Director's cut, censor's stab

Director's cut, censor's stab

Great art can never be politically correct, whether it is writing, painting, acting or making films.

There is a beautiful lyrical composition by the Telugu poet Annamacharya which says: “Entha Mathramuna Evvaru Thalachina; Antha Mathrame Neevu...” Translated, it means “In whatever way anyone sees you, you are only that...”

What a fitting description of films and their censors, not only in India but everywhere in the world where there are people driven to create and other people driven to destroy. The latter destroy what seems ugly to th-em, little realising that the ugliness is really in their own minds.

If beauty “lies in the eyes of the beholder,” then lewdness also lurks in the mind of the censor. Why else would anyone want to stamp out pioneering movies like the 1941 marvel called Citizen Kane, acclaimed as the “greatest film ever made,” or that masterpiece “The Great Dictator” by a genius called Charlie Chaplain? Yes, these 20th Century masterpieces mercilessly exposed the chicanery of a media mogul and the diabolic acts of a war time dictator for which their authors had to be silenced. 

Nearer home, we have banned films ever since we made them due to political, social or moral compulsions. Mira Nair’s “Kama Sutra” was banned for its eroticism; Om Puri’s “City of Joy” because it exposed the underbelly of Bengal’s jewelled capital;  Deepa Mehta’s films – “Fire” and “Water” – because they offended public sensibilities; “The Passion of Christ,” depicting the last agonising 12 hours of Jesus, because it questioned Christian beliefs; Mahesh Dattani’s documentary “Final Solution” depicting riots between Hindus and Muslims because it threatened to trigger bigger riots. Shekar Kapoor’s “Bandit Queen” because it promoted vigilantism; Kamal Hassan’s “Viswaroopam” because it offended Tamil sentiments.

Even that sensitive 1972 film “Siddhartha” (based on the novel by Herman Hesse) was supposed to have hurt vulnerable Indian audiences because the heroine had to appear nude in one scene. Every film has to offend in some way or the other. A hero smoking a cigarette or nursing a drink may corrupt young minds, according to the moralists. Kissing is unthinkable. Love scenes forbidden.  

Strange that the censors see nothing wrong when a producer/director plagiarises entire scenes, stories and songs without a pang of guilt. Sandalwood can copy Bollywood, and Bollywood can copy Hollywood. We have no problem with such unethical acts. Love scenes are shameful. A film on transsexuals is “vulgar and offensive.”

But lifting someone else’s ideas is nothing to be ashamed of according to the Central Board of Film Certification  (CBFC) which has its own strange norms as to what the public should see or hear for diversion. Given its penchant to act as the moral caretaker of the world of entertainment, it is not surprising that art and creativity in film making have suffered a setback in this country.

The ones which escaped its scalpel are the ones that will endure. Timeless films like Girish Karnad’s “Vamsha Vriksha” or or Nagathihalli Chandrashekar’s “Amerika, Amerika” or Aparna Sen’s “Mr and Mrs Iyer” could have easily been consigned to the dustbin because one offended the Brahmin castes, another the NRI community and the third depicted a platonic relationship between a Muslim wildlife photographer and a married Hindu woman.

Latest victim
The latest victim of pointless censorship is a film exposing illicit drug activities in Punjab. The CBFC has ordered nearly 100 cuts in the film to make it seem less harsh to the politicians behind the scenes. What else can be expected when members of a censoring body are handpicked by the government?

All 26 members of the present Board including the chairperson are the Centre’s candidates. Nothing more need be said. One can only lament with Salman Rushdie in his own words: “If a creative artist is afraid of the consequences of his choice of subject or of his manner of treating it, then his choices will not be determined by his talent, but by fear.”

Did the most celebrated film makers in the movie world create their masterpieces out of fear? If a Coppola was afraid that he would be annihilated by the dons of the underworld, we would never have seen the Godfather trilogy. If a Kubrick was afraid that he would be persecuted by the moralists in this world, his “Lolita” would never have seen the light of day.

We have to be grateful to the Spielbergs, the Satyajit Rays and Shankar Nags of this world for daring not to be afraid. Their incredibly beautiful films will go down in film history as the emblems of art that was not a handmaiden of the powers that be. 

Great art can never be politically correct. It is bound to ruffle feathers, whether it is writing, painting, acting or – making films. As long as our filmmakers have to make films out of fear, we will not be witnessing art, but artifice. 

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