I am appalled by the TN government’s decision to ban Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam. After the film has passed by the Censor Board. Not done!” tweets Madhur Bhandarkar. Sharing a similar view is Anurag Kashyap, whose Black Friday was also mired in similar trouble, “How can anyone decide what the film is about without seeing it?
And how can the government pander to such groups?” For those who are aware of the latest controversies surrounding Kamal Haasan’s new big budget multi-starrer, will agree with the thoughts shared by these filmmakers.
Despite a clearance from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) the movie is facing protests from Muslim communities in Tamil Nadu. However Vishwaroopam is not the first in the list of controversial movies. Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan, Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar, Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania, Nandita Das’ Firaaq, Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen are also on the list. Surprisingly, these protests bring to light intolerance in people, lack of faith for CBFC’s credibility while questioning a director’s manner of portraying a subject.
“Threat to religious identity is the sole cause behind protest over movies,” says Vivek Kumar, associate professor, Sociology, JNU. An authority on Indian cinema, Vivek feels that “When any religion in some way or the other is highlighted in the film, it directly targets the identity of that particular community. It becomes more severe when it specifically highlights those who are stigmatised. They feel insecure when it comes to their religious identity.”
This holds true for Vishwaroopam too, a movie that ran into trouble when TN government imposed a two week ban following protests by Muslim organisations. It happened after about 20 Muslim groups petitioned the government for portraying the community’s members as militants. The ban, however, was imposed citing law and order as a reason.
Interestingly, CBFC too supports Vivek’s opinion, “In a diverse society, different groups are bound to feel concerned about the sentiments of their community being hurt by narratives that have a public impact,” shares Anjum Rajabali, spokesperson, CBFC.
Is it because the Board fails to looks at issues which can possibly hurt the sentiments of a particular section? “The Board has a very delicate task, as it is. Striking an appropriate balance between a liberal attitude towards cinema as an art form and being protective of a community’s sensibilities from being offended is not always easy,” says Anjum.
“I can’t speak about the past, but this particular Board is constantly pushing the envelope in protecting the filmmakers’ freedom of expression while ensuring that irreverence doesn’t cross the line into insult,” he says.
Manoj Tyagi, the screenplay writer who has won national awards for Page 3 and Apaharan says, “CBFC looks into every aspect before giving clearance to a movie. It’s unfair when a state government questions CBFC’s credibility by banning the movie.”
Undoubtedly, frequent protests are reflective of lack of faith among the masses for CBFC. “Given how often CBFC is bashed by the film industry as well as media, it doesn’t allow the Board’s credibility to consolidate in the public mind. Hence, groups act on their own anxieties rather than take recourse to faith in CBFC’s judgment,” says Anjum.