Cut with care

Tags: Films

Both censors and filmmakers need to show equal responsibility and maturity on sensitive subjects

Cut with care
On the eve of its release in 2004, a petition seeking a stay on Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday was filed by the people depicted in the film, the alleged perpetrators of the series of bomb blasts that rocked Mumbai on March 12, 1993, killing nearly 300 people and injuring more than 1,400. Since the verdict was still pending, the petitioners argued that the release could prejudice public opinion against them and influence the court’s decision. The filmmakers argued that the book by crime reporter S Hussain Zaidi that the film was based on had already been out since the last decade, so why hold up the film?

However, the petitioners’ argument was upheld by the court. It ruled that a book did not have the same power as a film. A very significant statement, for sure.

When the film was ultimately released two years later to critical and commercial success, the court’s observation stood vindicated — that a film indeed has a huge impact because of its immediate and simultaneous reach, and more people saw the film than read the book.

In a diverse country like India where cinema has an unprecedented reach and popularity, influencing its varied customs and behavioural patterns — in fact, all aspects of social conduct — the medium can indeed be used to provoke and manipulate vast sections of people if it fell into the wrong hands. And therein comes the role of censorship.

But the issue of censorship has been a very sensitive one that has run into controversies quite frequently for questionable decisions on a number of cases. Filmmakers have frequently argued against censorship, claiming it infringed on their creative liberties, while there have been voices that have argued in its favour, justifying its existence in a country that is vulnerable to emotional manipulations by vested interests that could pose a threat to its security and sovereignty.

The pertinent argument by those against censorship is that most often its guidelines are used to delete individual scenes or moments without taking into consideration the context in which such scenes are depicted. Some of the guidelines in fact are quite vague and ambiguous, such as, “… the Central Board of Film Censorship shall ensure that… human sensibilities are not offended by vulgarity, obscenity or depravity” or “scenes degrading or denigrating women in any manner are not presented”.

Films like Bandit Queen, Gangs of Wasseypur or Paan Singh Tomar, if they want to be true to their art, cannot avoid vulgarity or obscenity, which constitute the core of their contents. And as far as “degrading and denigrating women” is concerned, then most mainstream films from Hindi and regional cinema would have no business to be there to begin with, for most Indian films look at women from a feudal patriarchal outlook, occasionally camouflaging the portrayal with a cursory glorification equating her with a goddess, which is all bunkum. Sample this song by Anuradha Paudwal from the film Naseeb Apna Apna (1986), Bhala hai bura hai jaisa bhi hai, mera pati mera devta hai, and this is just a drop in the ocean.

The recent dictum to run an anti-smoking warning at the base of the screen every time a character is shown smoking is stretching things a little too far, momentarily distracting the viewer’s attention from the scene. Some argue that this is better than banning smoking absolutely from the screen, which was the case till a few years ago, a decision that was spearheaded by the then chairman of the censor board Sharmila Tagore. Incidentally, her role of a beedi-smoking sex worker in Gulzar’s Mausam had fetched her the National Award in 1975.

On the 68th anniversary of independence, one thing that filmmakers could desire from the censor board is that it widens its scope and becomes more liberal, instead of clamping down unduly on relevant scenes. Also, filmmakers too should adopt a more responsible attitude towards their craft and not engage in sensationalism for commercial reasons. It is always a two-way traffic, after all.

(Ranjan Das is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, instructor and writer)

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