Banned in India
by Aritra Dey
‘Un-freedom’ by debutant director Raj Amit Kumar joined the likes of ‘Bandit Queen’, Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ and Mira Nair’s ‘Kamasutra – A Tale of Love’ in the list of blanket banned movies by the pious CBFC and only a look at the trailer will tell you why. It goes against the entire policy of Indian ‘cultured’ films, talking about certain ‘unspeakable crimes’ and glorifying them; the taboo acts in question being lesbianism and a secular Muslim cleric opting against jihad. It wasn’t a well-made film by critical standards, but that was never a criteria for rejection by the CBFC.
‘Lipstick under My Burkha’ this year, divided the population, with the stronger, progressive half strongly condemning the acts of successful producer and ethically sound Pahlaj Nihalani. Alankrita Shrivastava and Prakash Jha were extremely lucky though, as after much cuts and deliberation, the film is slated for a theatrical release later this year. One up for us!
However the release of one film under such controversy doesn’t solve the basic problem which the Indian filmmakers are facing, especially in these last couple of years. The CBFC cites the reasons for banning films made on real-time subjects as they would be ‘morally corruptible’ for the Indian audience. The term ‘urge the people to engage in unnatural acts’ also did the rounds. We can’t just blame the Board for having this mentality though. Unmarried straight couples will be denied entry in hotels always, but the doors are always open for same-sex boarders. Hypocrisy much?
Banning films on the grounds of ‘content’ has been going on for ages. The use of vulgarity, nudity and gay scenes were frowned upon. At one time, these prejudices were prevalent throughout the world, and given a deeply emotional crowd India houses, a 10-15 year maturity gap is plausible enough. When several critically acclaimed masterpieces like Mira Nair’s ‘Kamasutra – A Tale of Love’ and Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ were banned for release, it was understandable. Extremely ridiculous, given the freedom of art and speech in our law, but understandable. A decade later, when the entire world has accepted the gay community and nude art, the CBFC is planning to take a hike back to the earlier century and immerse itself in the sea of bigotries and prejudices. True, certain artists cross the fine line between nude art and provocative nudity, but isn’t it exactly the job of the Board and the intellectuals to make the difference? Even the prestigious certificates from International Film Festivals fail to vouch for some of these ‘black-listed’ films in India.
The correct path would have been to lift the ban of some of the jewels which the Indian filmmakers have struggled to make. Quality of the films, be on whatever subject on this Earth, should be the primary factor for determining a film’s release in theatres. Doing otherwise is an act of blasphemy and totally goes against the fundamental concept of art. They could just very well follow a dictator’s regime and produce films to please themselves and their superiors whose boots are sparkly clean from all that licking. Art never provokes or insults. Garbage like ‘Mastizaade’ which objectify women and hyperbolize sex are allowed to run freely in packed halls. They are the trash which needs to be thrown out. But when Hypocrisy and Homophobia produce a love child, you can’t have much expectations from it.
‘Vulgarity’ is a term which is used as a freebie nowadays by our ‘cultured’ certifiers to describe some movies. Bengali director Q’s ‘Gandu’ and Bollywood movie ‘Udta Punjab’ were described as such. I don’t know if these people as pious as they show themselves to be, or they wear ear-filters whenever they interact with their friends, or if they chant hymns during a school reunion. Cuss words are a part of the urban dictionary, deal with it. No one is speaking in the language used centuries ago, and urban tongue has almost transcended into a global status. Realistic filmmakers will use this lingo in their dialogues and that is natural. ‘Fuck me’ can’t be quoted as ‘Mujhe woh haseen dard de do’. Those days are long gone. Imtiaz Ali’s much anticipated movie with Shahrukh Khan, ‘Jab Harry met Sejal‘ is on the stands too, for the use of the word ‘intercourse’. Only if the highly literate CBFC chief had paid attention in his high school biology classes! He had reportedly brushed off the social media petition to raise one lakh votes in favor of the usage of the word, citing that he would pay heed only to married couples over the age of 36. So they have reached a level where they are simply refuting science and its terms. *Slow Claps*. *Roadies Salute*. After all these attention seeking maneuvers, CBFC greatly reminds me of those ostriches which stick their heads in the sand to ward of danger. Only here they seem deliberately oblivious to the evolving world.
What should be banned instead, are the films which make no sense at all in a cinematic way. The fact that they still fall under the category of movies baffles me a lot. Take for example, ‘Grand Masti’, ‘Dilwale’, ‘Student of the Year‘, or the recent commercial Bengali cinema products like ‘Paglu’ and its million sequels. These are the films which simply tarnish the golden works made by the intellects like Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta, Anurag Kashyap and the late Rituparno Ghosh, and lay waste to the legacy of Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Raj Kapoor to name a few. If the CBFC had any decency, it would have stopped the release of ‘Kick’ or ‘Dabaang 2’ which featured certain ‘item numbers’ thoroughly degrading women and glorifying molestation. And then they blame art films for inciting atrocities on women.
India was once known as the ‘Golden Bird’, for the progressive mentality of the citizens in both science and art. True, we have made tremendous improvement in the field of science, but art and culture define the species of a region. While the rest of the world is progressing in leaps and bounds, Indian art, especially cinema is leisurely walking backwards. It is our duty to respect and appreciate the fine works of art and reject the garbage thrown at us covered in a lucrative package. The CBFC has deliberately blindfolded itself, and the onus of realization lies on the citizens alone. We need to wake up from the slumber of pretention and open our eyes to reality. Maybe then, our cinema will be taken seriously all over the globe.
P.S. Satyajit Ray’s ‘Sikkim’ is still banned in the country and he is an Academy Award Winner.
The author is a software engineer at Infosys and a passionate film and football buff, with a special interest in deciphering the literature behind the movies.