'There will be no more Haiders'

'There will be no more Haiders'

Film Censorship

Last month, filmmaker Pankaj Butalia’s documentary titled Textures of Loss, became a contentious topic for a Supreme Court judge who wondered whether it had become ‘fashionable’ (for filmmakers) to show ‘one-sided stories’.

 More intriguing was the fact that Butalia had approached the Supreme Court with only an intention to withdraw the petition before the court while seeking permission to move the Delhi High Court. During an interview with Metrolife, Butalia spoke at length about his film, the Censor Board and the Kashmir issue.

“The first thing we need to understand is that the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), the bodies which govern film censorships are actually not censor boards.

The rules under which they decide to cut short films are guidelines under the Cinematograph Act or the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983.

Moreover, the changes or additions to the rules depend on the incumbent government,” he said.

The Textures of Loss is part of a trilogy directed by Butalia. The first instalment, Manipur Song, was made in 2004. A third untitled film is about the political situation in Assam.

After news began to surface about the judge’s comments, a clearer picture began to emerge. Initially the CBFC had objected to two scenes. Butalia had to wait for more than six months before the FCAT heard his appeal against the CBFC decision.

“There is an editorial statement about the security forces using “disproportionate force” while dealing with stone pelters during the 2010 intifada. In the SC, the bench of judges laughed it
off and said it was fine by them that the scene be incorporated.

The issue arose when they were told about the other scene in which the father of a deceased eight-year-old boy supposedly makes anti-national remarks,” Butalia explained.

The other scene as he describes has a grieving father regretting and feeling guilty that he had been sleeping while his child was being allegedly beaten to death by security forces.

“I met the family two years after the incident. The boy, Sameer Rah, had gone out to his uncle’s house during a curfew to share a pear his father had purchased for him earlier. Midway, he was caught and beaten mercilessly resulting in his death.

In 2012, I met his mother who has not spoken ever since her son’s death. The father during the recorded interview says ‘I curse this kind of India and I hope that the families of those who destroyed mine are also destroyed’, said Butalia. “According to my counsel the judge asked if I have shown the other side,” he added. 

Talking about the scene in particular, Butalia said that he faced a choice to keep this scene or edit it. However, the idea of deleting it made him feel ‘cheap’. “If I had edited this man’s anger then I would have behaved worse than the censor board,” he said.

According to him, his ‘rights’ to have these comments in the film is in fact more important than the right to determine that the film certification boards cannot go beyond the Cinematograph Act.

Butalia asserted that the demands for censoring of such scenes are illegal since they did not fall under any clause in the Cinematograph Act.

He further revealed that the actual problem of the CBFC and FCAT is not with the couple of scenes but with his application itself. “The guidelines under which these bodies operate are not constitutional and it’s those guidelines that I seek to quash,” he said.

“Never at admittance stage does the state send out someone to oppose an application, but in the case of my film and Kaum De Heere (A Punjabi film on the assassins of Indira Gandhi), the government decided to send a team of lawyers.” Butalia believes that if by any chance the ‘opposition’ concedes to his demands, a precedent will be set which will pave way for several other films which have been in the pipeline over similar issues of film certification.

“Every time so called controversial films ask for certification they are refused on flimsy grounds. Meanwhile men like Praveen Togadia, who is busy doing Ghar Wapsi of Muslims and Christians, can roam free after making vicious hate speeches but they keep on telling us that our films are inflammatory and they will cause riots.

“Show even one example from India where there has been riot following a screening of a documentary film,” questioned Butalia citing the example of Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution, a film on Gujarat riots.

“There was no impact as you can see Modi has become the Prime Minister of India,” he added. “They have a choice to certify the film ‘for adults only’. It’s understandable for children but who are they to dictate what adults can see and what they can’t.”

His application has been admitted to the high court, but Butalia is sceptical about the future of independent films and documentaries in India.

“Haider was a mild version of what actually happens in places like Kashmir and yet was given certification after 41 cuts were made to the film. I believe films like Haider won’t come through the so called censor board, let alone documentaries,” he concluded.