By Nikita Bishnoi:
The authority to certify films, that is the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), has always moved out of bounds to censor words, scenes and even ban entire movies. Yet, it has never been driven into court before. Nothing in particular was done against this sort of ‘illegitimate’ censorship until Anurag Kashyap raised his voiced recently. After two of his previous movies were banned, namely, ‘Paanch’ and ‘Black Friday’, it was obvious that he would rise against the 89 cuts, the board had proposed for his next movie ‘Udta Punjab’. But the move seems to be really bold in terms of not worrying about future consequences and the problems Phantom Films may have to go through for the certification of its future releases.
The high court’s order of releasing the movie with one cut and a change in the disclaimer has ensured creative freedom. The court also said that freedom of creative expression was absolute and could never be restricted and that the CBFC is not empowered by law to censor films since this was not one of the clauses of the Cinematograph Act of 1952.
This bold step has led to a discussion of applying suggestions stated in the report of the CBFC revamp committee headed by an eminent director, Shyam Benegal. Benegal said, “People are misreading the film [‘Udta Punjab’]. They are under the impression that it is anti-Punjab. I don’t think the film is anti-Punjab at all.”
Such a step by the producers of ‘Udta Punjab’ will encourage other filmmakers to stand up for their cause. Before Subhradeep Chakraborty could fight to screen his documentary on Muzzafannangar riots ‘En Dino Muzaffarnagar’ he died of brain haemorrhage. This was only one of the many times the ‘censor’ board refused the screening of a movie on the basis of its own stereotypical priorities.
Various reasons, from violence to vulgarity, were used as an excuse to censor films without taking into account the harm such cuts may cause by the message it sends out. In a recent movie ‘Angry Indian Goddesses’ a word “tribal” was beeped. Seriously! Mr Nihlani is that an offending word? In the movie ‘Queen’ a bra was blurred. Is the censor board trying to say a piece of cloth is “provocative”?
And then there are movies like Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ and ‘Water’, Shekhar Kapoor’s ‘Bandit Queen’ and an array of acclaimed films that have been banned by the board. ‘India’s Daughter’ a documentary on the infamous Delhi gang rape was banned and this time, the order was even backed by the high court. Creativity is being blocked due to political and stereotypical reasons. In Pahlaj Nihlani’s own words he is proud to be a “Modi Chamcha“!
‘Offensive’, ‘vulgar’, ‘indecent’, ‘homosexuality’, ‘erotica’ are some of the excuses given to stop people from watching the content of films the certification board deems unfit. Is it the board who gets to decide what the people of India should watch and what they should not?
This was not a fight just for ‘Udta Punjab’. Indeed, it was a fight for the quality of movies entitled to be watched in the times to come. Can we not have access to realistic films? Entertainment movies like ‘Happy New Year’ and ‘Housefull 3’ are smoothly passed by the censor board, whereas, ‘Haider’, ‘Aligarh’ and ‘Udta Punjab’ have to face numerous censorship issues!
Standing up for sensible and realistic movies will decrease the gap between what the audience of the current generation wants to watch as compared to what it is shown. Clearly, Anurag Kashyap made a courageous decision to speak against the autocracy of the censor board. The change in movies should be kept in pace with the changing times.