Swara Bhasker’s Padmaavat Criticism Misses the Woods for the Trees

The rot runs much deeper than a few individuals, even when they are cultural capitalists(!) as big as Bhansali.

4 min read
Swara Bhasker’s Padmaavat Criticism Misses the Woods for the Trees

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(The Quint’s Take: A woman’s 'honour' is not a public commodity, and the crime of rape doesn't lessen her. Practices like jauhar/sati are condemnable. The Quint supports actor Swara Bhasker’s view as expressed in her open letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali – questioning the glorification of Jauhar in the film ‘Padmaavat’.

We at The Quint have received several letters from our readers responding to Swara’s letter and expressing their views about the film. We are sharing these letters here without endorsing or supporting them. These letters are entirely readers’ opinions.)


Apropos the piece by Swara Bhasker, it is fine to insinuate or suggest that Bhansali is a supporter of or glorifies jauhar or sati. But it serves no purpose. Think of this: Even if Bhansali and everyone making that film were truly against such a 'glorification' and even that they are feminists – they might still have done precisely what they have done in the film. The rot is deeper even than what Bhasker suspects.

There is a perverse necessity, an imperative, to do what Bhansali did. And not just due to a commercial logic – that 'the public' loves such scenes of sacrifice and melodrama, these sell, they bring in the money. Rather, precisely the kind of strong women's perspective Bhasker advocates seems to work in tandem with the film's supposed glorification of sati/jauhar: the two coexist.


Let us listen to the lead woman in Padmaavat, Deepika Padukone. On the day of the film's release, Padukone says that all women today will identify themselves with Rani Padmavati, “a character any woman will relate to”. In the same breath, she expresses her strong support for the #MeToo movement and wants to extend it to Bollywood. She says, “More power to women who come out and share their stories and I think it’s the right thing to do.”

In her mind, the #MeToo movement and women’s rights are completely consistent with the movie Padmaavat!

How can that be?

Well, Padmaavat is a ‘female-centric movie’, empowering women! And, by the way, do we not know that Padukone was paid more for this film than the male hero? So should we say that the movie breaks the 'glass ceiling' – more women's empowerment!

Such a mind, Padukone's and I am sure Bhansali's, is what needs to be identified and attacked.


The thing is, today, everybody is ‘woke’: no true conservatives, no real fascists, no true classic glorifiers of sati, etc. It is futile and pointless to search for or imagine someone like that. Everybody, from Manohar Khattar to Sri Sri Ravishankar, have picked up the language of rights and say and do everything in the name of democracy.

Bhansali can simply claim that it is a film about women's empowerment – look how happy Deepika Padukone is about the film! He can easily bypass the terms of the debate (for or against sati) some liberal-leftists are setting up.

The point is just this: A particular kind of Indian upper-middle-class multiplex-going crowd, safe and secure, takes a vicarious pleasure in watching death and sacrifice – they want to watch something 'real', a contrast to their asinine, privileged but uneventful lives. They are those like Padukone herself, who are many, and who just want to lean in a la Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg.


There is a secret, disavowed desire for real sacrifice – particularly when it is done at a distance by some mythical-historical film. It is like those TV room jingoistic nationalists who applaud the sacrifice of soldiers at the border. They must over-identify with the latter’s sacrifice and fight their own strawmen anti-nationalists. The desire to partake of something real, of course, cannot take them to celebrate the revenge and sacrifice (the 'real') of, say, a Phoolan Devi, but to the kind of sacrifice Bhansali offers them, a safe cutlet of upper caste pride and privilege. And that too offered through a 'female-centric movie'!

Moral of the story: The rot runs deeper than a few individuals, even when they are cultural capitalists(!) as big as Bhansali. The symptom cannot be critiqued while overlooking the logic. We must ask: What allows a #MeToo supporter to call her sati-glorifying movie 'female-centric'?

Banal left-wing criticisms are no good. It is precisely such criticisms that had earlier led me to wonder how most leftists have specialised in the art of 'how not to fight Modi'. That was four years back. Now a comrade tells me it is time for another version of the same piece. I think I have made a start today.

Fight the logic, don’t be distracted by the symptom.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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