Sanjay Leela Bhansali attacked on Padmavati set: It’s time Bollywood stands up to the bullies

Karishma Upadhyay

Jan,29 2017 13:10 12 IST

Bollywood has always been a soft target and over the past few years, filmmakers have become used to random protests around the time of their film’s release. A director once told me that if there was no ‘loony fringe organisation protesting around the time of release, it meant that the film hadn’t generated enough interest’. Having been at the receiving end of multiple protests over the years, the director’s shrug and smile revealed more than his words.

On Friday afternoon, members of the Rajput Karni Sena assaulted Sanjay Leela Bhansali. The attack occurred on the sets of Bhansali’s period drama Padmavati in Jaipur’s Jaigarh Fort. Scores of Rajput Karni Sena protestors breached the private security of the set before proceeding to assault the director and vandalise the film’s set.

File image of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Solaris

File image of Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Solaris

The attack was a triggered by rumours that Padmavati has a love sequence between Padmavati, the Queen of Chittor and Alauddin Khilji, the Delhi Sultan. “This is an outrageous distortion of Rajasthan's history as Rani Ji self-immolated herself along with other women of the fort when they heard that Khilji is marching ahead to take over the fort," said Mahipal Makrana, state president of Karni Seena.

What makes this attack different from the ones in the past is not just that a highly respected member of Bollywood was physically manhandled but also that the film is still being shot. Few outside the industry have even seen the film’s script but it doesn’t take much for religious and caste sentiments to be hurt.

We seemed to have progressed from seemingly innocuous effigy burnings to all out physical attacks. Bollywood is partially to blame for this. Every single time a film or actor has been attacked, the industry has either cowed down or stayed quiet.

In the 1990s, it was only the Shiv Sena that terrorised the industry. Mani Ratnam's Bombay was 'censored' by Bal Thackeray before it was released. Shiv Sena ransacked theatres showing Deepa Mehta's Fire because it was 'polluting Indian culture'. Bollywood has given into bullying by political and religious groups film after film.

The problem now is that bullies have sprouted up all over the country. Ajay Devgn had to get approval from the Shiromani Gurudwara Parbandhak Committee before releasing Son of Sardar. Iron rod-wielding activists from Bajrang Dal vandalised movie theatres screening PK in Ahmedabad. There were protests against the Rajkumar Hirani film in different parts of the country because the film had hurt religious sentiments of Hindus by making fun of their gods and devotees.

Just six months ago, Karan Johar, who tweeted in support of Bhansali on Saturday, put out a video promising to never work with Pakistani artists again. To ensure a smooth release of Raees, Shah Rukh met Raj Thackeray last month. The film’s makers didn’t include Pakistani actress Mahira Khan in any promotional activity.

Friday’s attack on Bollywood wasn’t the first and won’t be the last unless the industry unites. It’s time for Bollywood as a collective to say ‘enough is enough’. Celebrities have to do better than just condemning the attack or tweeting their support. The only way to stand up to bullies is to go on the offensive and the industry must come together to put pressure on the government. It’s time to take that target off your back, Bollywood.