Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar ask film industry to take a stand on Padmavati

Actor Shabana Azmi and lyricist Javed Akhtar have called members of Bollywood to refuse to be “puppets in this game of electoral gain, divisive politics and polarisation” as the row over Padmavati turned uglier and blamed the BJP governments at the Centre and some states of not doing enough to handle the protests against the film.

They told India Today’s Rajdeep Sardesai on Sunday that the real culprits wasn’t the Shri Rajput Karni Sena but the governments of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh as well as the Centre for not restoring law and order and arresting those who have issued a bounty on film’s actors Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali.

The chief ministers of the two states led by the Bharatiya Janata Party have requested the Centre to not allow the release of the film citing the Rajput community’s “hurt sentiments” and possible law and order issues as the reasons.

Azmi said the film industry is everybody’s favourite sitting duck and it realises that it is a “situation of now or never”. She added that “too much has happened and too repeatedly” and pointed out that this was not the first time that protests against a film have turned ugly.

“To me, it is a very sorry state of affairs. That it was in 2000, I think, when we were making the film Water and after I had shaved off my head, the film had to be scrapped. We couldn’t make the film, nobody had read a single word of the script and they had decided that it was against Indian culture,” she said about the film, which Deepa Mehta later made with Seema Biswas, Lisa Ray and John Abraham in 2005.

“In 2017, we are facing the same thing with an even worse situation where there are people openly threatening to cut off Deepika Padukone’s nose, openly threatening that there is Rs 5-crore bounty on her head. If this is not criminal, what is? What is the government doing about it?” she asked.

Azmi had earlier called for a boycott of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) organised by the Union ministry of information and broadcasting, due to begin in Goa later in November.

“What can the film industry do? … The people who are being honoured over there, whether it is Mr [Amitabh] Bachchan, or whoever it is there, should say we will not go to IFFI because until and unless you put these people who are making such statements behind bars, we are not going to come and do something which the government is doing in honour of the film industry,” she said.

“No, we can’t rush to such conclusions … See, it’s not a very easy situation. You have to understand that. There is a lot of money is riding on it. So, there is always this feeling that if a compromise is possible, then it is better.”

“My point to the film industry is that it is now or never. If we do not take a strong stand now, the situation will only get worse. The writing is clearly on the wall.”

Akhtar said, “the people who say they will eradicate terrorism, can’t ensure that a film is released.”

“For discussion’s sake, even if one was to accept that somebody’s feelings have been hurt, that she was indeed a historical figure, and so on, what are we doing about it? Are you going to cut somebody’s nose or chop off somebody’s head? Is that how a civilised country will work?” asked the national award-winning writer.

He added that people should go to the court if they have a problem with any film.

Listen to the complete interview here

Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal and other directors like Hansal Mehta and Anurag Kashyap also spoken against the culture of threat and intimidation.

“This is a democracy. People may not agree with what I have to say but I have the right to say it,” the Indian Express quoted Benegal as saying.

“Will people ask for heads publicly and offer money for the lives of those who disagree with them and the state will do nothing to prevent it? The home department and the police should move in immediately and offer protection. That would be the thing to do. When chief ministers and members of government adopt such an approach, what else will the administration do?” he asked.

Actors Prakash Raj, Riteish Deshmukh and Twinkle Khanna have also tweeted in support of the film.

There have been other voices too. Veteran actor Prakash Raj tweeted, “Will they let #Padmavati release post election at least ..#justasking”

One announced five crores… now a party spokes person announced ten crores reward for those who behead an actor and a director !!There seems to be loads of moeny to gift post demonitization… but does that includes GST… #justasking”

Twinkle Khanna tweeted on, “And as far as #Padmavati is concerned I wish it is the biggest hit ever as that would be the befitting rejoinder to all these loony threats!”

Riteish Deshmukh tweeted: “What kind of a country are we becoming???? Open death threats!!! Hope our Honorable Government takes quick action. #Padmavati #KyaMeraBharatMahaanHai?”

On Sunday, the makers postponed the film’s earlier scheduled release on December 1.

“We will announce the revised release date of the film in due course,” Viacom18 Motion Pictures, the studio behind the period drama, said.

The Karni Sena deferred its Bharat Bandh, scheduled for December 1, hours after the studio put off the release.

Padmavati has been in the eye of the storm since January when Karni Sena attacked director Bhansali on the set of the film in Rajasthan’s capital Jaipur.

Led by the Karni Sena, Rajput groups have been up in arms against the film which they claim is a distortion of history and depicts an “amorous relationship” between Padmavati – portrayed by Padukone – and Delhi Sultan Alauddin Khilji – played by Singh and. has hurt feelings of the community. The makers have assiduously refuted the claim.

Historians say Rajput queen Padmini was a fictional character in Padmawat, an epic poem written by Malik Mohammad Jaisi in the 16th century, and it has no connection with history at all.