A few months back, the words 'Karni Sena' wouldn't ring a bell. The most imaginative among us would probably ask, "Are they related to the Shiv Sena?"
However, on 27 January this year, this group of far right Hindutva activists zoomed their way into newspaper headlines and prime time news television. And a little over two weeks down, a press conference organised by this formerly little-known fringe group from Rajasthan, is buzzing with activity. Television cameras are jostling for space, not a single seat in the Delhi Press Club room is empty, and this correspondent is among several other journalists who had turned up to actually listen to what they had to say.
How exactly did the Karni Sena get here? Rewind to 27 January. Thirty men barged into the sets of Padmavati in Jaipur, attacked director Sanjay Leela Bhansali -- dragged him by his hair, slapped him and forced them to wrap up the shoot right then. Five people were arrested and later let off.
While the rest of Bollywood took to Twitter to condemn the incident, Bhansali himself was on a backfoot and bend over backwards to convince right wing organisation like the Sena that they were not distorting history and not tarnishing Hindu lores.
And then, by breaking the law and behaving like hooligans, the Karni Sena went from being nobodies to the most talked about people that week. One may have expected that after their act of rowdyism the Sena would languish in the hall of shame, but here we are, sitting inside the Press Club of the country's capital, actually listening to them.
The Sena -- possibly aglow in pride after roughing up a man and trying to protect a widely-debated myth -- didn't disappoint. If one had turned up at the presser expecting the bizarre and ridiculous.
The group's founder, Lokendra Singh Kalvi, a portly man in his 50s, announced that the Sena is all set to approach the I&B ministry to demand the creation of a Pre-Censor Board. As the name suggests, the said board, would 'monitor' people making period films and ensure no one was tarnishing history. Or the version of 'history' the Sena believes in.
A few moments into the presser, one thing became clear. There was just one truth -- the one that Kalvi gang believed him. So when I proceeded to ask is violence was necessary to teach people history, it didn't go down well.
"What violence?" he hollered back at me. And before I could remind him about the Bhansali incident, he said, "How could they gunfire at us? How long will we tolerate this?"
There were no reports, even in the police's account, that Bhansali and the unit's security had tried to shoot the protesters. In fact, before this presser, the Sena members had never mentioned gunfire at the site.
Yet, Kalvi, went ahead and made the allegation.
In fact, he didn't stop at that. He went on to declare themselves the protectors of what they call history. "Our ancestors have gone through so much, we are not going to let these creative people tamper with history," Kalvi said, raising his voice. "If you ruin our history, we will not let you enter Rajasthan," he threatened.
Kalvi and his group's problem with the movie is apparently the way it has depicted Rani Padmavati and Alauddin Khilji. Though they couldn't say how they arrived to this conclusion, but Kalvi and his gang is sure that Bhansali was planning a love-making sequence between Rani Padmavati's character played by Deepika Padukone and Muslim invader Alauddin Khilji played by Ranveer Singh. And no, they won't let that happen. I realised it would be pointless to mention creative freedom to them.
Instead of being apologetic, the group seem quite pleased with their act of violence. And the fact that they could make Bhansali and his team accept their demands. Following are the 'demands' that have reportedly been conveyed to Bhansali:
-- Whatever be the relationship between Ranveer Singh and Deepika Padukone in real life, there should be no romantic sequence between Alauddin Khilji and Rani Padmavati shown in the film.
-- No intimate scene should be shot between Alauddin Khilji and Rani Padmavati, even in the manner of dream sequence.
-- Shooting cannot be resumed until there is a written agreement and consent between the makers and the Sena.
"They have promised that they won't show any kind of personal rapport between the actors (Deepika Padukone and Ranveer Singh) in the movie," Kalvi said.
They even handed out leaflets which had their demands and what they claimed to be Bhansali's acceptance signature as evidence.
The founder said that a group of 500 people had gone to meet Bhansali's team in Mumbai. When someone in the room repeated with amusement, "500?" Kalvi responded, "So what? We were only there to talk."
One needs to only read in between the lines to figure how they managed to convince the filmmakers.
Though they seemed to have hit a jackpot -- literally -- by attacking Bhansali, the Sena has been at it for a while.
Eight years ago, they protested against Ashutosh Gowariker's 'Jodhaa Akbar' for what it said was inaccurate portrayal of history and later disrupted filmmaker Ekta Kapoor's session at the Jaipur Literature Festival over her TV series on the same subject.
They are not ashamed of any of that. "Our ancestors have sacrificed their lives for us. We can't do this much for them?" Kalvi asked, without probably expecting any response.
During the press conference, when someone asked the leader why they would protest outside actor Shekhar Suman's house. "Only because he supported Bhansali? Do people have no right to raise their voices?" a journalist asked. Kalvi went on to show a video clip of Suman 'apologising' to the leaders. One didn't have to see it twice to realise the actor was scared.
The Rajasthani outfit had staged a nasty protest outside an auditorium in Indore where Suman's play, Ek Mulaqaat, was being enacted. The more sinister protest took place at Suman's residence in Mumbai, where the Gujarati Mahakal Sena threatened his wife and son.
At the end of the conference, the Sena made a hilarious attempt to tell the journalists that they are not against 'art'. "We are not taking offence towards every form of art, or as a matter of fact against any filmmaker who wants to tell a period drama," Kalvi said. Well, I couldn't say who was convinced.
If the entire press conference could be described in one sentence, it would be a threatening message from the Karni Senas: "Don't mess with us".
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