Weekend Binge: Dear Padmavati protesters, there’ve been thousands of controversial depictions of religion, but take 5
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Weekend Binge: Dear Padmavati protesters, there’ve been thousands of controversial depictions of religion, but take 5

It is sad that, for now, the Padmavati protesters seem to have won. But we can look at these 5 examples of how, even when pushed to the limit, freedom of speech deserves to be honoured.

weekend binge Updated: Nov 25, 2017 10:02 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Weekend Binge,Padmavati,Padmavati Row
Jude Law as The Young Pope, winking Jesus, and Deepika Padukone as Rani Padmavati.

Every week, we will curate a collection of titles - movies, TV, general miscellanea - for you to watch (and in some cases, read, or listen to), in a series we call Weekend Binge. The selection will be based on a theme which binds the picks - which could be extremely blunt in certain instances, or confusingly abstract in some. No rules apply, other than the end goal being getting some great entertainment to watch.

While the idea is to base the theme on the week’s major events - it could be the release of a new movie, or show - we could also use this opportunity to comment on our world in general, and turn to art to wrap our heads around some of the more difficult stories of the past seven days.

For argument’s sake, let’s roll with the fallacy that Rani Padmavati is in fact a historical figure, and that her depiction in the upcoming film Padmavati, in which she will be played by Deepika Padukone, is in fact controversial (for those who came in late, Padmavati is actually based on a 16th century poem and has there’s hardly any mention of her in history, according to experts). Assuming that she does share a scene in which she meets Alaudin Khilji (for the record, she doesn’t, and even if she did, there’s no way she does anymore), it is hardly a reason to take out hits on the director and star.

God knows bigger risks have been taken in cinema - especially in their depiction of the Almighty, or of the mere mortals considered God’s representatives on Earth. Certainly, a cantankerous, cartoon God in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (or, as He was portrayed in the otherwise unremarkable film The Shack, as a large black woman), should ideally ruffle more feathers than an alleged scene which had a Rajput queen and a crusading Muslim invader.

So this week, we’re going to check out some rather strange versions of God (and their Earthbound delegates) we’ve seen on screen, big or small. And to quote the tagline of the classic horror movie, Last House on the Left: “It’s only a movie, only a movie, only a movie...”

The Crown

The Monarch’s role in the Church of England is largely ceremonial, and like most other duties, has eroded over the years. There is a certain pomp and theatricality associated with everything the monarchy does - and it is beautifully captured in the popular Netflix programme - but that being said, there are also murky grey areas. For instance, the go-to insult most people hurl at the Queen’s husband is usually a variation of the fact that he used to belong to a Nazi family. And as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, Elizabeth II is certainly shown more as a flawed human being than an omnipotent being. As one character rightly says in the upcoming Season 2 of the show, “She has to be ordinary yet extravagant, touched by divinity and yet, one of us.” What’s most relevant is the fact that unlike Padmavati -- a queen who may be fictional, Elizabeth II is a living monarch whose life has been portrayed on screen, warts and all.

The Young Pope

Paolo Sorrentino’s HBO limited series is similar to the Crown in many, mostly cosmetic ways - it’s rather grand, and makes use of scale replicas of iconic real-life locations. And at its centre, it features a boat-rocking take on a person billions look up to in reverence. Jude Law’s Pope Pious XIII - whose theme music includes Jimmi Hendrix and LMFAO, a man who wears wayfarers in a manner that would make Marcello Mastroianni blush - is someone who has the swagger of David Bowie and the ideology of the Ayatollah Khomeini. By any standard, it’s a controversial depiction, and it speaks volumes of where we are as a society that we worry for Jude Law’s safety as we watch him compare himself to Jesus Christ.

The Jump Street movies

Speaking of Jesus Christ, remember how Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill (with mock seriousness) prayed to Korean Jesus in 21 Jump Street? Remember when Ice Cube tells them to “F**k Korean Jesus,” because in 22 Jump Street he’d been replaced by a Vietnamese Jesus “just drippin’ with swag-gah”? You laugh now, but as an experiment, replace Jesus with one of our gods.


And speaking of controversial Jesus idols, remember how Kevin Smith, as an excuse to explore his own relationship with Catholicism, decided to make Dogma, much to the annoyance of faithful Catholics? Remember his version of Jesus - who spent the entire film winkingly giving a thumbs-up (you’d remember him from all the memes)? And remember his version of God (played, in one of the best examples of stunt casting ever, by Alanis Morissette)? As bold as his take was, and as harmless as Padmavati seems before it, even it did not deserve the backlash it received.


In Preacher - both Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s comic books and Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s TV adaptation - a Texas preacher sets off on an epic quest to confront his God - a God he believes has abandoned Earth and run away like a coward. Through the series 66 issues, it reduces organised religion to a joke. There’s no two ways about it. While Salman Rushdie was in hiding, after having a fatwa declared against him for writing The Satanic Verses, Ennis and Dillon were doing something more confrontational, more risky. Thank God then, they were making comics, so no one really paid attention.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar

First Published: Nov 25, 2017 09:58 IST