Dissection: Swara Bhaskar’s Open Letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Padmaavat
First things first. In our Open post earlier this year, we put out Open Letters/Notes from celebrities among the trends that should be stopped by celebrities. It’s freaking annoying! This brings us to today’s Dissection post, which is the first time we are doing a dissection on an article or written content. Dissection are usually about video interviews, but this open letter by Swara Bhaskar deserved to be dissected.
Who is Swara Bhaskar?
She is a very talented young actress, who has gotten some attention over the past years. Her rise to getting solo films came in the last two years. We saw her in a beautiful little film called ‘Nil Batey Sannatta’.
If you still don’t know who Swara Bhaskar is?
If you have no idea who Swara is, you might just remember her as Sonam Kapoor‘s filmi best friends. As in, her lesser-known actress best friends. No, not Jacqueline Fernandez, there’s also another one. Sonam and Swara are like Kareena Kapoor and Amrita Arora were at once time. To be fair, that’s a silly comparison as Swara is way more talented or simply put, talented to be compared to Amrita. What we meant was, like Kareena used to help Amrita by putting her in her films, Sonam too did the same for Swara. Now, we don’t know whether Sonam actually recommended Swara for her films or it was simply a coincidence that they were cast together in ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’, ‘Raanjhanaa’ and the upcoming Sonam Kapoor home production, ‘Veere Di Wedding‘.
Here is Sonam promoting Swara’s film:
Here is Sonam promoting Swara’s talent:
Jeez, Sonam. Calm down before your other bestie, Jackie starts feeling the heat and also, come to realise how you never praised her talent the way you are doing for Swara.
Swara Bhaskar’s open letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali
We have been reading about Swara Bhaskar’s open letter to Sanjay Leela Bhansali since she released it. We have been reading news of it, not the actual letter. The first thought that came to mind was that Swara felt the need to do this because she is close to Sonam Kapoor. Let us be very honest, this was exactly what we thought of. You all know how much Sonam hates Deepika Padukone and this rant from Swara pretty much feels like she was doing this because this is a Deepika film and not what she was saying it was for. That was initially how we felt about her open letter without reading about it first.
Also, perhaps Swara felt that she had to do something for Sonam since that poor girl has been praising her from rooftops.
Obviously, we are just kidding!
Back to the open letter.
Would she have ranted the same way if it was Sonam Kapoor, who was the lead actress of ‘Padmaavat’? Or better yet, would she have complained this much if she had a role in this film? NO, she wouldn’t have!
Now that we have read her letter, we are burning with rants about it. So, we will do like we do with the Dissection topics. We are going to share her letter down here below and give out our thoughts from right under it. Not to discredit the original website that posted this letter, here’s a LINK to it.
The problem with actors and actresses is that once they are given a platform to talk, they talk things that make sense. Then, once they realise that everyone is praising them, they misuse that platform to get into other things because their heads are so high up in the clouds that they lose all common sense over what should be made public and what should be kept private.
Let us say first and foremost that this whole open letter from Swara Bhaskar felt that she was going through a rough day and decided to vent out her frustrations. You know how it is? Sometimes things are not going your way and you are so fed up, but instead of keeping calm mentally, you verbally attack the wrong person and take out all your anger on that poor person. This is how her open letter feels, like she just needed a reason to vent out her frustrations and poor uncle Bhansali got halal’d in the process.
Let’s just say that everyone is entitled to their opinions, but when you are a celebrity, things are different.
So without further ado, let’s dive in. Presenting Swara Bhaskar’s Open Letter
‘At The End of Your Magnum Opus… I Felt Reduced to a Vagina – Only’
– Swara, this open letter would have made more sense if you ended up with a p#nis at the end of this magnum opus! You went in with a v@gina and came out with one, what else were you expecting? This is not the Kardashian reality show!
Dear Mr. Bhansali,
At the outset Sir, congratulations on finally being able to release your magnum opus ‘Padmaavat’ – minus the ‘i’, minus the gorgeous Deepika Padukone’s uncovered slender waist, minus 70 shots you apparently had to cut out.. but heyyyy!
