Why the outrage around Bajirao Mastani's 'Pinga' is casteist and hypocritical

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November 19, 2015 16:10:18 IST

By Mrunmayi Ainapure

Most of us netizens of urban India have become quite inured to our hourly routines of awakening to the cacophony of public outrage on social media that revolves – like clockwork – around seemingly trivial matters. One tends to dismiss most of these with a sigh and a bout of furious scrolling. Yesterday, however, was an exception. As someone who has lived in Pune all her life, the bone of contention, this time around, hit quite literally close to home.

Shortly after a harmless dance number titled ‘Pinga’ from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming film Bajirao Mastani, featuring Deepika Padukone and Priyanka Chopra, was released online, Facebook was inundated with a slew of posts from a sizeable chunk of the Marathi Brahmin community (mostly residents of Pune, although Maharashtra-born NRIs aching to stay connected to their roots joined in soon enough) with responses to the song.

These ranged from scathing to plain hysterical; the criticism touched upon various factors that seemed to have disappointed these viewers, such as the "ridiculousness" of showing the two wives of warrior king Bajirao Peshwa I – Kashibai (Chopra) and Mastani (Padukone) – dancing together, the direct lifting of the song’s tune and lyrics from the popular Marathi lavani ‘Latpat Latpat Tuzha Chalna’ and its arbitrary fusion with the traditional Mangla Gaur hymn ‘Naach Ga Ghuma’ in a mish-mash of wildly different genres.

Notwithstanding the serious bafflement over why one would expect anything beyond ostentatious sets, larger-than-life song-and-dance sequences and a sensational re-interpretation of a historical story from Bhansali – going by his filmography so far or given that he has never claimed to be a Richard Attenborough – the annoyance over the distortion of history and anthropology is legitimate.

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A still from Pinga.

If you’re a Punekar, who has grown up hearing stories about a quaint era that has been etched in your city’s collective consciousness, your displeasure with its unrealistic on-screen portrayal is understandable. History lessons told you that Kashibai Peshwa had a limp in her leg, and could not possibly have gyrated her hips to such a caper, much less with a woman she is known to have formally met just once in her life. So, this song makes no sense to you? Fair enough.

But, despite being a 'Puneri mulgi' myself, and having grown up around several of the aforementioned Marathi Brahmins affronted by 'Pinga', I found something particularly disconcerting about the onslaught of venom directed towards the song, which is how quickly and smoothly it escalated to acquire a distinctly jingoistic veneer.

Sighted online were more than a few eye-wateringly long threads, shaming the "inappropriate" attire (read: low waist nine-yard or nauvari sarees) donned by the leading ladies in the song. Many of the objectors, who I couldn’t help but notice clearly had ‘upper caste’ surnames, have sanctimoniously voiced objections on how “a decent Maharashtrian lady, especially one hailing from a royal family, would never reveal this much skin, as if she were an item girl” – a statement that could frankly serve to stereotype and offend both groups of women.

Some of these self-proclaimed guardians of Marathi culture insisted, “Learn to drape the time-honored nauvari in a respectable, khandani manner,” making one wonder whether they were protesting the lack of authenticity perceived in the costumes or their supposed skimpiness. One person even went so far as to comment on how the dusky Chopra does not possess the “fair skin and delicate features” of a Chitpavan Brahmin woman. Others have lashed out about how showing a Peshwa queen dancing in a “vulgar” manner could “mar the essence of Marathi tradition”. A piece on a reputed online publication in its critique of the song declared that no Marathi woman “bobs her head like that”.

This frenzy not only releases a whiff of blatant patriarchal sentiment, but also leaves you with a disturbing aftertaste of casteism, classism and a smuggish re-assertion of Brahminical superiority – which is (supposed to be) plain astounding in this day and age. What’s more amazing is that few seem to be bothered about aspects of the song that actually warrant critical analysis, such as how it doesn’t mirror the repressive attitude towards women in the Peshwa society and instead, paints a false, happy, shiny picture of ‘soutans being sahelis’. Nah, all most people seem to want to tut-tut about is the "immodesty" of the costumes; all they seem to be disgusted about is the objectionable choreography, which "does not behoove the virtuous Peshwa ladies".

As someone who likes to call herself a liberal in a city where I have observed a substantial section of the local populace to be fairly conservative, one of my biggest pet peeves continues to be the casual spectacle of purebred fanaticism we’re still faced with everyday – especially when it comes to challenging Pune’s erstwhile heritage, even in an instance as innocuous as this which involves the medium of cinema.

For now, it appears that I’m going to simply have to wade through this wave of righteous, jingoistic outbursts that have taken over my social media feeds, until the furore over this great insult to the glorious times of Maharashtra – when demurely dressed Marathi girls didn’t disgrace their families by prancing around in public – dies down.

Mrunmayi Ainapure is a freelance writer based in Pune. She tweets at @moonogamy

Updated Date: Nov 19, 2015 16:14 PM