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An open letter to Swara Bhaskar

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Dear Swara,

Your letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali, made for an interesting read. This not a troll but an attempt to debate the content. I do admire the work you have done as an actress and am at awe with some of your performances. That said, I read your letter, as a letter by a common person.

The first point you make is about context. Your understanding doesn’t seem to come from the meaning of the word as defined in the dictionary

Context – the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed

Perspective: a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.

Ergo in light of the definitions, the movie’s context is indeed the “historical setting” and nothing more, for the event must be only understood in the setting of 13th-century social mores. Viewing it through the lens of today’s society is but a perspective. The subtle difference is the context must be objective to be honest to any work of art, if the onus of creating the content is to be placed on the creator. Perspective, on the other hand, is subjective. The onus of this understanding is on the subject viewing it, ergo – you. Hence only you are responsible for inferences you make, Anything else would be a travesty. One sees what one wants to see.

Delving further in, if you were to examine the frame that you have painted based on your perspective, several contradictions emerge.

1. Focus on the act. It is generally agreed that rape is not about sex but about power. In that respect, the desire of Khilji to stamp his authority over a kingdom by violating the queen as a representative of the population is the narrative at play. An inference that could be drawn might be that in his success Khilji and other such rulers over time planted the seed in the Indian man that power lies in violating another human, that eventually led to the encouragement of such behavior in the modern setting. That inference would be inconvenient to a narrative that ties Dalits, Women, and Muslims as victims.

2. The other victim: What aids the above hypothesis, is the other victim that you have chosen not to see. Mallik Kafur represents the third gender, was also raped, converted to Islam but made a different choice, one that you perhaps allude to. His success though breaks your narrative on rape being about a women’s anatomy, The irrelevance of the perpetrator’s religion.

In fact, if you view the big picture, the woman’s anatomy is actually quite irrelevant. The mass sati could be an attributed to the chutzpah on part of the queen denying a despotic tyrant his ability to violate a state using her as a mere prop. There-in lies the reasoning behind the choice. Mallik Kafur also made a statement, albeit in a different way, by exacting revenge over his tormentor and installing a puppet on Khilji’s chair. Both choices show the chutzpah of people who walked this land centuries ago. Equally important would be to acknowledge, that visible examples like Khilji provide a data-point to buttress the narrative of a violent political religion, just as we acknowledge Akbar for his tolerance. sweeping that under the carpet is equally disingenuous.

Bottomline is that we see what we want to see. If one just stepped back to view the whole picture and understand the artists perspective, much outrage would be spared. In a sense, a Karni Sena going on a physical rampage is not very different than going on an online rampage based on a one-dimensional understanding. The self-righteous outrage behind both acts does give space to another view, this imposing violence physical and intellectual on a piece of art. This is something to introspect on both sides of the political aisle.

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