An Open Letter To Ms. Swara Bhaskar – A Response To Padmaavat

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Dear Ms. Bhaskar,

I used to be a fan of you. You  were terrific in Raanjhana (a movie that validated stalking)  and Tanu Weds Manu – I and II.  I loved your acting. In ‘Tanu Weds Manu Returns’ when you said, “Ghar wala sab dimag kharab kar diya tha, 4 saal ho gaya hai. Bachcha nahi ho raha hai, kyun nahi ho raha hai” or “Tanu ne to aajevan kuch sahi nahi kiya hai” I felt like YOU Swara Bhaskar are such a sensible, funny, relatable person.

It is a mistake that we often make as an audience. We fall in love with the character and forget that it is just cinema and an actor playing a role. Probably the same mistake you made when you as an audience watched ‘Padmaavat’. You probably did not realize that Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the director had made a movie. A period film. Set in the 13th century.

I watched the movie yesterday. At a time when your open letter became old news. And the latest from you was:

“There’s a real problem of intolerance of opinion in India. We see difference of opinion as dissent and dissent as sedition.

Everything is in my letter. I stand 100 percent with what I said,”

I am so sorry that you “felt reduced to a vagina” after watching the movie. Before watching the movie I had thought your statement was out of context and therefore, stupid. But after watching the movie, I thought it was not just stupid, but judgmental and insensitive. In your own words:

“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.”

Ofcourse. Could not agree more. I just cannot place it in the context of 13th century. How many men were there – reaching the castle “ready to disrespect the vagina” of these women? Hundreds? Thousands? Lakhs?  I cannot tell but what I did understand was there were many. Ruthless. Violent. Obsessive. Merciless, entitled men. What would these men have done to these women?  Not once. Not twice. But for the remainder of their lives? Who did they have for support? The men they knew were already killed. The women they know would become sex slaves themselves.  They did not have the option to pop an I-pill. Or go to court. Or go to a counsellor for support.  Or a hospital for abortion.  Or treatment. There would be no journalists or ordinary,  aware citizens trying to get them justice in case the legal system failed them. It was the time of war.  Entire kingdoms were wiped out.

“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.”

Madam, you sound so judgmental and insensitive. It is very easy to watch a movie in the 21st century and say that YOU would have done something else. I do not think it was so simple to “sneak out”. I do not think it was so simple to be “enslaved to a monster like Khilji forever.” The women chose death because it was a better option that being raped all their lives with EVERYONE they could reach out to for love or support gone.  Does not sound like a life anyone would like to lead.

“No Sir; 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. She fought them so hard that one of those monsters shoved an iron rod up her vagina. She was found on the road with her intestines spilling out. Apologies for the graphic details, Sir, but this is the real ‘context’ of your film.”

You would have felt happy if Mr. Bhansali had changed the ending and infact shown a gory account of the women getting raped, yet surviving? Do you think that would have been an empowered ending? Or you wanted him to forget the time period completely – and show a legal recourse and them getting justice? You had said that you had supported the movie until you watched it. I don’t know what you were expecting in the end? You thought the johar angle would have been changed and that was the suspense factor of the movie?  I do not understand what you were thinking.

I do not think the movie was misogynist and it did not portray women as weak. The Rani was smart. She strategized. She did not listen blindly to her husband. She fooled Khilji with her intelligence. She ignored the men and did what she felt was right.  Khilji’s wife was also shown  taking a decision herself, defying her husband’s wish. And after watching all of this, you felt reduced to a vagina? Madam, that is  EXACTLY what the Rani and the rest of the women would have been reduced to, if they had not committed jauhar – a vagina.

“You will say that you put out a disclaimer at the beginning of the film claiming that the film did not support Sati or Jauhar. Sure Sir, but you followed that up with a two-hour-45-minute-long paean on Rajput honour, and the bravery of honourable Rajput women who chose happily to sacrifice their lives in raging flames, than to be touched by enemy men who were not their husbands but were incidentally Muslim.”

Two of my closest friends are incidentally of a different religion.  They watched the movie before I did.  We discussed the movie. They told me the movie was not as good as Bajirao Mastani. They said it got  a little too long. They told me that the girl who played Khilji’s wife, Aditi Rao looked prettier than Deepika. I did not seem to remember who she was. They told me that she is the girl in the song, Ankhiyon ne likhe love letter,’ a song which I love. They also told me that the girl who played the first wife of the Raja was in the recent movie, ‘Tiger Zinda hai.’  I joked that thankfully Mr. Bhansali did not make Deepika and Aditi dance together.  They did not say anything about being offended because Khilji was shown in the bad light. Maybe they have read about him. Maybe they are not ignorant. Maybe we do not find unnecessary reasons to spread communal hate in a country that has already seen enough of it.  Maybe none of us saw what you saw.

There was a disclaimer in the beginning of the film that the movie does not support sati. You said it did not matter because the rest of the movie glorified it.

“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.”

Madam, it was integral for the story line to glorify the jauhar given the time period. It was impactful. It was the truth.  It was history. Can you please tell me why in your own movie, ‘Raanjhana’ stalking was glorified? What was the excuse? That was fiction right? Set in the 21st century? The chances of young men getting influenced by that movie and stalking women is much higher than women getting inspired to kill themselves god forbid, if raped after watching this movie.  Why did not you not think about this when you agreed to be a part of Raanjhana?

  • “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.”

I agree 100 percent. So, does Mr. Bhansali. He did not personally place the honour of these women in their vagina and decided that they should die in case it was violated. Neither did I. Nor did the people who disagreed with their views, who you called intolerant. But this movie was not about you and me. Women from the 21st century. It was a tribute to the women from the 13th century.   It was something that happened during that time. Horrific times. Times so nightmarish that jumping into fire seems less painful than the painful life that lies ahead of them. They did what they could. Something you and I cannot imagine. And cannot change.


A woman from the 21st Century who does not judge women from the 13th Century.



















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