– Why does this seem more like an insult than a congratulations?
You managed to have it released with everyone’s heads still on their shoulders and noses still intact. And in this ‘tolerant’ India of today, where people are being murdered over meat, and school children are targets for avenging some archaic notion of male pride, that your film even managed a release – that is I guess commendable, and so again, congratulations.
– Again, what is it with the sarcasm? It’s not Bhansali’s fault that Karni Sena went crazy about the release of this film.
Congratulations also on the stunning performances all around by your entire cast — primary and supporting. And, of course, the film was a stunning visual treat. But then all of this is to be expected from a brilliant auteur like yourself, a man who leaves his stamp on everything he touches.
By the way Sir, we know each other, after a fashion. I don’t know if you remember, but I played a tiny role in your film Guzaarish. A two-scene -long role, to be precise. I remember having a brief chat with you about my lines, and you asking me what I thought about the lines. I remember feeling proud for a whole month that Sanjay Leela Bhansali had asked me my opinion. I watched you agitatedly explaining to junior artists in one scene, and to the jimmy jib operator in the second scene; some minutiae of the particular shot you were taking. And I remember thinking to myself, “Wow! This man really cares about every little detail in his film.” I was impressed with you Sir.
– What the hell??? You know him and yet, choose to write an open letter to the world addressed to him? You could have just called him up and told him what you thought of his film. Or better yet, go to his house or office to complain about his film to his face. Or does he have a restraining order against you? This is the only explanation because it does not make sense for you to write a letter addressed to someone you know already and have it published on a website for the world to read. Did you at least send him a link to that letter or you can’t do that because of the restraining order?
An avid watcher of your films, I marveled at how you pushed boundaries with every film you made and how stars turned into fierce and deep performers under your able direction. You moulded my idea of what epic love must be like and I fantasised about the day I will be directed by you in a protagonist part. I was and remain a fan.
– You can forget about Bhansali chacha hiring you, like ever! Just ask Sonam if she wants to work with him and you will see. The things that he put his actors through just to extract that raw performance out of them. You had a chance, but you burnt that bridge yourself!
And I want you to know, I really fought for your film when it was still called Padmavati. I grant you, I fought on Twitter timelines –not on the battlefield, and I sparred with trolls not raving manic Muslims; but still I fought for you. I said to TV cameras the things I thought you were not being able to say because your Rs 185 crore were on the line.
– Sarcasm again?
And I genuinely believed what I said. I genuinely believed and still believe that you and every other person in this country has the right to say the story they want to say, the way they want to say it, showing how much ever stomach of the protagonist they want to show; without having their sets burnt, their selves assaulted, their limbs severed or their lives lost.
– If you genuinely believed that, Swara, you wouldn’t have written this open letter complaining how Bhansali mama wrongly depicted some scenes in the film.
Also, in general, people should be able to make and release films and children should be able to get to school safely. And I want you to know that I really wished that your film turn out to be a stupendous success, a blockbuster breaking box office records, whose collections itself would be a slap in the faces of the Karni Sena terrorists and their ilk. And so it was with great excitement and the zeal of a believer that I booked first day, first show tickets for Padmaavat, and took my whole family and our cook to watch the film.
– Again, your wishes are contradicting this open letter.
Perhaps it is because of this attachment and concern that I had for the film that I am SO stunned having watched it. And perhaps that is why I take the liberty and have the temerity to write to you. I will try and be concise and direct though there is much to say.
- Women have the right to live, despite being raped sir.
- Women have the right to live, despite the death of their husbands, male ‘protectors’, ‘owners’, ‘controllers of their sexuality’.. whatever you understand the men to be.
- Women have the right to live — independent of whether men are living or not.
- Women have the right to live. Period.
It’s actually pretty basic.
– When did Bhansali Sir said those things ever? When? He might have showed that in the film because the film was supposed to be showing us how women those days lived. How is that Bhansali’s fault? It’s like someone making a film on Jesus and you tell them that it wasn’t right to have him nailed up there like that at the end of the film! That’s how things were then, so obviously it’s what will be shown right?
