By Dr G ShreeKumar Menon
Former Director General
National Academy of Customs Excise and Narcotics, 
& Multi Disciplinary School Of Economic Intelligence, India
Fellow, James Martin Center For Non Proliferation Studies, USA
Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, USA
AOTS Scholar, Japan
Registrar, Yenepoya University, Mangaluru

Nov 25: The current inane controversy raging across the nation is the movie ‘Padmavati’ and whether its release for public viewing should be permitted or not. Reportedly, the producers have taken several liberties and modified the commonly accepted historical sequence of events. This has inflamed sensibilities of the Rajput community which has deemed it to be an insult of their historically revered queen, and their resolve to stop the screening of the movie in India. Bowing to public pressure and to secure law and order a few states have already imposed a ban on the public screening of this movie. This has led to an interminable debate in the media regarding the extant of freedom of speech and artistic licence.

Such debates are not new in this country. In the past we have seen painters, writers, historians and movie makers dabbling in wild fantasies and coming up with presentations that have offended the sensibilities of particular communities. The movie ‘Padmavati’ is another cinematic depiction that has stirred a hornet’s nest even before it has been viewed by the public. Presumably, it has taken liberties with the historically accepted version of Padmavati’s life and her tragic end in a mass immolation custom known as ‘Jauhar’. The Rajput community venerates her as a Goddess for this supreme sacrifice. The film producer/director in their cinematic adaptation of Padmavati’s life, seem to have taken liberties, which is sought to be justified under the plea of ‘artistic liberty’ and is being sought to be defended as a Constitutional right under the Right to Freedom of Speech category. Predictably, political parties have entered into the fray and ended up as usual on adversarial postures. The visual media has sensationalized the ongoing tussle between different groups into a bitter clash bordering on religious hues.

To what extent can ‘artistic licence’ and ‘freedom of speech’ be invoked to justify deviations and aberrations? Painters, writers and cine artists belong to particular professions that need to be constantly in the limelight for sustaining their popularity and commercial status. For this very reason itself these groups are forever engaged in giving bizarre versions, provocative statements and frequently transgressing the law of the land.

If historical personalities are subjected to become the objects of tantalization in the hands of writers, painters and film directors, imagine the havoc that they can cause in the current body politic. Will our political parties who advocate freedom of speech and artistic licence consent to their political leaders being manipulated in print, canvas and on celluloid to reveal their clandestine affairs? It is a widely acknowledged fact that many leading personalities of the freedom movement had extra marital affairs with foreigners. A most venerated figure was supposed to have slept naked with his nieces in order to test his level of self control! At the hands of any unscrupulous film maker, writer or painter such material can be transformed into salacious fantasies. Will it be permitted or will riots be let loose across the country? Our politicians need to understand that there is no such thing as unrestrained freedom to do or depict what you want in any country in this world. There are limits for freedom prescribed even in the most democratic of countries.

Government needs to enact a clear law enjoining upon those wanting to produce historical films and religious films to get the script and dialogues pre approved by a competent authority before the actual shooting starts. This will prevent unwanted controversies from crippling the nation. To conclude in the words of Mae West “Right now I think censorship is necessary, the things they are doing and saying in films right now just shouldn’t be allowed. There’s no dignity anymore and I think that’s very important.”

Disclaimer: Facts, views and opinions expressed in the above article are solely those of the author


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