Padmaavat, a newly released Bollywood film has been at the centre of criticism, both prior and post its release. Most recently, an Indian actress, Swara Bhaskar wrote an editorial condemning the director Sanjay Leela Bansali's choice to glorify ancient Hindu customs that were subjected on women.
In the film, Padmavati, the queen of the medieval Indian state of Chittor and her fellow Rajput women, take part in the 'honour-bound' tradition of jauhar or self-immolation to prevent being captured, raped and enslaved by the enemy's army.
In her open letter, Bhaskar stresses that by ending the film with an epic scene of self-sacrifice to protect one's virtue, the movie was glorifying a custom that has since being condemned as backward and misogynist.
"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 its 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)," she wrote.
"Surely, you agree that notwithstanding whatever archaic idea of honour, sacrifice, and purity propels women and men to participate in and condone such practices; that basically Sati (self immolation of the husband's pyre) and Jauhar, like the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Honour Killings, are steeped in deeply patriarchal, misogynist and problematic ideas."
Bhaskar said that watching that particular scene of mass death made her feel "reduced to a vagina–only".
The letter, which was published in The Wire garnered attention, with both critics and supporters commenting on social media. Among those opposed to Bhaskar's view, Padmaavat's own scriptwriters Siddharth Singh and Garima Wahal raised their voices to defend their work.
Starting off with a dictionary definition of feminism, the duo referred to various scenes in the film where Padmavati makes bold choices and stands up for herself. They asked if these parts of the storyline made the viewer feel like a vagina.
"Did they feel like a 'vagina' when Rani Padmaavati goes to 'rescue' her husband who had been abducted?" the open letter mentions before settling on the issue of jauhar.
"They must have felt like a 'vagina' when she chose 'fire' over 'rape'? It was her 'call', her 'decision' as a vagina. Right, wrong, strong, weak is up to you to interpret as a 'penis' or as a 'vagina'.
"Such was the power of their fire within that they didn't let the enemy lay their hands upon themselves. Why make them small and guilty of an act that they chose to protect themselves in the face of lynching and a life of slavery? Why judge that day from 700 years ago with 'what would I do today'? It's a film based in the 13th century when women preferred and chose death to rape," the editorial reads.
The letter goes on to point out the difference between sati and jauhar. It claims that while through sati, women were forced to self-immolate at the funeral pyres of their husbands, jauhar was "only and only out of free will".
"So people who feel like a 'vagina' after watching Padmaavat, should continue to feel like a 'vagina' for they would never understand the power it has. The power to create and run the world. Such people are the biggest road-blocks for 'feminism'," the opinion piece concludes.