Some more basic points:
- Women are not only walking talking vaginas.
- Yes, women have vaginas, but they have more to them as well. So their whole life need not be focused on the vagina, and controlling it, protecting it, maintaining it’s purity. (Maybe in the 13th century that was the case, but in the 21st century we do not need to subscribe to these limiting ideas. We certainly do not need to glorify them. )
- It would be nice if the vaginas are respected; but in the unfortunate case that they are not, a woman can continue to live. She need not be punished with death, because another person disrespected her vagina without her consent.
- There is life outside the vagina, and so there can be life after rape. (I know I repeat, but this point can never be stressed enough.)
- In general there is more to life than the vagina.
– Hmmmmm, Swara? Have you thought of telling the same things to all the men in Bollywood? Because we think that’s how they view women in Bollywood, as (you put it) walking talking vaginas. How about you write an open letter to all the men in Bollywood and tell them all this? Someone should and you have all the right words and angst to do it, Swara. Just be the start of the #MeToo campaign in Bollywood. Be our whoever exposed Harvey Weinstein in the New York Times!
You may be wondering why the hell I am going on and on thus about vaginas. Because Sir, that’s what I felt like at the end of your magnum opus. I felt like a vagina. I felt reduced to a vagina–only. I felt like all the ‘minor’ achievements that women and women’s movements have made over the years– like the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to education, equal pay for equal work, maternity leave, the Vishakha judgement, the right to adopt children…… all of it was pointless; because we were back to basics.
– What are you talking about? If you felt this way at the end of this film, how did you feel at the end of all the Salman Khan films? Or better yet, ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’? What the hell do all these points have to do with the achievements of women? When did Bhansali say that all the achievements of women should be thrown out of the window and only the achievements of women depicted in his film should be given importance? When? Was this film titled ‘Padmaavat – Come lose your vagina’?
We were back to the basic question — of right to life. Your film, it felt, had brought us back to that question from the Dark Ages – do women – widowed, raped, young, old, pregnant, pre-pubescent… do they have the right to live?
– What???! If that was the way these women lived, who are you to question it now? In fact, you should be grateful and thankful that women have come a long way. Why are you blaming a film director for how women behaved in the ancient days?
I understand that Jauhar and Sati are a part of our social history. These happened. I understand that they are sensational, shocking dramatic occurrences that lend themselves to splendid, stark and stunning visual representation; especially in the hands of a consummate maker like yourself — but then so were the lynchings of blacks by murderous white mobs in the 19th century in the US – sensational, shocking dramatic social occurrences.
– What the helll happened here? Who changed the channel to Hollywood? Why not use the South Indian film industry as an example? Heard they still treat actresses badly over there.
Does that mean one should make a film about it with no perspective on racism? Or, without a comment on racial hatred? Worse, should one make a film glorifying lynchings as a sign of some warped notion of hot-bloodedness, purity, bravery – I don’t know, I have no idea how possibly one could glorify such a heinous hate crime.
– That’s because, Swara, you are not a director but only an actress. You are paid to act out what writers and director imagine, you play out their creations onscreen.
Surely Sir, you agree that Sati, and Jauhar are not practices to be glorified. Surely, you agree that notwithstanding whatever archaic idea of honour, sacrifice, purity propels women and men to participate in and condone such practices; that basically Sati and Jauhar, like the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Honour Killings, are steeped in deeply patriarchal, misogynist and problematic ideas. A mentality that believes that the worth of women lies in their vaginas, that female lives are worthless if the women are no longer controlled by male owners or if their bodies have been ‘desecrated’ by the touch of ; or even the gaze of a male who doesn’t by social sanction ‘own’ or ‘control’ the female.
– When did Bhansali say that he wants women in India start doing Johar and Sati. Wait, that’s Jauhar because women cannot start doing Johar now. When did Bhansali make this claim? Because this sounds like you are accusing him of making this claim.
– To be fair, there are still women today, who make their living using their vaginas. Literally, their worth lies in their vaginas, so don’t get preachy with us and don’t disrespect these women.
