Dear Swara Bhasker,


Let me start off my open letter by saying I haven’t watched Padmaavat and I only know you from having watched your movie Anarkali of Aarah on a flight. I must say, I was impressed by your performance and even the movie itself which is unlike mainstream Hindi movies. But just like you have taken offence to Mr. Bhansali’s portrayal of women in Padmaavat/glorification of Jauhar, I have to take offence to your ‘upholding of the feminist cause through your open letter’.

Let me explain that this is not in support of Mr. Bhansali. I don’t claim to be a big fan of his but I have enjoyed a number of his movies. Like you I find his attention to detail compelling. Whether Paro’s house in Devdas, the Shanivarvada in Bajirao or even just the backgroud of his battefields, every frame of Mr. Bhansali’s movies is a piece of art. And it is for this beauty that I look forward to watching Padmaavat.

I’m also not a movie buff. While I support everyone’s right to freedom of expression, I’m not doing this because I’m a die-hard fan of Bollywood. Far from it! While I have watched Bollywood movies ever since I can remember, I have never gone in expecting a moral lesson or to be blown away. In fact, more often than not, I’ve come out disgusted and regretting the money and time I wasted.

I don’t even have a problem with how many times you have used the word vagina. I just have a problem with how you have dragged it into this mess considering how until now the only people who this movie bothered was the Karni Sena. By dragging vaginas into the mix, you have reduced them to the level of people who have endangered children just to make their voices heard. And that for me is unforgivable because the vaginas in this country have borne, and still bare, inexplicable atrocities to stand proud only to now be vilified by one of our own.

I find your offence a little disingenuous considering the fact that out of a plethora of Bollywood movies that objectify and vilify women you choose Padmaavat to take offence to. Just in the recent past I was horrified to see the trailer of a movie in which a man is told he will get what he wants if he ‘gives’ his wife to his boss(?) for a night. And this movie is set in the 21st century. Isn’t this objectification of women? Us being reduced to ‘just’ vaginas? With such glorious contenders for outrage you pick Padmaavat? Can you understand why I’m annoyed?

Have a look at the serials that Ms. Ekta Kapoor produces and tell me you’re okay with how women are portrayed sitting at home with pallus on their heads plotting against one another. So your brand of feminism is okay with this and not with the fact that a fictitious queen in the 12/13th century decided to choose death over rape?

Bollywood has never been the measure of how progressive our country is but I’ve always found the women in Mr. Bhansali’s movies to be compelling. They know what they want and do what they have to achieve their goal. Whether Paro’s mother, Mastani or even Kashi Bai who finds the strength in herself to send her husband to protect her rival. How does that even compare with most Bollywood movies where the woman is just there as a love interest? And if we started out with using the Bechdel test in Bollywood, god save our vaginas!!

Feminism is about equality. It’s about having a choice and respecting it. Your letter doesn’t question Mr. Bhansali but the choice made by a woman. It’s unfortunate that feminism today is hijacked by the likes of you who make a hungama about a movie but sit silent when it comes to real issues. Where were you when Kangana was vilified a couple of months ago or when Deepika’s cleavage was the headline a couple of years ago?

But as I write this and re-read the rant that is your open letter, I wonder… rather believe that this letter was not so much to pull Mr. Bhansali up for failing the feminist cause as it was to steal the spotlight for yourself. After all, in Bollywood any publicity is good publicity. Because what stands out in your letter after multiple reads is your desire to prove the ‘righteousness’ of your cause and how ‘righteous’ you yourself are. Why else is the need to explicitly mention that you took your cook along with your family or about how you fought trolls on Twitter. You talk about how you are a fan of Mr. Bhansali’s work and would love to be his heroine before you embark on a farce. It’s absolutely despicable how you have used feminism to further your own goals!

Here we are fighting for the chance to be the women we want to be. Raising issues of marital rape, domestic violence, female infanticide, female genital mutilation and even the right to just live! Fighting to remind ourselves how to be a feminist while trying to forget the patriarchy imbibed in us. And you lower the bar to how you felt ‘reduced’ to a vagina watching a movie? With your letter you have proved that all Bollywood is capable of is taking a cause and making money off of it.

Unlike you, I do not end this letter in peace. I end with the promise to fight and reclaim feminism from opportunists like you. To fight people like you who hijack a cause to promote yourself and further your interests. Who derail who conversations and set us back as we strive to push ahead. I write this letter to remind the world that feminism is a cause worth fighting for. For the women who have been denied and for the men who have been mocked.

Sincerely,

Manasa Manjunath

A feminist in development

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Manasa Manjunath

Automotive engineering from India living and working in Germany. I write about things that pique my interest. That's basically everything from food, books and cars to current social and political issues.

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