‘Padmaavat’ row: How the affair is a blow on India’s ever-existing gender struggle

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“Two things form the bedrock of any open society- freedom of expression and rule of law. If you don’t have those things, you don’t have a free country,” wrote celebrated author Salman Rushdie. ‘The Satanic Verses’, Rushdie’s most controversial book partly inspired by the life of Prophet Muhammad that stirred a debate on various levels, was banned in India in 1988. Sure enough, not just the enlightened readers but the bureaucrats also knew a misdeed was being indulged on. 27 years later, in 2015, former finance minister P Chidambaram in a literary festival said, “I have no hesitation in saying that the ban was wrong”.

For the last few months, acts of protecting a mythical (will I be assassinated for using this term?) Queen‘s ‘dignity’ have occupied most of our social media mind-space. Demolition of sets, physical assaults on a veteran filmmaker, threats of beheading the actors, and a bounty on chopping off their body organs that originated from an overpowering sense of community prejudice, were to come to an end with the CBFC giving a green signal to release of ‘Padmaavat’. The Supreme Court, today, has lifted ban issued by six state Governments. But, is that worth a celebration?

The debate on cinematic liberty is a worn out one. How much imagination can be blended into how much fact, is best left to the artiste who fancies to tell his story. Agreed, in a country like India that boasts of vivid languages and folktales, we better not demean a particular identity or ideology, in the drive of being honest or expressive. Having said that, educating yourself to be open to opinions is a more progressive option than mastering the art of getting offended. And irrespective of which community you belong to, this applies to. In our sociopolitical structure, sadly, this is almost obsolete.

Precisely why, the mass response to ‘Padmaavat’ controversy is far more disappointing that a fringed group creating ruckus. Another acquiescence, that the inoperative state of openness and rationality lies far deep within.

A few days back, I woke to news of a group of Rajput women threatening to commit ‘Jauhar’ if the film releases. Whether it was a voluntary response to the situation or they were only being obligated by an organisation that claims to uphold their dignity, will remain a debate forever. In both cases, it raises the same question. Where are we heading to?

Going by statistics provided by the National Crime Records Bereau, a total number of 3,644 rape cases were filed in Rajasthan, in the year 2015, once reported Times of India. With this, Rajasthan acquired the third position in list of states with highest number of rape cases being reported. In the same state, a mythical queen’s dignity became so climacteric that the flag-bearers of dignity didn’t hesitate to issue threats on another woman. Sure enough, we are losing our minds. Hence, when women of the same state threaten to commit Jauhar (an act of sacrificing own lives rather than losing dignity to the opponent), whether willingly or reluctantly, because of a mere film, the menace is evident. Either the community bigotry is so deep-rooted that it takes over their own realisation of gender struggle; something they themselves have been fighting for decades now, knowingly or unknowingly! OR! The bigots are overpowering the sanes. Well, looks like they are! Either way, this is a huge, ironic blow; given that the queen in question is admired for putting her OWN honour against the evil.

Not long ago, I came across a social media post wherein the author accused Bhansali of portraying Peshwa Bajirao like a ‘Romeo’. “He instead of portrayingBajiraoas a great warrior presented him as a weakRomeo,” he wrote. Hence, we should obviously NOT trust him with ‘Padmavati’, oops, ‘Padmaavat’.

‘Bajirao Mastani’ thoroughly glorified a warrior who not only showed great bravery at the war front, but fearlessly protected his own love interest till the moment he could. But more than that, to me, it was a more feminist film than many. It featured one Kashi Bai, a woman with a profound sense of dignity who never begged to be treated with more substance than Mastani, and Mastani herself, self-sufficient, beautiful and complementing her husband’s valour. If falling in love takes away Bajirao’s bravery for him, then I don’t know where are we heading with similar sort of wisdom.

Coming back to ‘Padmaavat’. The very fact that the self-proclaimed Rajput organisations blatantly refuse to even watch the film before they form an opinion, proves its baselessness and unencessity. In a few thousand years of civilisation, a few million communal conflicts gaze at us like enduring scars. We don’t need more of them.

To put it more simply, freedom of expression can’t be achieved by implementing a set of laws, until and unless we as citizens have assmmilated its cruciality.

Or should I say, The Satanic Verses of prejudice?

Kapoor & Sons: Caught the plight of homosexuals tenderly and yet made 'coming out' look doable

Kapoor & Sons: Caught the plight of homosexuals tenderly and yet made 'coming out' look doable
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Kapoor & Sons – Since 1921. The house proudly flaunted that to the world, nestled in the greens of Coonoor. No one knew the darkness that was inside, the demons that were individually dealt with. But then, isn’t every family like that?

'Padmaavat' row: How the affair is a blow on India's ever-existing gender struggle

Two years have passed by since this Shakun Batra-directorial, story of a dysfunctional family had come to our lives. However, amongst the various themes that tore apart the family and eventually brought it together, one that truly had the power to transform, was that of homosexuality.

Not many know, that the role played by Fawad Khan, that of family’s elder son, a successful author, was actually offered to many A-listers, who turned it down, eventually leading him to step into the shoes of Rahul. And it was, indeed, a very big step on his part. He was venturing out of his territory, a man who has such a huge female-fan following, and comes from a country with religion as its main running philosophy. He did the role and brought such conviction to it that we were forced to stand up and applaud, his courage, and the beauty with which his character was carved.

