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History deformation: Challenging time for filmmakers in India

Film 'Padmavati' facing hostility from different parts of India

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Padmavati in trouble
In recent times, many films have faced opposition due to raising any topic that affects any section of the society. Twitter @FilmPadmavati

– Amulya Ganguly

November 21st, 2017:

At the root of the controversy over the release of the Hindi feature film “Padmavati” is, first, the saffron brotherhood’s interpretation of history with a pronounced anti-Muslim bias and, secondly, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s overt and covert attempts to whittle down institutional autonomy.

Even if the BJP’s seemingly political use of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is a continuation of the practice of its predecessor which made the Supreme Court call the CBI a “caged parrot”, the party can be said to have broken new ground by letting vandals of the Hindu Right vent their anger against Padmavati and, thereby, undermining the authority of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

In this case, too, there are precedents as when the Congress objected to the film, “Indu Sarkar,” because of its focus on Indira Gandhi. But the saffron offensive against Padmavati is making a greater impact because of the clout which the Sangh Parivar affiliates enjoy in view of their proximity to power.

It is obvious that if they are not checked, not only will the authority of the CBFC be diminished, but also the board will be wary in future of clearing films dealing with history or issues which are close to the Parivar’s heart. Politics will, therefore, virtually take over the board’s functioning.

What is more, the filmmakers themselves will be dissuaded from touching subjects which may be deemed sensitive and deal instead with safe, insipid topics. Such a state of affairs will be unfortunate at a time when Bollywood has been breaking away from the earlier productions with their song-and-dance routine and predictable storylines which were far removed from reality, except in a few exceptional cases which came to be known as the parallel cinema.

Not long ago, it was expected that the directors and producers will be able to breathe easily after the previous censor board chief, Pahlaj Nihalani, was unceremoniously removed so that he could no longer run amok with his scissors in accordance with his saffron whims, as in the case of reducing the duration of a kiss in a James Bond film or ordering 89 cuts in “Udta Punjab” or not clearing “Lipstick Under My Burkha” at all.

But any hope that the new board will be allowed to exercise its judgement in peace with the support of the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has been belied if only because the opponents of the idea of letting the artists pursue their craft unhindered are far too influential politically.

The decision about what the audience will be allowed to see is being taken not only by the self-appointed guardians of culture but also the ministry which has banned two films — “S Durga” and “Nude” — from an international festival in Goa apparently because the letter “S” in “S Durga” stands for “sexy”, which is too strong a word for bureaucratic ears, and “Nude” is out for obvious reasons.

While the rewriting of history books is proceeding apace with Rana Pratap winning the battle of Haldighati against Akbar on the pages of the textbooks printed in Rajasthan, the Hindutva storm-troopers are laying down the rules on how historical events are to be shown on the screen.

India has already seen the exiling of a reputed painter, M.F. Husain, who was hounded out of the country by saffron vigilantes who were displeased with his depiction of Hindu deities.

It will be a sad day if filmmakers, too, have to leave the country or shoot their films elsewhere, as in the case of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which was shot in Sri Lanka.

The standard explanation for demanding cuts in the films is to ensure that the sentiments of the people are not hurt.

It was for this very same reason that Galileo had to disavow his thesis about the earth moving around the sun since such an assertion offended the feelings of the church and the laity in medieval Europe.

It took the church 350 years to apologise. There is unlikely to be anyone in the ruling dispensation or even in the opposition who will be courageous enough to say that the question of whether religious or cultural sensibilities are being hurt cannot be settled on the streets but should be left to the institutions to decide or, as a last resort, to the judiciary to determine with the assistance of scholars.

The saffron ire against “Padmavati” is apparently over the belief that the film will be unable to do justice to the heroic reputation of the queen of Mewar, a legendary beauty, who killed herself rather than be captured by the invading army of Alauddin Khalji.

Although no one, except the censors, has seen the film, the Hindu Right is patently unwilling to take the chance of an erroneous presentation. So the group has donned battle armour to save the fabled queen (real or fictional) 700 years after her death — this time from filmmakers — and is issuing blood-curdling threats against the director and the leading actress.

If accurately presented, the turbulent period of early 14th century Rajasthan can be the subject of a riveting drama. But whether cinema-goers will be able to see the film is still uncertain. (IANS)

Next Story

Looks Like Audience has Matured, CBFC has Not

Kissing was allowed

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Audience, Matured, CBFC
While the British Censor policy was mainly concerned with guarding its interests by suppressing any voice of dissent through films, it was not trying to be much. Pixabay

In a country where the censor board decides the duration of a kissing scene and where filmmakers had to resort to a pair of pigeons cooing and necking to denote a kiss, and milk was shown to spill for a sex scene in a film, it is strange that OTT platforms produce and stream some of the filthiest stuff. There is a great anomaly existing between various mediums carrying entertainment content. Audience.

Films meant for release in cinema halls have been facing various problems. Earlier, the British rulers called the shots. While the British Censor policy was mainly concerned with guarding its interests by suppressing any voice of dissent through films, it was not trying to be much of a moral guardian of the Indian populace, least of all the movie-loving folk. Kissing was allowed. In fact, even passionate kissing was allowed and nobody told you how long it should last.

