Jaipur: Protests against the Hindi film Padmaavat have been making national news for a while now, with the Karni Sena coming under severe criticism for spreading violence. However, in Rajasthan – the epicentre of the controversy – the media has been largely supportive of not just the protestors but also the cause.
While some editorials backing the film have been published, the reporting has been skewed in favour of the Sena and the protests. Newspapers in Rajasthan appeared somewhat reluctant to oppose what they considered the predominant opinion on the film in the state. While some carried editorials against the Karni Sena, several others leaned towards opinion pieces normalising the ban on the film.
In its editorial, Rashtriya Sahara termed the demand to ban the film as “politicisation of freedom of expression”. Hindi daily Dainik Jagran urged the states to focus on maintaining law and order instead of appealing the Supreme Court’s decision, while Rajasthan Patrika iterated the need to build consensus among the stakeholders.
But these balanced views were offset by opinion pieces that favoured the fringe group’s obstruction to the release of the film in the state.
Rashtradoot carried an opinion piece that stated:
“It is very sad that Sanjay Leela Bhansali has depicted Rani Padmini as a Ghoomar dancer in the film just to earn money. Good news that four states have banned Padmaavat, other states should also follow to maintain peace and non-violence in the country.”
An article carried in Dainik Bhaskar said: “As per the Rajputs, Ghoomar is not a dance, it’s a symbol of honour and a princess can’t perform it in front of everyone.”
Daily News’s supplement Hum Log had an opinion piece on Sunday (January 21) stating: “Controversy over a film is a guarantee to its success.” The paper clubbed together the tragic fire at Delhi’s Bawana industrial area and protests over the film under the headline, ‘Aag Dil Se Delhi tak.’
The Hindustan Times carried the SC order staying the notification issued by the governments of Gujarat and Rajasthan that prohibited the screening of Padmaavat, headlining it: ‘Battle lost in SC, two Karni senas vow to continue war.’ On the other side, the daily’s editorial said: “States must hold fringe groups, like the Karni Sena, responsible for spreading violence.”
The battle metaphor was also used by Rajasthan Patrika, which carried the news item with the strap: ‘Padmaavat par sangram’ (War on Padmaavat).
Television channels made the most of the controversy, carrying lurid and often one-sided stories and news debates. ETV Rajasthan called it a ‘struggle for honour.’ It claimed that the film, if released, would “demean” the Rajput courage, valour and sacrifice.
In different story packages, the alleged distortion of the facts in the film were discussed from the point of view of the Karni Sena. Based on whether Alauddin Khilji really saw the legendary beauty of Rani Padmavati in the mirror, ‘Jan-Jan Mein Padmavati’ explained how Padmavati – a virtuous wife who should be an ideal for the society – is being misrepresented in the film. A panelist referred to the people who do not respect her sacrifice as impotent and coward.
Zee Hindustan showed its valour and bravery while reporting from the Chittorgarh Fort at midnight to ‘reveal’ the truth of Rani Padmavati’s jauhar surangh. The package repeatedly showed the reporter walking down stairs leading to a gate inside the fort, with dramatic music playing in the background.
Amid controversies, Zee News managed to discover a communal angle as well. The debate, ‘Taal Thok ke: Hindu ki aastha, mandir ka ghanta’, explored whether the release of Padmaavat was a ‘serial plot’ to ‘dishonour’ Hindus and how longer would Hindus continue to be targeted in the name of freedom of expression. The viewers were encouraged by Indian TV to tweet their opinion with the hashtag #WhyTargetHindu.
The media in Rajasthan didn’t miss any update from Karni Sena, which was a major factor in reinforcing the views of the fringe group. Each and every statement became a page-one headline.
‘Won’t allow the release of the film Padmaavat in Rajasthan at any cost’ read a Times of India headline, while a Hindustan Times headline read: ‘Rajasthan: Screen Padmavat at your own risk, threatens Karni Sena.’
Shruti Jain is a freelance journalist.