For a few days, chief operating officer of Viacom 18 Motion Pictures Ajit Andhare’s bio on Twitter read, “Bhaag Milkha, Madras Cafe, Queen, Margarita, Mary Kom, Drishyam, Maanjhi, Rangoon, Toilet, Lucknow Central, & if universe blesses, Padmavati on 1st December!” His biggest fear came true. The ‘political universe’ played pooper, delaying Padmavati’s release.
On November 8, under pressure from fringe groups, director Sanjay Leela Bhansali put out a video saying there was no distortion of history in the movie. But, soon, there was a brouhaha over how the movie had not completed certain technical formalities for the approval of the Central Board of Film Certification.
On November 19, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures announced that it was voluntarily deferring the release of the film. More than the failure to obtain the CBFC certificate, it is the involvement of fringe groups and political parties that has worsened the situation.
Padmavati is not the first film to face such a situation. Fringe groups have found reasons to disturb big-budget releases like Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016), Jodhaa Akbar (2008), My Name Is Khan (2010) and Wake Up Sid (2009) for different reasons. Recently, cinema chains had to remove posters of Ittefaq, which showed Akshaye Khanna smoking.
Filmmaker Vikramaditya Motwane, who faced similar suppression when producing Udta Punjab opened up about it during an earlier interaction with THE WEEK. “You will see people openly smoking on the streets but one scene in a film and it becomes a huge issue.”
Yet, no one talks about the monetary losses incurred. “Every time such things have happened, they have been a huge loss to cinema and its business,” said Rajender Singh Jyala, chief operating officer of INOX Movies. “Everyone, including the exhibitor, distributor and the producer has had to suffer.” Jyala chews his words, as he does not know when activists will come to one of his theatres and vandalise it. The police usually offer protection, but when the state governments are apathetic, it leaves exhibitors like Jyala uneasy. Chief Ministers Vasundhara Raje of Rajasthan and Shivraj Singh Chouhan of Madhya Pradesh have deferred Padmavati’s release in their states.
“A lot of time, effort and investment goes into preparing for these releases,” said Dina Mukherjee, chief marketing officer, Carnival Cinemas. “A delay in release not only disrupts a carefully planned schedule, but also affects anticipated financial projections. We’re left to deal with an undesirable domino effect which also affects future releases.”
Filmmaker Rahul Dholakia, who has faced such wrath when releasing films like Parzania and Raees, points at the political angle. “These problems mostly crop up when elections are approaching,” he said. “When Raees was to release in January this year, there was so much furore over it having Mahira Khan, an actor from Pakistan. [Uttarakhand, Goa and Punjab had their assembly elections then.] A few months later, Hindi Medium was released with another actor from Pakistan, and there was hardly any noise. Now, Gujarat is going for elections. They come into the limelight with such protests.” According to him, it is the big-budget films that attract the most furore.
Dholakia feels that the film industry is equally at fault for giving in to pressure. “Why do we bow down and apologise? The day we stop doing that, half the problem will be solved,” said Dholakia. Even Motwane had said that the only way out is for the industry to stick together.
Filmmakers, says Mukherjee, are always willing to engage in dialogue and accept rational appeals or demands that do not compromise their artistic expression.