'Padmaavat' row: How the affair is a blow on India's ever-existing gender struggle

Since times immemorial, all our memories of gay characters on screen have been that of carelessly effeminate and unimportant roles, which are just there to add a comic element. The stereotype has been high to an extent that often the champions of the same channelise it and promote it, for it is wrapped in the shiny paper of presentation. The biggest example of this was ‘Dostana’, which was an amazing story of friendship, still used homosexuality as humour, as its backdrop. Ironically, it came from the same production house, though nearly eight years before that.

'Padmaavat' row: How the affair is a blow on India's ever-existing gender struggle

But ‘Kapoor & Sons’ begged to differ here. The character here was real, someone who was hiding himself, for the society, his family. There was surreality to the theme of homosexuality here, which had the power to jar us inside out; and that, it did.

Two scenes from the movie specifically hit me. First one is when Sunita (Ratna Patak Shah) finds out that her ideal elder son, whom she adores and is proud of, is not straight. The aftereffects of the same jolt you, because the reaction is just what an Indian mother gives, in any situation that is beyond her control; uncontrollable anger at the offspring, and then uncontrollable guilt, of blaming herself and her upbringing. The scene is filmed so beautifully, that your eyes sting. The way Fawad’s facade falls and his fear is marked across his face, which is then replaced by the anger of hiding himself for all those years, and mother’s dilemma and hurt, it all comes out in a naked and real manner.

'Padmaavat' row: How the affair is a blow on India's ever-existing gender struggle

Another sequence is when Rahul (Fawad Khan) comes back home after the showdown with his mother and the death of his father totally uproots whatever sanity his family possessed. He sits with his mother, with whom his last encounter was one of his coming out, and she asks, hesitatingly, about his partner. A subtle way of expressing acceptance, the way they hold hands, without saying anything, it stays with you.

'Padmaavat' row: How the affair is a blow on India's ever-existing gender struggle

It may not be one masterpiece, but ‘Kapoor & Sons’ will forever remain a favourite for finally breaking the mainstream stereotype of a gay man, in Bollywood. And for that, no matter how many bans, I will forever be waiting for Fawad Khan to come back, and give us more performances; with dare and conviction.

'Padmaavat' row: How the affair is a blow on India's ever-existing gender struggle

An ode to Sridevi, the queen who inspired the queers long before it became mainstream

An ode to Sridevi, the queen who inspired the queers long before it became mainstream
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“I am a kid from the 90s but still can’t forget those days when, me-myself was not out and proud about my preferences. And inside my own sweet world would dance in front of the mirror on many songs, but majorly on ‘Hawa Hawai’ and ‘Main Teri Dushman, Dushman Tu Mera’. These songs were just not tunes for me, it made me feel exactly what I was; a QUEERby birth”.

'Padmaavat' row: How the affair is a blow on India's ever-existing gender struggle
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The news of the legendary diva Sridevi being no more with us is still hard to believe, as she was part of my and every queer’s childhood memories. While in the late 90s my bunch of friends would idolise a star from the West as their gay icon, me being a full-fledged Bollywood fanatic was in love with Sridevi and she was a diva I used to worship (and will forever). Her golden costume and perfectly done makeup in ‘Hawa Hawai’ made me feel, “Yes! There is someone like me out there who loves bling and all things loud.” Her feather headgear in one of the songs from ‘Roop Ki Rani Choron Ka Raja’, touched my drag Queen‘s soul. One of the lines from her song ‘Hawa Hawai’ which is ‘Soorat Hi Maine Aisi Paayi’ transported me into a world where I thought that there is someone narcissist just like me. Sridevi’s charm was on my mind and the feminine side in me just wanted to be a replica of her.

'Padmaavat' row: How the affair is a blow on India's ever-existing gender struggle
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The gone actress has not only given a lot to the Indian cinema, but her sass and talent of naturally moulding herself into any character gave her an upper hand in whatever she used to do. When many gay men were struggling and were confused about their sexual orientation they found a connection to their on-going pain in Sridevi’s roles. Whether it was Sridevi as a meek Anju and ferocious Manju fighting for everything wrong in ‘ChaalBaaz’ (1989), Pooja’s mutiny against the everlasting societal conditions in ‘Lamhe’ (1991), Seema’s confidence-filled and fearless dance in the ‘Mr. India’ (1987) song ‘Hawa Hawaai’ or her role of a naagin (snake) coming out to the world about her dual identity in ‘Nagina’ (1986), Sri’s roles had a deep connection and were etched in every GAY man’s mind.

'Padmaavat' row: How the affair is a blow on India's ever-existing gender struggle
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And how can one miss ‘Kate Nahin Kat Te’ song of Sridevi from ‘Mr. India’, where she owned the song and made every gay guy’s dream to dance on it once with his man. This particular song was wild, seductive and equal parts bold. Sridevi draped in a sky-blue coloured saree with a matching bindi and of course adding fuel to the fire was her dancing moves. Even at the end of the song, a fully wet in rainwater, Sridevi stretching herself on a pile of hay – ‘Tumne jo li angdayi hai’ – where the diva nibbles on straws with a drenched fire in her eyes, leaving Mr. Kapoor to chivalrously lie on a distant haystack.

While mostly when the film fraternity was in a zone where feminine men were used as a tool to add fun elements on the silver screen, Sridevi was a ray of hope for the LGBTQ community. She was like a powerful symbol for the QUEERS. Her role resonated each and every gays struggle, and also echoed their dysphoria into her characters. And with her, all the queer children surpassed the narrow-minded stereotypes which they were labelled with. Lastly, she might be gone, but the colourful rainbow universe she opened for all the fellow LGBTQ people remains there intact..

Hail the QUEEN! RIP Sridevi.