Swara Bhasker

Bollywood actress Swara Bhasker, known for her critical roles in such films as “Nil Battey Sannata” and “Anaarkali of Aarah,” has decried glorification of self-immolation custom of Jauhar shown in the climax of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus “Padmaavat.”. (IANS photo)

MUMBAI—Actress Swara Bhasker has, in a scathing comment on "Padmaavat," said she felt like a "vagina only" after watching the Sanjay Leela Bhansali directorial. However, some film fraternity members dismissed it as a "feminist debate."

Bhasker believes "Padmaavat" has brought up the question whether women – widowed, raped, young, old, pregnant, pre-pubescent – have the right to live.

In an open letter published on The Wire late on Jan. 27, Bhaskar has decried glorification of self-immolation customs Sati and Jauhar.

She began her note by congratulating Bhansali for being able to release "Padmaavat" despite the hurdles – something she says she even fought trolls for on social media.

The actress, who played a small part in Bhansali's "Guzaarish," watched "Padmaavat" first day, first show," and decided to share her concerns as it left her "stunned."

"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 judgment, the right to adopt children... All of it was pointless; because we were back to basics.

"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?" the “Nil Battey Sannata” actress wrote.

She stressed: "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," she wrote, referring to the "very uncomfortable" climax scene in which actress Deepika Padukone (Rani Padmavati in "Padmaavat") leads a pack of women to commit self-immolation after attackers venture into their kingdom and kill the men.

"Women are not only walking talking vaginas. Yes, women have vaginas, but they have more to them as well."

Bhasker said she was hopeful that Bhansali would offer "some sort of a critique of Sati and Jauhar in your film."

The daughter of well-known strategic analyst C. Uday Bhaskar and professor of film studies Ira Bhaskar signed off the letter as "Swara Bhasker, Desirous of Life."

Her lengthy post did not resonate well with actress-singer Suchitra Krishnamoorthi, who tweeted: "Aren't these feminist debates on 'Padmaavat' rather dumb? It's a story ladies – not an advocacy of Jauhar for God's sake. Find another battle for your cause – a real one at all. Not historical fiction."

Filmmaker Ashoke Pandit wrote: "This is nothing but trying to grab eyeballs with zero rationale and logic. Swara Bhasker has reduced a queen of brain and might to just a female body part. Does more harm to feminism than good."

Producer Manish Mundra commented: "Now somebody takes fiction seriously and writes open letter about a story 100s of years old. The point is if you make a film from your past, do changes suitably to reflect today's feminism.

"Both are in same boat -- those who think a film can change their history and those who think a fictional film from past should be changed suitably to represent today's feminism."

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