New Delhi: The first day dealt with the depiction of profanity and violence in movies; the second day with sex and the portrayal of women. The third and concluding session of the Cut Uncut Festival explored the increasing tendency of groups representing communities to demand censorship or outright bans on movies deemed as objectionable.
Cut Uncut, which is taking place alongside a celebration of the centenary of Indian cinema organized by the information and broadcasting ministry at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi, concludes on Sunday. (The main festival continues till 30 April). The event, which aims to demystify the workings of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), comprises presentations and panel discussions about films that have challenged the boundaries of censorship.
Presented by noted cinema studies professor and film scholar Ira Bhaskar, the presentation on the theme “We The Offended” examined the challenges to the freedom of speech and expression by movies that deal with caste, religion and gender. Bhaskar, who is also a CBFC member, showed clips from films that have raised the hackles of caste-based and religious organizations over the years. Bhaskar’s concise and insightful presentation revealed that often CBFC has been judicious about excising material that denigrates a community or a caste. Among the bits that CBFC has removed from public consumption is a scene from an unidentified 1978 film that implies that the lower castes deserve their status because of their past deeds. Other scenes that were snipped out contained caste-based remarks in such films as Aakrosh and Beehad and the Bhojpuri film Deswa.
“We are living in a culture of great intolerance,” Bhaskar said in her opening remarks. “The sensibilities of some group or the other are constantly being offended.” Most of the groups raised protests without watching the movie, she pointed out.
The clips were from films that contained material that was considered offensive as well as from films that weren’t censored but nevertheless led to a public debate and demands for re-censorship. Other clips were from contentious depictions of religious groups in such films as Roja, Bombay and Viswaroopam and the television series Tamas. “Crucial social and political debates must be allowed to take place,” though a mass medium like film, Bhaskar said. “The CBFC is allowing this to happen, which is heartening.”
The participants in the panel discussion that followed included Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra, entertainment industry lawyer Amit Naik and Luv Ranjan, whose contrarian remarks had proved to be so popular at Saturday’s session. Reputed film-maker Anand Patwardhan, who has had several runs-in with Doordarshan over the screening of his award-winning documentaries on the state-run network, was supposed to be on the panel, but he didn’t make it.
Mehra, whose Delhi 6 led to protests by Dalit groups over the depiction against a Dalit character, struck a conciliatory note. “We need to be honest with our thoughts, and be transparent and responsible,” he said. “In movies, we surrogately exploit many things, including gender bias.”
The issue seems to be of pre-censorship and post-certification–film-makers find that a CBFC certificate provides little protection against public outrage. The sanctity of the process of certification and the authority of CBFC needs to be respected, said Naik, who has represented producers such as Prakash Jha and Viacom18 Motion Pictures. “The crux of the issue is that every time a film goes through a certification issue, that’s where we (Bollywood) face a problem. I miss a heartbeat every Thursday (before a film’s Friday release). One needs to recognize that in the landscape there is a statute that authorizes the certification board. Once a film goes through certification, is it okay for a state government to ban a film on law and order grounds? What is the sanctity of certification?”
Panjaka Thakur, the chief executive of CFBC, pointed out contrary to perception, the board is very careful about weeding out potentially offensive dialogue or scenes, even when it means curbing the creativity of the filmmakers. “Many of the changes we suggest is because of the tightrope walking the board is always doing,” she said.
Mehra provided an example from his experience of the balancing act that film-makers often engage in to ensure that their films don’t attract a ban. His 2006 film Rang De Basanti, which examines the politicization of a group of friends over the issue of the MiG aircraft crashes, ran into a stumbling block with the defence ministry, which demanded a pre-release screening. “I was told, don’t call the Indian Air Force the Indian Air Force, don’t call the defence minister the defence minister,” Mehra said. A screening was arranged for the defence ministry and the three chiefs of the Indian armed forces. “Fortunately, they came with their wives!” Mehra said. The minister, Pranab Mukherjee, said he hadn’t watched a film since Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar, and that he didn’t have objections to Rang De Basanti. The Air Force Chief said he didn’t want the aircraft identified as an MiG. According to Mehra, he said, “What do I tell the mothers of the sons who are going to fly the planes tomorrow?” The matter was resolved by putting a placard at the end of the movie detailing the number of deaths of air force pilots in MiG crashes. “Everybody behaved in a mature way,” Mehra said. Fortunately for him, but unfortunately for so many other film-makers, that is rarely the case.