Delhi: The ongoing Cut Uncut Festival, organised by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and meant to generate a debate on the changing nature of censorship in Indian cinema, got off to a shaky start on Friday with an unfocused presentation on profanity and violence, followed by a chaotic panel discussion on the same subject.
The event is folded into a celebration of the centenary of Indian cinema that has been organised by the information and broadcasting ministry and is being held at the Siri Fort Auditorium in Delhi. The festival within the festival focuses on presentations and panel discussions about films that have challenged the boundaries of censorship. However, the CBFC will not be showing controversial films that were affected by censorship. The event runs till Sunday, and is open to anybody above the age of 18.
Although the opening presentation by filmmaker and lecturer K. Hariharan was supposed to explore the ways in which the CBFC addresses the use of foul language and depiction of violence in the movies, it was anything but that. Over a two-hour duration, Hariharan jumped from one idea to the next, wandering from cinema’s origins to the modernising role played by the movies to references to the Natya Shastra. The lecture included such gnomic statements as “Cinema is an apparatus, so the notion of authorship is dubious”, “Romance was a metaphor for romancing the nation but contesting the state”, “Filmmakers don’t care about law but about justice” and “Andal is the saint of sexuality” in Bhakti poetry.
There were no insights or information on how the CBFC compares to its counterparts in other countries. For instance, does the CBFC resemble in any way the British Board of Film Classification, which has not refrained from refusing censor certificates to ultraviolent films over the years, such as The Evil Dead, Natural Born Killers and, more recently, The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence). How does the US deal with similar issues?
The absence of CBFC chairperson Leela Samson (she is away in the US) meant that she wasn’t at hand to discuss the organisation’s recent attempts to move away from censorship and towards certification. Samson, who is also a reputed classical dancer, has repeatedly said that she is personally opposed to censorship, but the CBFC also finds itself at the receiving end of conservative sections of society and the media, who demand that they cut more and show less. Which way is the CBFC headed— towards Samson’s liberal, censorship-free world or a middle path of judicious excising of objectionable material?
The presentation perked up somewhat when Hariharan screened scenes that had been cut because they contained explicit violence or strong language. The audience was in splits over a 20-minute compilation of shots of a woman licking blood, a man being repeatedly hit in the crotch, and a reference to a female character as a “bitch”, largely because of the tackiness and crudity in the shot-taking and staging of the action.
The post-lunch discussion didn’t shed too much light either on the issue of who has the authority and expertise to cut what. The participants were Hariharan, Vishal Bhardwaj, Ramesh Sippy, CBFC CEO Pankaja Thakur, and Nitin Jain, a member of the non-governmental organisation Hamari Sanskriti. The discussion rapidly collapsed into a free-for-all, as public discussions tend to do in this argumentative nation of ours. Various irate audience members yelled out their views and vexations without bothering to talk into a microphone or identify themselves.
Before the collapse, Sippy spoke briefly of how the CBFC forced him to alter the ending of his most famous film, Sholay (1975), and replace the shot of Sanjeev Kumar crushing his adversary to death with another of the police arresting the villain. “Violence has its place and when shown properly, it should be allowed. But we should not show violence for the sake of violence,” Sippy said.
Bhardwaj, whose movies Omkara and Kaminey, have ample doses of profanity, said that “You can be poetic as a filmmaker when you are violent” and that the depiction of brutality was a matter of individual taste. Nitin Jain pointed to the worrying rise of double entendre in the movies.
In the melee that followed, a woman who said she was a researcher and had evidence of the ill-treatment of women in the Mumbai film business got into a brief shouting match with Sippy. Various audience members yelled out their outrage from the comfort of their seats. The temperatures rose to match the blinding white heat outside.
Saturday’s session promises to be steamier. The day will open at 11am with a presentation by journalists Shubhra Gupta and Rajeev Masand on the depiction of sex in the movies. Filmmakers Jahnu Barua and Ekta Kapoor will be part of a discussion on the subject at 2pm. The silent film Karma (1933), known for its uninhibited depictions of sexual desire, will be shown at 3pm at Siri Fort Auditorium 2, where all the Cut Uncut events are being held.