A still from the film featuring Deepika Padukone. Photograph: (Others)
My dear Rajput brothers. Be assured, we will not judge you or your entire community by what Bhansali shows on screen.
It was the summer of 2002 when my parents and I went to watch Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas. Parents decided to take me out for the latest blockbuster after I had gotten over with my half yearly exams in school. They thought what better way to give the child a break than make her watch a literary classic on the big screen.
Unfortunately for my parents, Bhansali's Devdas turned out to be anything but a classic. And as I lapped the visual extravaganza on screen, my Bengali middle-class, literary well-versed parents sat there fuming in their seats - silently nodding their head in disapproval as Paro and Chandramukhi danced together to Dola Re Dola. I even noticed my mother grimacing in pain at one time when Kirron Kher put up a theatrical dance performance explaining Devdas and Paro's love for each other to the entire village.
Parents discussed how the director had taken liberties with the story and how it projected the Bengali community wrongly.
Post the movie, parents discussed how the director had taken liberties with the story and how it projected the Bengali community wrongly. I remember discussions and debates taking place between parents and their friends over rounds of tea during their Sunday addas that how Bhansali had got it all wrong about the community. "He basically made a very Marwari version of Sarat Chandra's book" Ghosh uncle, my dad's friend had observed. "My head was spinning during that Dola Re song. Why did he have to touch this book only? He could have remade any other classic," his wife had exclaimed. "My fear is that, after watching the film, people now will think Bengalis are that garish and loud in real life," another aunty had pointed out.
Years passed by, and while the world celebrated Devdas as Bhansali's finest, Bengalis across sniggered at the film and it's wrong representation of the community. And that's all they have done till now. Over rounds of tea/dinner and lunches, the intellectual Bhodrolok has mutilated the film and many more such films about how wrong they represent the Bengali community. Over a plate of fish fry, or while chomping on a hot peyaji (onion fritters)- the Bengali discussed and argued and debated about how 'Panjabis' are taking over art.
Sure they have discussed and debated matters close to the heart but cinema has never stirred the Bengali intelligentsia to outrage - leave alone issue death threats.
Notice how all the discussions happened over rounds of tea and food? Because, no discussion- intellectual or frivolous- is complete without food. And unlike our Rajput brethren, Bengalis have never really outraged in public. At least not for a film. Sure they have discussed and debated matters close to the heart but cinema has never stirred the Bengali intelligentsia to outrage - leave alone issue death threats.
Did we outrage when Jackie Shroff made for a hideous Chuni Babu? Did we outrage when SRK copied Dilip Kumar blindly as Devdas? Did we outrage when Paro's meager house was transformed into a palace by Bhansali? Or when he made a prostitute and a zamindar's wife dance together? No.
A Bengali would rather discuss the shortcomings of the film, give reference to Ray and Ghatak while sipping tea at the local tea stall. He would rather go on a monologue about how Tagore's Charulata was the best literary adaptation on the big screen. And how Bhansali has always taken copious amount of liberty when he has made films. "Remember Devdas?" he would point out.
But for a Bengali, the outrage would only be limited to that- at the local tea stall, or inside the living room of his home.
For years, Bengalis have had the priorities quite right. They wouldn't compromise on things that easily and take to streets to protest about a film. This is the community that likes to shut shops every afternoon for an hour-long siesta. This is the community which lets its Chief Minister personally micromanage crowd at the Eden during the KKR's victory celebrations. So outraging over a piece of art is out of the question.
The only time a Bengali has ever gotten worked up is when the neighbouring state has tried to claim our beloved Roshogolla as their own. No, can't do mister. Roshogolla is ours. We will take you to court for it and win the case even.
A Bengali would also outrage if his favourite team-Mohun Bagan or East Bengal- does not win the match. But those outbursts are justified. At least we don't make public death threats, no?
As the saga around Padmavati's release continues to grow- I, a Bengali, will ask everyone to breathe and take it easy. Take a leaf out of our community. Channelise your anger for the right things- Food, Football, Mamata, GST, Lack Of Jobs etc- but not on cinema. Because you see, art is perceived differently by different people. What you like and think as impactful, may not be liked by the other person. And a mere film on a supposed fictitious Queen will not change the essence of your culture or roots.
So sit back, my dear Rajput brothers. Have a roshogolla and watch the film before you outrage. Be assured, we will not judge you or your entire community by what Bhansali shows on screen.
(Disclaimer: The author writes here in a personal capacity).