Practices like Sati, Jauhar, FGM, Honour Killings should not be glorified because they don’t merely deny women equality, they deny women personhood. They deny women humanity. They deny women the right to life. And that is wrong. One would have assumed that in 2018, this is not a point that even needs to be made; but apparently, it does. Surely, you wouldn’t consider making a film glorifying FGM or Honour Killings!
– Actually, there have been several films about honour killings and they just depicted the truth. Thankfully, you didn’t see them or else you would have thought that the directors were trying to glorify honour killings! On that note, please also don’t watch ‘Dutt’ because you might just take it wrongly as to how a criminal and ex-abuser of drugs can be glorified like that by Rajkumar Hirani. But, wait a minute? Your bestie Sonam is in that film, so maybe you will be fine by then, right?
Sir, you will say to me that I am over-reacting and that I must see the film in its context. That it’s a story about people in the 13th Century. And in the 13th century that’s what life was– polygamy was accepted, Muslims were beasts who devoured meat and women alike, and honourable Hindu women happily jumped into their husbands funeral pyre, and if they couldn’t make it to the funeral, they built a pyre and rushed into it — in fact, they liked the idea of collective suicide so much that they gleefully discussed it over their daily beautification rituals. “Verisimilitude” you will say to me.
– Over-reacting is understating it! You are literally going crazy about it, like how the whole of Hollywood got crazy when Donald Trump became president.
No Sir; Rajasthan in the 13th century with its cruel practices is merely the historical setting of the ballad you have adapted into the film Padmaavat. The context of your film is India in the 21st century; where five years ago, a girl was gang-raped brutally in the country’s capital inside a moving bus. She didn’t commit suicide because her honour had been desecrated, Sir. She fought her six rapists. She fought them so hard that one of those monsters shoved an iron rod up her vagina. She was found on the road with her intestines spilling out. Apologies for the graphic details, Sir, but this is the real ‘context’ of your film.
– Thank you for reminding us of this horrific and satanic crime against an innocent girl. Again, how is Bhansali mamou responsible for this? Crimes against women have been happening on a daily basis now, why not write an open letter about it to the government to do something?
A week before your film released, a 15-year-old Dalit girl was brutally gang-raped in Jind in Haryana; a crime bearing sinister similarities to the rape of Nirbhaya.
– Again, same advice as the above.
You do know that acts like Sati and raping women are two sides of the same mindset. A rapist attempts to violate and attack a woman in her genital area, penetrate it forcibly, mutilate it in an effort to control the woman, dominate her or annihilate her. A Sati- Jauhar apologist or supporter attempts to annihilate the woman altogether if the genitals have been violated or if her genitals are no longer in the control of a ‘rightful’ male owner. In both cases the attempt and idea is to reduce women to a sum total of their genitals.
The context of art, any art is the time and place when it was created and consumed. And that’s why this gang-rape infested India, this rape condoning mindset, this victim blaming society is the actual context of your film, Sir. Surely in this context, you could have offered some sort of a critique of Sati and Jauhar in your film?
You will say that you put out a disclaimer at the beginning of the film claiming that the film did not support Sati or Jauhar. Sure Sir, but you followed that up with a two-hour-45-minute-long paean on Rajput honour, and the bravery of honourable Rajput women who chose happily to sacrifice their lives in raging flames, than to be touched by enemy men who were not their husbands but were incidentally Muslim.
– It’s a freaking movie, Swara. Get over it!
There were more than three instances of the ‘good’ characters of your story speaking of Sati/Jauhar as the honourable choice, your female protagonist – epitome of both beauty, brains and virtue sought permission from her husband to commit Jauhar, because she could not even die without his permission; soon after she delivered a long speech about the war between Satya and Asatya, Dharm and Adharm and presented collective Sati to be the path of Truth and Dharm.
– If that was how things were done then, what problem do you have with it? It was the culture then, but it is not now.
