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Bollywood ’s Hysterical History – An Ominous Slap

By: The Cinema Cynic
The slapping of Sanjay Leela Bhansali by members of a fringe Rajput group – the Karni Sena – should serve as an ominous wake-up call to both society and Bollywood .
Such an assault on a human being conducting his lawful activities is unacceptable, unconscionable and reprehensible. Society should be unequivocal in its condemnation of this mob-mentality which is too quick to emerge and easily pushed towards violence by mere rumours. It should be equally unequivocally stated that Anurag Kashyap’s asinine utterances on equating this with “Hindu terror” are the demented rantings unworthy of a response but which have the potential to haunt an otherwise talented filmmaker in years to come.
If society needs to take stock of the mob-mentality and the violence to which it is so easily aroused, the Bollywood establishment should also take note of its increasing disconnect with elements in its society which take their historical heroes, heroines, sagas and myths very seriously.
Bollywood ’s treatment of history has been cavalier to say the least and the failure to interact with and absorb the importance of these historical characters and their legends has had an impact on the way in which portrayals of these characters are done with unfortunate consequences when casual remarks, rumours or promotional material is taken out of context, leading to a sequence of misunderstandings culminating in the agitating of lumpen elements to commit acts of violence and vandalism. It takes little to create an aggressive mob in India and even less to encourage it to violence.
It is an unfortunate fact of history that the periods of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire were periods of violent political upheaval and religious trauma. The subjugation, religious and political, of that era cannot and should not be whitewashed as Bollywood has been wont to do. Farcical love stories such as Jodha Akbar and Razia Sultana do little justice to either the rulers, the ruled, the subjugators or the subjugated. Even Bajirao Mastani (a film which I consider to be highly overrated despite its excellent acting) degenerated into clunky love story shorn of much of the intrigue, violence and deep brutality of the period. Whitewashing history has been the undoing of Bollywood ’s ventures into historical film making.
While the creative enterprise of Bollywood directors seeking to make films on historical subjects or legends must not be discouraged or in any way hindered, one wonders if those directors might do better to start the process by engaging with the descendants of historical figures with a view towards getting a better handle on the actual characters or on the sagas built around them.
It is one thing to say that Bajirao Mastani was based on the novel Rau by N.S Inamdar but when you have living descendants of Bajirao and Mastani still living, courtesy dictates engaging with them. Similarly, given the raw emotions the saga of Padmavati evokes, some community level groundwork might have been of value. None of this in the slightest way excuses violence. It simply suggests that some effective interaction may smooth the creative process on subjects which can be very emotive.
What may also help is an acknowledgement that to date, Bollywood ’s forays into India’s ancient and medieval history have often been embarrassing. Modern song and dance routines don’t fit into that period while the sugarcoating of brutal and religiously bigoted despots has raised eyebrows with agitators ascribing ulterior motives only too readily. Of course, Mohenjo Daro is in another category. Embarrassing from all historical angles but it might have made for a fun film if it had been called something fictional.
The attack on Bhansali should thus remind Indian society that fringe groups have too much influence and power on the national stage and must be denied such space. The attack should also serve notice on Bollywood that they are not operating in a societal vacuum and it would serve them well to do some honest groundwork on historical characters and the legends around them to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.
Of course, none of this will ever placate thugs. The only solution to that problem is an enhanced resolve on the part of the State and society to isolate, prosecute and where necessary incarcerate those who break the law.

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