'Cannot take pride in this', Bombay HC on threats to Deepika Padukone and Padmavati row

The Bombay High Court expresses concern on the controversy surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali's magnum opus Padmavati

Over the last few weeks, the entire controversy around Padmavati has taken the country by storm, forcing many to ponder as to where we are headed, both as a society and as a nation. The Bombay High Court agrees that we are not painting a good picture. A division bench comprising of Justices S C Dharmadhikari and Bharti Dangre referred to Padmavati during a hearing on the murder probe of rationalists Govind Pansare and Narendra Dabholkar. The court expressed concern about India’s image as a democratic county where a filmmaker was unable to release a film he made with a lot of diligence.

The HC questioned the threats issued against artists and said,

In which other countries are artists and performers threatened? It is distressing to know that a person makes a feature film and several people work tirelessly towards it, but (he) is not able to release the film because of continued threats. What have we come to?

In the fiasco surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s yet unreleased film, threats issued to lead actress Deepika Padukone were definitely the most infuriating. A member of Rajput Karni Sena threatened to chop off Deepika’s nose, members of All-India Kshatriya Mahasabha said the actress should understand the real meaning of Jauhar and should be burnt alive, and the now former leader of BJP, Suraj Pal Amu announced a bounty of Rs 10 crore on her head. The way right-wing leaders reacted to Padmavati without even seeing the movie led the makers to defer the release.

Also read: Padmavati gets Shatrughan Sinha felicitated by Bihar’s Rajput Karni Sena. This is not a drill

Addressing these threats made against Deepika, the bench said that situations have become so grave that people can no longer voice their opinions in the country.

Today, somebody says I will give a reward to anyone who kills an actress. People are taking pride in saying we will give reward to those who will kill an actress… In this country, we have come to a situation where people cannot voice their opinions.

Implying that such threats have no place in the world’s largest democracy, the bench worried,

What concerns us is India’s image and reputation as a democratic country. We are the largest democracy. We cannot take pride in the happenings of such incidents day in and day out. We are cutting a very sorry figure.

Other than the Padmavati row, the bench touched upon the alarming rise of violence all over the nation. While hearing petitions filed by relatives of Dabholkar and Pansare, the bench fixed the next hearing date on December 21 and said,

Enough damage has been caused already. Has any senior official from the two agencies bothered to find out why the probe is not making any headway… At the core of these two crimes are the bold attempts being made by fringe groups to attack those who voice their rational views, thoughts, feelings and expressions.

Deepika Padukone in Padmavati, Padmavati | Courtesy: YouTube still | Photo created for InUth.com

Also read: Padmavati row: The problem with pitting Shabana Azmi’s feminism against Kangana Ranaut’s feminism

Dabholkar was shot in Pune in August 2013 and Pansare was killed in Kolhapur in February 2015.

The bench also observed that suppression of opposition was extremely unhealthy for democracy and referred to the cold-blooded murder of senior journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore earlier this year.

Maharashtra and Karnataka are known for social reformers and thinkers, and with such incidents, these states are cutting a sorry figure politically too.

It is hard to disagree with the HC on the concerns it expressed, which were echoed by the Supreme Court which recently refused a plea seeking a ban on Padmavati‘s release. However, states like Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Goa, Rajasthan, and the poll-bound Gujarat are looking to fill the court’s shoes if and when the film gets to see the light of the day. Only time will tell if the judiciary’s fight for freedom of expression overrules society’s suppression or whether the film, like Lankesh, Dhabolkar and Pansare, succumbs to society’s madness.

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