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Brutally Basic Bollywood - Swara Bhaskar, Padmaavat, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and jauhar: Old rage, new bottle, misplaced

It's a film set in the 14th century. Questioning johar in its story is like asking why Deepika and Ranveer were not wearing jeans and jackets.

Updated: Feb 03, 2018, 12:05 PM IST

This week the very talented Swara Bhaskar became a little more famous when she decided to take on Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmaavat for promoting jauhar… no, not Indra Sen (IS) or Karan. But the archaic practice of self-immolation practised voluntarily by Rajput women in an era gone by.

Era gone-by… That's the key to the bogusness of the whole controversy. This entire post-feminist deconstruction of a practice that ceased long ago is as strained and unreal as Raja Ram Mohan Roy's righteousness about widow remarriage would be in today's day and age.

Raging about why a film set in the 14th century makes such prominent and passionate reference to jauhar is as ludicrous as asking why Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone are dressed in the flaming finery of those times, and not in trendy jackets and trousers. Every era in art has its own stress and dress code.

Swara, with a sorted mind, seems flabbergasted by the furore (she referred to it as 'mayhem') that her open letter caused. What the public doesn't know is that she wrote an unpublished letter personally to Sanjay Bhansali, where she explained why she said what she had to say.

Since she had no access to Sanjay she asked me to pass on the letter to him, which I did.

I've gone through Swara's letter to Sanjay and one of the points she makes in it is her condemnation of mass immolation on the grounds that some of those ladies rushing into the flames may not want to die this scorching death. That the maidservant was probably being forced to sleep with the King's men anyway, so rather than die, she just had to shift her bed towards the invader's side.

This is purely conjectural. Swara is busy creating a backstory for the individual women involved in the mass immolation. Imagine, in the big battle sequence in the Mahabharat, if some empowered woman decided to send the passionately dedicated Vyasa a show-cause notice to question if every member of the Kaurava and Pandava clan actually wanted to go to war. I mean, did someone actually ask?

Every era has its own Kuruskshetra, its own Mahabharat. For Swara Bhaskar, saying no to jauhar is empowering. To Rani Padmavati four centuries ago, embracing jauhar was empowering.

To every era, its Laxmibai and Mira. You can't accuse Sanjay Leela Bhansali of "glorifying" jauhar. His cinema is a reflection of the morality and the mindset during the time of the political crisis that happened in Chittore in the 14th century, not its endorsement.

In Satyajit Ray's powerful indictment of blind faith Devi, the very young and heartbreakingly pretty Sharmila Tagore's father-in-law anoints her a reincarnation of Goddess Kali. What would the Swaras of today's world have to say to Sharmila Tagore, or Ray? Were they endorsing blind faith? Or mirroring a social reality? Unless art zeroes in on the malaise how do we cure socio-political ailments?

The point that Swara Bhaskar makes in the private communication to Bhansali is that she is uncomfortable with the depiction of jauhar but gung-ho about his creative vision. But Swara, you can't have the roses without the thorns. Or the Taj Mahal without all those masons who lost their hands.


(Subhash K Jha is a film critic and movie expert)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL.)