Sunday, February 1, 2015

A BAN NATION


We are unique. And cultured, and well bred too. We are god fearing, and know which god to turn to, and when. We are taught our roles in society very early in our lives. We are polite and respectful of our elders. We act for the larger good of the family, and value their opinion even when it comes to that collective decision as to whom each one of us should marry. It might all sound a bit challenging but not so much when you see everybody else around you doing it without much ado. We know what to accept and what to rebuff, and what to shut our eyes to. We are quite a piece of art, really, classical maybe, but beautiful every time, as façade was always a priority. Keep up the good face, as other people don’t have to know what’s troubling you inside.

We are pretty creative too. We are a nation obsessed with art, and music, and dance, and theatre, and films, and we have pretty strong opinions about each one of them as we see them not just as art forms but also as medium of expression. So what do we do when any of them stray from the said code that we were raised on, when they dare to express what challenges the “culture”? Questions our beliefs? Mars our image? We immediately yield to that hard trained instinct.
We shut our eyes!
Or we ban them!
So that we don’t have to deal with it. It’s much simpler that way, trust us. You could call it escapism or opportunism. We simply hate to wash our dirty laundry in public. So anybody who dares to express “unpleasant” truths will be shown his place. Hope, you still remember what happened to Uber taxi, Satanic Verses, Comedy Central and homosexuals.

We might be a free nation, but freedom of expression with us has always been a dubious area, as our Independence of 68 years is yet to figure that part out- the expression part. You express it through art, books or films; some of us invariably find a way to drive in the ban nail every time you jump the “culture” gun. Of the lot, films have more often than not been on the receiving end, as it obviously makes a deeper impact on public psyche capable of attracting wider attention when compared to any other media.

India is one of the very few democracies that practice censorship on films, and that too with the unkind vigilance of witch hunters. A huge violation of the basic rights of free man, censorship was launched as a part of the British colonial authority to keep a check on the voices that dared to question the queen- a purely and puritanically medieval enforcement.

In the light of the most recent controversy about the Censor Board being overruled by the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal in the case of a film, and the following brouhaha about the resignation of the board’s chief along with twelve others has in fact resurrected once again the age-old question about the very relevance of the board.
Do we still need it?
Isn’t it time already to shoot down the very idea?
Isn’t it enough that the board’s responsibilities be limited to just certifying films as age appropriate?

Banned for its "vulgar & offensive" sexual content
So long as we work within the broader domain of decency and public interest, do we really need the clippers to keep a check on us? A panel that insists on flashing “smoking kills” every time somebody lights a cigarette onscreen shouldn’t be the ones that dictate what deserves to be watched and what not! (There couldn’t have been a more adolescent approach to tackling health issues, worse still at the cost of somebody’s artistic creation). Why should a “selected” few have an upper hand over some poor man’s sweat and toil of months or perhaps even years in certain cases? Is it too much to ask for seeing it only as an individual’s view or that of a small group? How low has the level of our tolerance plunged to?
 
Banned in fear of triggering communal violence
Veteran filmmakers of the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal and Mrinal Sen have vehemently been against this “outdated institution, which serves only a negative role” as “it depends a lot on the opinions of various people in power and position”.

What are the deciding factors that regulate censoring parts of a film or banning it as a whole? Offensive language? Unflinching depiction of sex? Nudity? Violence? Its capacity to create religious disharmony, or political unrest? Or all of it?

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen was initially banned by the Censor Board not especially for the offensive language, or the brutally realistic depiction of rape, as they undoubtedly was covered by the ‘A’ (Adult)- certification. The film raised numerous questions about prevailing inequalities in our society, and so it was banned for its potential to rake up a political disruption! The ludicrous reasons for the initial ban on Gulzar’s Aandhi was the striking similarity between the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the film’s protagonist who takes to drinking and smoking during traumatic election campaigns.

Following the initial ban for its sexual content, Mira Nair’s Kamasutra- A Tale of Love had to be released with 2 minute cut of nudity in spite of an ‘A’ certificate.

There always seems to be an agenda behind the forces that operate the cleaver, and it more often than not has been observed to come from primitive meaningless urges. Urges of any Mahesh, Suresh or Ramesh. International filmmakers have frequently refused bowing to these urges, disagreeing with the board’s decree to disfigure their films. When Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan was blocked by the Censor Board for excessive violence, he decided not to release it in India altogether, which is when the case was reconsidered and with the intervention of the then Home Minister the film subsequently released. More recently David Lynch’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo faced a similar ban, this time for graphic depiction of rape, and the film was cancelled release when the director refused the stipulated cuts. Isn’t it a bit too outmoded in this day and age when the Internet has made the decorous intentions of censor board redundant with accessibility to any material world over just a click away?
                                                                                                             
At the end of the day it’s only an individual’s choice as to which film to watch, as there always is an option not to, or better still, stop watching right when it starts getting offensive or tasteless for you. But when there is a faction of people in general and the film fraternity in particular that insists on having the Censor Board in tact in order to avoid “total moral disintegration” of society, it’s hard to break free from those iron cuffs that has so bound our Human Rights for years. Maybe we probably are yet to emerge from the societal conditioning that we need surveillance on our every step, that parental correcting, or maybe the attitude of servility that the British Raj has created in our minds is still lurking in the genes as dogged masochism. But say what you want, or think what you will as we are unique. And cultured, and well bred, and perfect and everything. And that’s all that matters.
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2 comments:

  1. Very true.
    Agree with your points, Jithesh :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am in complete agreement here Jithesh. We seem to have double standards when it comes to freedom of expression. It is deeply saddening to see that voice of expression dies a slow death in the hands of a jury like the censor board.

    ReplyDelete

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