara Bhaskar, best known for her performances in Nil Battey Sannata and Anaarkali of Aarah, has in an open letter to filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali, lauded how Padmaavat‘s opulent settings were beyond amazing but was irked because of the subject of the film. Published by The Wire, Swara’s open letter draws attention to the portrayal of women in Bollywood.
“It was with great excitement and the zeal of a believer that I booked first day, first show tickets for Padmaavat, and took my whole family and our cook to watch the film.
Perhaps it is because of this attachment and concern that I had for the film that I am SO stunned having watched it. And perhaps that is why I take the liberty and have the temerity to write to you. I will try and be concise and direct though there is much to say.
- Women have the right to live, despite being raped sir.
- Women have the right to live, despite the death of their husbands, male ‘protectors’, ‘owners’, ‘controllers of their sexuality’.. whatever you understand the men to be.
- Women have the right to live — independent of whether men are living or not.
- Women have the right to live. Period.
It’s actually pretty basic.”
Ever since the film released, critics and audience have mostly appreciated the film’s setting and storyline, despite it’s glorification of jauhar. A small section of film enthusiasts pointed out that the women in Bhansali’s film were reduced to being submissive and an object of honour for their husbands.
Bhaskar, in her letter, explains her disappointment towards the filmmaker choosing to tell the story of something as haunting as Sati and Jauhar.
“Practices like Sati, Jauhar, FGM, Honour Killings should not be glorified because they don’t merely deny women equality, they deny women personhood. They deny women humanity. They deny women the right to life. And that is wrong. One would have assumed that in 2018, this is not a point that even needs to be made; but apparently, it does. Surely, you wouldn’t consider making a film glorifying FGM or Honour Killings!” she wrote.
Towards the end, Swara wishes the filmmaker well, signing out in a more hopeful note.
“I promise to fight trolls and television commentators for your freedom to express; but I also promise to ask you questions about the art you make for public consumption. Meanwhile, let’s hope that no zealot member of any Karni Sena or some Marni Sena gets the idea to demand decriminalisation of the practice of Sati!”
Reactions to her open letter have been positive, with many lauding the actress for being brave enough to call out a director of such high relevance.
My respect for @ReallySwara has always been sky-high, and has doubled with this piece. Thank you for the grace with which you’ve both defended freedom of expression *and* demanded more responsible storytelling. https://t.co/v0ro6Ls0Zr
— Rega Jha (@RegaJha) January 27, 2018
— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) January 27, 2018
— Faye DSouza (@fayedsouza) January 28, 2018
— Sidharth Bhatia (@bombaywallah) January 28, 2018
Extremely well crafted powerful feminist reaction by @ReallySwara. We feminist were aware that #Padmaavat is about the misogynist practice of sati, but expected it to be a critique of it rather than absolute glorification. #KarniSena violence raised feminist expectations. https://t.co/NuNZMoJJeo
— Sanjukta Basu (@sanjukta) January 28, 2018