By Lata Jha:
Reason begets reason. And as a nation, it’s high time we realized so. The most terribly misbehaved kids in stores who scream for attention, wail for nothing, and make their presence felt for all the wrong reasons are usually accompanied by harried mothers who couldn’t be more inept at dealing rationally with their tantrums. For way too long, we’ve suffered those brats.
For the 2014 elections, our ‘unmanifesto’ should certainly entail indifference and inaction towards random groups who find themselves a convenient time and delightfully take offence for everything from the colour of a leading man’s socks to the crack in the edifice he’s dancing in front of. It should also seek to redress unnecessary delays and imprecision in taking decisions for the benefit of and in respect of the work of those artists concerned.
If as citizens, we are often uninformed and impulsive, as governments, we’re indecisive and blithering. We cannot handle chaos. And I say ‘we’ because people like you and me are as much a part of this vibrant democracy as our revered elected representatives. So I believe we are all truly equal. And we bear equal responsibility for handling crises and accordingly, our artists deserve equal respect when due.
I do not say defamatory or derogatory content should be encouraged in the name of art. The ‘unmanifesto’ should also include the inability to say a firm no to truly offensive content. No gibberish should masquerade in the name of freedom of speech and expression. And yet, I ask for better understanding of sentiments. Of both our communities and our artists, who also form a community of their own.
It baffles me that people like Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair have had to face the irrational wrath of certain groups for so many years now. And not once did anyone in a position of authority initiate discussion that both parties deemed fair. Nair’s Kama Sutra (1996) was banned for its explicit sexual content and she had to move the Supreme Court to show the film to people in her own country. Mehta shot the monumental Water(2005), a heart rending take on widows in Varanasi, in Sri Lanka, after there were issues with location permits. About 2000 right wing protestors stormed the sets on the ghats and destroyed the remnants of the shoot. Mehta managed to complete the film after nearly seven years of turmoil. Where was the government then, which later went to town lauding the film when it made it to the Oscars(not as an entry from India, mind you)?
Mehta of course is no stranger to controversy and backlash. Screenings of her movie, Fire (1996) were disrupted after the film had been running to packed houses for three weeks. I’m not eulogising filmmakers to the extent of saying they can never go wrong. What I do not understand is why there ever isn’t a concerted effort to promote dialogue. No matter how sensitive the issue is, there is nothing that talks can’t resolve. Or do we have such little faith in our own abilities to reason, judge, act and interpret that we prefer to let the swords do the talking?
Manifestos should also be about patience and resolve. Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania (2005) and Kunal Kohli’s Fanaa (2006), films of two completely different genres and calibres were both banned in Gujarat. And yet, not one step was taken to sit people down and evolve consensus on where the line should be drawn between cinematic justice and humanitarianism. Recent examples would show even more intolerance. Prakash Jha’s Aarakshan (2011) found itself embroiled in political controversy for no reason. Sensitive and thought provoking, the film had very little intent to target any minority group or those concerned with them. A sole screening by authorities could have put things right.
Kamal Hassan’s latest outing, but of course takes the cake. The film that’s supposed to have offended Islamic sensibilities and ‘caused social disharmony in the state’ has the protagonist playing a Muslim, who pretty much saves the world. Why such passivity in sorting things and making sure the film released on time? Surely, the guy who’s given four decades of his life to the country’s entertainment industry deserves as much. Surely, anyone who puts together a piece of work for public exhibition and gets embroiled in controversy, unfair or otherwise, deserves that kind of attention and action.
I understand if people from the academia question Deepa Mehta’s interpretation of homosexuality in Fire, because they probably have a reason to. But those protesting against Vishwaroopam’s release had no idea what they were talking about. Isn’t the ministry that’s supposed to ‘formulate rules and regulations regarding information, broadcasting, press and films’ also supposed to balance public sentiment with artistic freedom?
It’s not about who’s right or wrong, but whether both have equal right to tell their side of the story. I’m not saying people’s grievances should be shot down. We live in a democracy, and we shall always have the right to speak our mind. The need is to facilitate dialogue, not impose sanctions. Give the artist/writer/filmmaker a chance to explain himself. Give the ones who feel they’ve been wronged, the opportunity to view his work. Stop looking for solutions all the time, try finding answers to questions. If a group feels offended, banning the film or stalling its release will not put things right. Mediating discourse will. If there’s something genuinely wrong with the content, it’ll help prevent the production of similar content henceforth. And if not, it might just help the concerned group gain a different understanding of right and wrong.
We need to start trusting our reasoning instincts. Our ‘unmanifestos’ should focus on our tendency to not try and bring things under control. Art is just one aspect of life. The mother needs to put her foot down before the brat goes beyond the store to create havoc in the world.
This article is a part of the 5th space series on Youth Ki Awaaz. 5th Space is an initiative to facilitate young people to expand beyond the typical 4 spaces of career-edu, family, friends and leisure by exploring the 5th space, a journey from self to society and back