Members of the film and television industry in Mumbai unanimously condemned the harassment faced by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and his team in the run up to the release of Padmavati at a press conference November 13.

The event was organised by the Indian Film and Television Directors’ Association and attended by representatives of other organisations such as the Cine and TV Artistes’ Association, the Screenwriters Association, the Western India Cinematographers Association, the Film Studios Setting and Allied Mazdoor Union and the Association of Cine and TV Art Directors and Costume Designers.

At the conference, film industry professionals decided to organise a silent protest at the Mumbai’s Film City on November 16 at 11 am as a show support for Bhansali. Later that day, all movies shooting in the city will be halted for 15 minutes, from 4 pm.

“Bhansali did not ask us to gather here today,” actor Sushant Singh representing the Cine and TV Artistes’ Association said. “Whenever a film or a filmmaker is under threat, no one requests us to come together. We do it because we take risks like we took the risk of joining this profession. Our work is expression, then why do we have to fight for our right to express?”

President of the Indian Film and Television Directors’ Association Ashoke Pandit said that letters will be sent to Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani and Home Minister Rajnath Singh asking for strict action against threats to filmmakers’ freedom of expression.

Padmavati, based on Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s epic poem Padmavat, tells the story of Rani Padmini of Chittor, who becomes the object of desire for Delhi sultanate ruler Alauddin Khilji who seeks to invade her kingdom. According to the fictional account, Rani Padmini burned herself alive to evade Khilji. It is this that in later years made Padmini a symbol of Rajput pride and honour.

Bhansali’s December 1 release has repeatedly faced trouble from Rajput and Brahmin groups, who allege that the movie is distorting “historical facts” and fear that the movie features a love scene between Khilji (played by Ranveer Singh) and Rani Padmini (Deepika Padukone) as a dream sequence. Bhansali has categorically denied this.

On January 27, members of a right wing outfit Rajput Karni Sena beat up Bhansali and vandalised the sets of Padmavati in Rajasthan, forcing him to shift the shoot to Maharashtra. On March 15, the sets of Padmavati were ransacked and burned in Kolhapur. Since then, several right wing groups have threatened to stall the release of Padmavati alleging that Bhansali has distorted Rajput history. Earlier this month, Rajput and Brahmin groups demanded to be shown Padmavati before its release on December 1.

On November 18, Bhansali released a video where he clarified that there are no objectionable scenes involving Khilji and Rani Padmini in Padmavati. “We have made the film with responsibility and kept the honour of Rajputs intact,” he said.

Sanjay Leela Bhansali on Padmavati.

Actor Vikram Gokhale, president of the Cine and TV Artistes’ Association, said that Bhansali’s is not the only movie to face such demands. He said that over 25 years, he had seen several cases where groups would insist on being shown the film before its release. “If we don’t have democratic liberty, what is the point of making films, writing books, writing poetry?” he said.

“There is a government that has been voted to power and there are these small governments in neighbourhoods which are turning anarchist,” Screenwriters Association general secretary Zama Habib said at the conference. “It is time that the film industry is joined by journalists and the public and together exercise civil society’s right to protest against such hooliganism.”

Filmmaker Rahul Rawail said that Bhansali is entitled to tell history in his own way. He cited the example of K Asif’s Mughal-E-Azam (1960), saying that the film may not have seen the light of day today.