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With Samrat Prithviraj, Bollywood Yet Again Dismisses Women’s Agency While Glorifying ‘Family Honour’

With Samrat Prithiviraj, Bollywood continues to 'remind' women that they're nothing without men, that they have no right to make choices of their own.

Ye shareer raakh ho jaayega, par amar rahegi Raajputi shaan, humaare usool, humaaraa swabhimaan…” (Our bodies will burn, but the Rajput honour, principles, and self-respect will become immortalised”), says Padmaavati in the 2018 film Padmaavat.

A bunch of teary eyed women, all dressed in red, stare at her awestruck. I wait for someone, even if it is her nemesis, Nagmati, to contradict her.

But the moment a messenger comes and announces that her husband, the king, is no more, all the women silently follow her as she walks into the fire. 

The entire jauhar scene is beautified and glorified – hundreds of women, young, old, some with pregnant bellies, all wearing bridal attire rush after their queen. The background music makes one’s hair stand on end as the audience hopes for these women to burn and die before Alauddin Khilji and his men come and get them.

But then, why is mass suicide being propagated in the first place? Why is a woman’s body being treated like a commodity to depict nationalistic ‘honour’, ‘pride’ and ‘principles’?

Alongside that, is it right for Bollywood to continuously make Indians believe that women don’t deserve to live after facing sexual violence

Who makes the ‘choice’?

All those who argue in favour of jauhar need to understand that its depiction in Bollywood has hardly anything to do with a woman’s agency or her physical safety.

Padmaavati, in her speech, very clearly states that the women of Chittor are choosing a painful death just to save the honour of their families.

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Furthermore, none of the women, not even the little girls, are given a chance to decide whether or not they are willing to live. If jauhar is all about women and their rights, where are the rights of those women who aren’t willing to be burnt alive? 

Bollywood’s regressive depiction of women characters hasn’t changed even today

Even in 2022, nothing seems to have changed when it comes to how women and their ‘honour’ is perceived by Bollywood directors.

In the song ‘Yoddha’ from the film Samrat Prithviraj, Manushi Chillar playing the role of Sanyogita can be heard singing the lines, “Sooraj hai to hi chhaayaa hai,” (meaning: “The shadow can exist only if the sun exists”).

She dances around the flames of fire while referring to her husband as the sun and herself as his shadow. The entire song makes it appear as if a woman is nothing without her husband and is only brave if she chooses to take her own life after his death.

Why is such a regressive notion still being celebrated? When will male Bollywood directors and screenwriters learn to shape the characters of women in their films? 

The two scenes that have been mentioned do nothing but propagate an extremely patriarchal narrative about women. Not only does the depiction of jauhar in Bollywood films promote the notion that women don’t have identities of their own, but they also make it appear as if women don’t deserve to live once they are sexually violated.

What is more disturbing is that by making the practice appear as a celebration, these films are trivialising the agony of those who have lost their lives to jauhar.

Jauhar is not a celebration of honour, it is a disrespect of women’s choices and agencies. Glorifying mass suicide in the name of honour is dangerous.

A woman’s life doesn’t end because of rape or sexual assault. A woman is a complete human being without a man. Bollywood, is it so difficult to grasp these concepts even in 2022? 

Image credit: Still from Samrat Prithviraj

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About the Author

Upasana Dandona

A literature student who spends most of her time watching (and thinking about) Bollywood films. read more...

14 Posts | 83,487 Views

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