Actor Swara Bhasker has criticised director Sanjay Leela Bhansali for “thoughtlessly glorifying” Sati and Jauhar practices in his latest release, “Padmaavat”.
The 29-year-old actor wrote a blistering open letter to Bhansali, published on news website The Wire, in which she condemned the filmmaker for presenting the criminalised archaic customs in a “breathtakingly shot” manner.
Swara said Bhansali, whom she respects and has worked for in “Guzaarish”, had set a dangerous precedent in questioning the laws of the land.
“In independent India, The Indian Sati Prevention Act (1988) further criminalised any type of aiding, abetting, and glorifying of Sati.
“Your act of thoughtlessly glorifying this misogynistic criminal practice is something you ought to answer for, Sir. As your ticket-buying audience, I have the right to ask you how and why you did this,” she wrote.
Swara said the climax, which shows multitude of women, dressed in red marching towards their deaths “seduced the audience into being awestruck and admiring of this act”.
“Your cinema particularly is inspiring, evocative and powerful.
It can move audiences to emotional highs and lows. It can influence thinking and that, Sir, is why you must be responsible as to what it is you are doing and saying in your film.”
The actor said acts like Sati and raping women are two sides of the same coin.
She explained the parallels between the two crimes, saying the depiction of the Sati/Jauhar would have been justified had the director condoned the victim-blaming mindset, which infests the country, in Deepika Padukone-led period drama.
“You will say that you put out a disclaimer at the beginning of the film claiming that the film did not support Sati or Jauhar.
“Sure sir, but you followed that up with a two-hour-45- minute-long paean to Rajput honour, and the bravery of honourable Rajput women who chose happily to sacrifice their lives in raging flames, than to be touched by enemy men who were not their husbands but were incidentally Muslim,” Swara said, also calling out the director for painting the Muslim ruler Khilji (Ranveer Singh) as a “monster”.
The actor, who watched the film first day, first-show, said she had defended Bhansali’s freedom of expression during the protests by various groups and political leaders, who accused him of “distorting historical facts”.
She further said women have the right to live, despite “being raped” and “independent of whether men are living or not”.
The actor said a woman’s honour and purity do not reside in the vagina and it would be a welcome step “if the vaginas are respected; but in the unfortunate case that they are not, a woman can continue to live”.
Swara added she “felt reduced to a vagina – only” after watching “Padmaavat”.
She said the film-undermined women’s achievements and the progress of movements such as the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to education, equal pay for equal work and Vishaka guidelines, among many others.
It was only fair, Swara said, that she took the “liberty” and “temerity” to raise concerns over glorification of Sati and Jauhar after watching the magnum opus after a long wait.
The film, also starring Shahid Kapoor, finally arrived in the theatres on January 25, amid chaos and violence across the country.