On Saturday evening, Swara Bhasker wrote a piece for The Wire, where she criticised Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s epic drama, Padmaavat, for its portrayal of Jauhar (or mass self-immolation) in the film’s climax.
In the film’s climax, Deepika Padukone’s Padmaavati is shown walking towards a raging fire, along with several women, one of them even pregnant. The treatment of the scene is such that it makes the act look like a rite of passage, or the ‘noble’ thing to do when faced with the possibility of rape, slavery, abuse.
Bhasker, in her piece, said at the end of the movie, she felt reduced to a vagina.
“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,” she writes.
Bhasker preempted the argument of the film reflecting what had happened during a certain time in history. She wrote, “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.”
In our review of the film, we wrote, “To show that jauhar existed as an accepted social norm at one point in time is one thing. To glorify and romanticize it as an act of essential sacrifice is a misstep on a slippery slope, one where watertight writing and accurate treatment should have ideally weaponized the screenplay by not allowing it to fall into a celebratory territory.”
Many other critics have also called out Bhansali for this.
Tanul Thakur of The Wire wrote, “Sati, a reprehensible custom of Hindu society, was banned by British India more than one-and-a-half centuries ago. To see a 200-crore film genuflecting to it without interrogation and introspection – and in the process, confounding helplessness with honour, repression with freedom – is to see a country reverse its clocks.”
In his review for NDTV, Raja Sen wrote, “the lesser said about the slow-motion glorification of self-immolation the better,” while Anna Vetticad, writing for Firstpost, said, “Jauhar was a horrendous practice underlining the belief that a woman’s life is worth nothing if her vagina, the sole property of her husband or future husband, is invaded by another man. Considering that conservatives even in today’s India place greater value on what they see as a woman’s ‘honour’ over her life, it is scary that Bhansali has chosen to glamourise jauhar in his film in a bid to play to the Rajput gallery.”
To read Bhasker’s entire piece, head straight to The Wire.
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