Then in the climax, breathtakingly shot of course – hundreds of women bedecked in red like Goddess Durga as bride rushed into the Jauhar fire while a raving Muslim psychopathic villain loomed over them and a pulsating musical track – that had the power of an anthem; seduced the audience into being awestruck and admiring of this act. Sir, if this is not glorification and support of Sati and Jauhar, I really do not know what is.
I felt very uncomfortable watching your climax, watching that pregnant woman and little girl walk into the fire. I felt my existence was illegitimate because God forbid anything untoward happened to me, I would do everything in my power to sneak out of that fiery pit– even if that meant being enslaved to a monster like Khilji forever. I felt in that moment that it was wrong of me to choose life over death. It was wrong to have the desire to live. This Sir, is the power of cinema.
– What???! Girls today are living their lives enslaved by ISIS. They are being raped by different men every day. This is a reality that is still happening today and no one can save them because they are stuck and have become slaves to these men. To think that you are complaining about how a movie scene that is supposed to depict an ancient-time situation? Why not just write an open letter to the ISIS animals and blast them for enslaving young girls and keeping them as their sex slave?
Your cinema particularly is inspiring, evocative and powerful. It can move audiences to emotional highs and lows. It can influence thinking and that, Sir, is why you must be responsible as to what it is you are doing and saying in your film.
It was with great difficulty that a group of reform-minded Indians, and the provincial British Colonial governments and Princely States in India abolished and criminalised Sati in a series of judgments between 1829 and 1861. In independent India, The Indian Sati Prevention Act (1988) further criminalised any type of aiding, abetting, and glorifying of Sati. Your act of thoughtlessly glorifying this misogynistic criminal practice is something you ought to answer for, Sir. As your ticket- buying audience, I have the right to ask you how and why you did this.
– Yes, you do have a right to ask him, which is why you should have done so privately instead of publishing it openly.
You must be aware that modern Indian history has recorded some more recent Jauhar– like acts. During India and Pakistan’s bloody Partition some 75,000 women were raped, kidnapped, abducted, forcibly impregnated by men of the ‘other’ religion. There were numerous instances of voluntary and assisted suicides by women, in some cases husbands and fathers themselves beheaded their wives and daughters before men of the ‘other’ religion could touch them.
– Are you showing off that you read the news on a regular basis or something?
Bir Bahadur Singh, survivor of the riots in Thoa Khalsa in Punjab, described a scene of women jumping into the village well to commit suicide. In about half an hour, he recalled, the well was full. The women on top survived. His mother was a survivor. Singh, recalls author Urvashi Butalia in her 1998 book The Other Side Of Silence, was ashamed of his mother for living for the remainder of her life. This is among the darkest periods of Indian history and ought to be remembered with shame, horror, sadness, reflection, empathy, nuance; not with thoughtless sensational glorification. These sad tales of the Partition, too, are a less obvious context of your film Padmaavat.
– Again, how is this Bhansali’s fault? Why don’t you become an activist and be part of the change? Help make women’s lives easier. Think about it!
Mr. Bhansali, I will end in peace; wishing that you make many more films the way you want to, and are allowed to shoot and release them in peace; that you, your actors, your producers, your studio and your audiences remain safe from threats and vandalism. I promise to fight trolls and television commentators for your freedom to express; but I also promise to ask you questions about the art you make for public consumption. Meanwhile, let’s hope that no zealot member of any Karni Sena or some Marni Sena gets the idea to demand decriminalisation of the practice of Sati!
Desirous of Life
Swara, honestly it would have been nice if you had written an open letter after the release of your film, ‘Nil Batey Sannatta’, to ask the government to support single mothers in making sure their children get a proper education. It would have also been great if you would have focused on the promotion of that film to point out how important it is for poor children to get a proper education so that they get to have a good future.
This rant of yours for ‘Padmaavat’ is baseless because you are using your name as a celebrity for something that does not even deserve this type of publicity. Next time you feel like having a baseless rant, just take it out by running around the block or perhaps, join your co-star, Kareena Kapoor, at the gym. Don’t misuse your celebrity by writing open letters no one asked for. And, also please ask Sonam Kapoor for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s number so that you can personally read your open letter out to him!