Swara Bhaskar’s scathing letter to Bhansali

The Anarkali of Aarah actor Swara Bhaskar penned a bold and scathing letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, ‘the man of the moment’, whose directorial magnum opus starring Deepika Padukone, Shahid Kapoor and Ranveer Singh saw the light of day after months of being embroiled in controversy.

The film is still engulfed in the flames of regressive mindsets and violence at the hands of fringe groups. Padmaavat’s glorious depiction of the antiquated practice of ‘jauhar’ has come under fire.

Here are some excerpts from Bhaskar’s no-holds-barred letter to Bhansali, published on The Wire, lamenting the glorification of the outdated convention, that denies women the right to live; equating it with the narrative of victim shaming, where women’s bodies are perceived as vehicles of ‘honour’.

The articulate letter does not fail to uphold the freedom speech and expression of artists, despite its criticism of the depiction of ‘jauhar’. An avid watcher of his films, she admitted that her idea of epic love was moulded by Bhansali and she said that she always has and will remain a fan.

I want you to know, I really fought for your film when it was still called Padmavati. I grant you, I fought on Twitter timelines –not on the battlefield, and I sparred with trolls not raving manic Muslims; but still I fought for you. I said to TV cameras the things I thought you were not being able to say because your Rs 185 crore were on the line…And so it was with great excitement and the zeal of a believer that I booked first day, first show tickets for Padmaavat. Swara Bhaskar

Swara Bhaskar clearly and concisely pointed out her contentions of how the film brought her back to the Dark Ages.

  • Women Have the Right to Live. Period.
  • 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 are not only walking talking vaginas.
  • Yes, women have vaginas, but they have more to them as well. So their whole life need not be focused on the vagina, and controlling it, protecting it, maintaining it’s purity. (Maybe in the 13th century that was the case, but in the 21st century we do not need to subscribe to these limiting ideas. We certainly do not need to glorify them. )
  • It would be nice if the vaginas are respected; but in the unfortunate case that they are not, a woman can continue to live.
  • She need not be punished with death, because another person disrespected her vagina without her consent.
  • There is life outside the vagina, and so there can be life after rape. (I know I repeat, but this point can never be stressed enough.)
  • In general there is more to life than the vagina.
  • She explained how lionising the idea of jauhar is deeply patriarchal and misogynistic.

I understand that Jauhar and Sati are a part of our social history. These happened. I understand that they are sensational, shocking dramatic occurrences that lend themselves to splendid, stark and stunning visual representation; especially in the hands of a consummate maker like yourself — but then so were the lynchings of blacks by murderous white mobs in the 19th century in the US – sensational, shocking dramatic social occurrences. Does that mean one should make a film about it with no perspective on racism? Or, without a comment on racial hatred? Worse, should one make a film glorifying lynchings as a sign of some warped notion of hot-bloodedness, purity, bravery – I don’t know, I have no idea how possibly one could glorify such a heinous hate crime. Swara Bhaskar

Swara writes about how the film unwittingly bolsters the prevalent rape-condoning mindset in the country.

Rajasthan in the 13th century with its cruel practices is merely the historical setting of the ballad you have adapted into the film Padmaavat. The context of your film is India in the 21st century; where five years ago, a girl was gang-raped brutally in the country’s capital inside a moving bus. She didn’t commit suicide because her honour had been desecrated, Sir. She fought her six rapists….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.The context of art, any art is the time and place when it was created and consumed. Swara Bhaskar

Bhaskar went on to reiterate that film idealised self-immolation despite its disclaimer.

Then in the climax, breathtakingly shot of course – hundreds of women bedecked in red like Goddess Durga as bride rushed into the Jauhar fire while a raving Muslim psychopathic villain loomed over them and a pulsating musical track – that had the power of an anthem; seduced the audience into being awestruck and admiring of this act. Sir, if this is not glorification and support of Sati andJauhar, I really do not know what is. Swara Bhaskar

Bhaskar invoked the painstaking struggle of reform-minded Indians, who criminalised and abolished the practice of Sati.

I felt my existence was illegitimate because God forbid anything untoward happened to me, I would do everything in my power to sneak out of that fiery pit– even if that meant being enslaved to a monster like Khilji forever. I felt in that moment that it was wrong of me to choose life over death. It was wrong to have the desire to live. This Sir, is the power of cinema. Swara Bhaskar

Signing of as desirous of life, Swara Bhaksar pointed out a dangerous possibility.

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!

Source: The Wire

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