<b>Moodindigo:</b> Give us creative freedom
Politics and films have always been closely linked in our country: state patronage, tax-free status and smooth film releases have necessitated an uneasy relationship between the two worlds
The multiple award-winning director, Madhur Bhandarkar has a film releasing at the end of this month, it will be his 13th film and, for the superstitious, this may be one of the reasons why he is facing immense pressure about it’s subject. But then Bhandarkar has often been called “controversial” for the subjects he chooses. As an auteur, he tends to turn his lens on microcosms.
In the much-appreciated Page 3, he dealt with the hypocrisies of high society, its lure and ultimate disenchantment. In Fashion, he peeled back layers from an industry that peddles perfection. In Heroine, he took on his own with an unsparing insight into a world he has known from the outside and from within. It didn’t make him very popular with his own fraternity. But in this latest film — Indu Sarkar (based on the Emergency), he may have bitten off more than he can chew. But has he?
In his media interactions, Bhandarkar has spoken of the friendly advice he has received from politician friends that this subject was a “no go”, and he was ushering in lifelong enmity. Political life turns in cycles, he was cautioned, those he is perceived as going against today may be back in power tomorrow. Politics and films (indeed the arts) have always been closely linked in our country, state patronage, proximity, accessibility to power, tax-free status, smooth film releases, etc. have necessitated an uneasy relationship between the two worlds, each of whose inhabitants navigate the public space and are empowered in their own ways. But there is still, a distinction between the artist and the politician, the former is an individual the latter is a system. And going by the media reports, it is clear that in this case, unlike in the past where Bhandarkar’s films have ruffled an ego or two, this time round he is up against a collective.
The film Bhandarkar says is a work of fiction; the setting is undeniably the Emergency, the people on the posters share striking similarities with real life figures who played a dominant role during this dark period of post-independence Indian history. A film on this phase was waiting to be made, the events during those 21 months which have been articulated in numerous books, documentaries and testimonials provide so much dramatic content, it’s a wonder that no one got to it earlier? But looking at what Bhandarkar has been facing, the answer is self-evident.
Since the poster and release of the trailer, he has received a legal notice from somebody claiming to be the late Sanjay Gandhi’s daughter and a Congress spokesperson has demanded that he watch the film before it goes to the censor board. Bhandarkar has held his ground on both counts. But it doesn’t stop there, media reports have stated that a youth Congress leader has released a poster announcing a reward of one lakh rupees to blacken the director’s face. Add to that vicious online threats.
The Congress has been known to be very protective of it’s first family, ask Javier Moro, the Spanish author whose book the Red Sari faced innumerable delays and bullying tactics from the grand old party, releasing abroad before finally releasing in India. I happened to speak to him about his harrowing journey and even read the book which I felt was sympathetic to Sonia Gandhi and the difficult choices she has had to make, the European Moro, possibly identifying in some measure with her predicament. However, it was the same demands on just hearing about the book that caused the writer great distress. It’s happening again with Bhandarkar.
Like with Moro, there is little support for Bhandarkar, who has been a vocal defender of creative freedom and has often spoken up against clamp downs by the censor board, as in the case of Udta Punjab most recently and on other occasions. He has received little to no support in return. Creative people have every right to hold political opinions and articulate them, in fact, they have the luxury of being political because they are self-motivated and self-employed by most definitions. Apart from the fickleness of the public, there is little that can hem them in. Furthermore, this is not an issue about confrontation but defense, the defense of creative freedom. In its defense lies their own self interest. There is a counter that suggests Bhandarkar's political leanings have made him choose this subject, but it is unclear how that justifies the censoring of a work of fiction? Unless the support for creative freedom is conditional and decided by political leanings? Bhandarkar’s film will release, and its fate will be decided by the ultimate jurist — the public. But what has flopped is the film industry’s selective unwillingness to respond to the harassment of one of their own.
(Advaita Kala is a screenwriter and a columnist)
Advaita Kala