Despite their efforts to curb anti-Raj content in films, filmmakers all over India managed to sneak in patriotism and the message of freedom.

When the Central Board of Film Censors was set up in 1951, the name itself made things clear. The intention was to sit as the Moral Guardian of the Indian public. This, despite the basic tenet, under which censorship was introduced, was never meant to guard people’s morals. The idea was to maintain communal harmony, safeguard national interest and make sure no indecent content was passed off as entertainment.

Audience, Matured, CBFC
Films meant for release in cinema halls have been facing various problems. Pixabay

Strangely, while the newly made-in-India Censor Board as good as adopted all the rules from the previous British controlled Censors, it found kissing on screen to be objectionable! That was only the beginning, later the censors went on to become the guardians of not only Indian morals, but also virtue. Every chairman and his/her committee set their own rules and interpretations!

The Chairman of the Board is appointed by the people in power and the person inevitably happens to be one of its Aye Sayers due to which, a blind eye is turned towards his shortcomings.

Over a period, since Independence, the Censor Board has only served as a villain. Only during one or two chairmanships, logic and common sense prevailed. Actually, a matter is never supposed to involve the Chairman, as appointing a committee to watch a certain film to fixing the venue and date is taken care of by the Regional Officer (RO). While the Chairman operates from Mumbai, the rest of the eight regional offices are handled solely by the ROs of that city.

Earlier, a bureaucrat was appointed as the Chairman. No qualification or connect with the film industry or making of films was required. But, post the Emergency, the Board was renamed Central Board of Film Certification from the earlier Central Board of Film Censors. And, to placate the film industry, people from the film industry were appointed. Since most of them failed to follow establishment dictates, they stepped down after spending some time there.

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The change of name did not change things in any way. May be it was the chair that made the Censor chiefs become megalomaniacs, even if the rulers from Delhi did not set terms. For example, in the recent past, Pahlaj Nihalani, tried to take film censorship back to the Emergency era! Nihalani himself was a producer, one who had no scruples adding double-meaning dialogue and songs in his films, but he decided a James Bond film should limit its kissing scenes to a limited number of seconds!

When enough was enough, the Government decided to replace him with an intellectual, for whatever that term means, in Prasoon Joshi. The authorities seemed to think that anybody who was on good books of the regime was good enough to decide on the moral values of films.

The man sang paeans to the regime and that seemed to be the criteria. His decisions and the working of the Censors has been under question for a long time now. (Again, I think it is about the Chair; it gives you a false sense of power). Under his tenure, big filmmakers get through on priority to meet their release dates while the small ones take months. And, it is no use having the Board office in Mumbai as there is a huge waiting list to examine a film, due to which a maker is often made to run to a regional office in another city to get his film cleared.

The Advisory Committee is usually formed by I & B Ministry but, then again, a game of favourites is played and a select few are assigned to watch most films. The film producers, who have crores involved, never take the Censors to the court of law. They have a deadlines to meet and a lot at stake.

Audience, Matured, CBFC
Earlier, the British rulers called the shots. Pixabay

But what can be termed as the lowest point in the history of the Censor Board was when, sometime back, another Government body took it to court. That was the Children’s Film Society of India (CFSI)! The Board granted a UA certificate to one of their films. UA to a children’s film? The film, titled “Chidiakhana”, was okayed for a UA certificate (mandates parental guidance for children below age 12) by CBFC.

The CFSI had to take the matter to court. The court took a dim view of the working of the CBFC calling it ostrich-like and saying that the Board should not take people to be infantile and imbecile, and consider itself to be the only one with intelligence to decide what people should see. There were more damning comments made by the Court and one wonders if this will be enough to change the attitude of the Board.

All this in an era when OTT platforms are mushrooming and the content is delivered right on smartphone screens and televisions in people’s homes. The content streaming on OTT platforms has been an issue since the onset of this platform. Most of it is morbid and vulgar, depicting graphic sex including the unnatural, with foul words galore.

Looks like the audience has matured, the CBFC has not. The very purpose of replacing the word Censor with Certification in the Copyright Act has not helped change the way the Board functions and assumes power it has not been granted.

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@The Box Office

* The screens starved of a big-banner, big-budget, big-bill film release, finally got “War”, a Yash Raj production. Its catchy title and the cast representing Hrithik Roshan and the young hulk, Tiger Shroff, was bound to draw crowds in hordes at the cinema halls. And, the film did just that with an added advantage of the Gandhi Jayanti National Holiday on Wednesday. The ticket rates at prime multiplex properties were jacked up sky high with minimum admission rate bordering around Rs 600 at many places.

The film went on to collect a record setting first-day figures of Rs 51.6 crore (Tamil and Telugu dubbed versions adding another Rs 1.75 crore) from 4,000 screens. However, the dull period and the plan for mid-week release always takes its toll as the collections came down by over 50% on Thursday to Rs 23 crore (plus 1.25). With this, the film has raked up a total of Rs 74.7 crore (plus Rs 3 crore from South) for first two days.

* “Dream Girl” has proved to be a big hit, sustaining well during its third week taking its three week tally to about Rs 129 crore.

* “Chhichhore” has collected about Rs 15 crore in its fourth week, taking its four week total to Rs 136 crore. (IANS)