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Bollywood grapples with a new, tougher critic: public sensitivity

Bollywood grapples with a new, tougher critic: public sensitivity
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First Published: Fri, Apr 11 2008. 12 08 AM IST
Updated: Fri, Apr 11 2008. 12 08 AM IST
Mumbai: A much-hyped comedy about four patients in a mental asylum has become the latest film to spark controversy even before it rolls.
Krazzy 4, due to open in cinemas across India on Friday, has been branded as “insensitive” by a New Delhi-based housewife for its portrayal of the mentally ill. Rukmini Pillai filed a complaint with the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), describing the Rakesh Roshan-produced film as “very thoughtless”.
With her letter and complaint, Pillai and her fight against Krazzy 4 have become representative of a small but growing challenge facing Indian cinema: public scrutiny and sensitivities.
By no means is Bollywood known for being politically correct—jokes about everything from sexuality to ethnicity are commonplace—but the board notes a handful of people trying their hardest to clean up films. While last year it received nine such complaints in total, already this year the number is up to five.
“The film-makers need to be more attuned to the social fabric and appreciate that people with mental illnesses aren’t just lying on the streets and in asylums,” said Pillai, who represents a group called the Torch Bearers, and has a family member with mental illness.
The film, which last night also lost a high court battle in Mumbai over alleged copyright violations, stars Juhi Chawla, Arshad Warsi and Irfan Khan, and attempts to paint a humorous picture of life in an asylum.
Filmkraft Productions, the production house of Rakesh Roshan, declined to comment.
Although Pillai lodged her appeal after CBFC—known as the censor board—had already certified the film, she has filed a request under the Right to Information Act to get the identity and qualifications of the mental health expert consulted by CBFC.
This is not her first fight. She says she succeeded in securing three cuts to the film Woh Lamhe in 2006.
Although CBFC does not officially record the number of complaints it receives, Vinayak Azaad, head of CBFC in Mumbai, and deputy to Sharmila Tagore, the head of CBFC, says the number of complaints are “definitely” on the increase.
“Everyone wants to be more politically correct, so there is a heightened sensitivity, and maybe even an oversensitivity,” he said. He noted that while the regulatory body takes into account “the mood of the public and their views”, it is not bound to act on them.
“We have our own guidelines, which is what we censor films according to, and not lobbyist views,” he said.
For film-makers who once only feared the censor board’s cuts, their newest critics are a worrisome trend.
In the past year, films including Jodhaa Akbar and Hanuman Returns have both come under protest, as well as Gandhi, My Father, which centres on the relationship between Gandhi and his son Harilal. Razi Ahmed, secretary of Gandhi Sangrahalaya, a Patna-based research centre, said he had “serious reservations” about the film, produced by actor Anil Kapoor.
“It is illegal to use the name of a hero for commercial purposes,” he said. But he added he “quite liked” the 1982 Gandhi starring Ben Kingsley.
The industry has also spoken out against the governments banning films that have received a green light from the censor board, as in the case of Jodhaa Akbar banned in several states.
“What is the use of getting a film passed by the censor if the government cannot endorse the screening?” asks Anil Nagrath, secretary of the Indian Motion Pictures Producers’ Association. “And what is the use of stopping a film after it has been certified? Films reflect what is going on around us, so someone is always bound to get hurt.”
Film-makers have a history of sparring with the censor board, as interest groups succeed in blocking or delaying the release of a film. Black Friday, Anurag Kashyap’s film about the 1993 attacks on Mumbai, was held up for two years by CBFC after those on trial successfully argued that the film would prejudice jurors. Zakhm, a movie by Mahesh Bhatt, which examined Hindu-Muslim strife, made its debut only after the director changed the colour of headbands and flags in the film from saffron to grey.
Among the more active special interest groups is People for Ethical Treatment for Animals (Peta), whose lobbying has resulted in films having to seek permission from the Animal Welfare Board of India before using an animal in a scene. Films that have fallen foul include Rang de Basanti, in which a scene showing a horse “being ridden very hard in a crowded area” was cut.
The makers had not been granted prior permission to shoot the scene, and the legislation does not allow for retrospective approval.
“We just want the treatment of animals to be regulated,” said Auradha Sawhney, chief functionary of the Indian arm of Peta. “The censor board is being more proactive now, and our lobbying has had an impact. People are using fewer animals in films, which is a great step.”
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First Published: Fri, Apr 11 2008. 12 08 AM IST
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