A case of banned Indian movies

Over the last few days, perhaps due to my unprecedented redundancy rendered by my decision to take a year’s break before pursuing my masters, I have been watching a lot of ‘controversial’ and ‘banned’ Bollywood movies. My splurge started with ‘Parzania’ and has hitherto covered films such as ‘Firaaq’, ‘Un-freedom’, ‘Hawayein’, ‘Bandit Queen’ and ‘Black Friday’ among many others. Now, what lured me to jot down this article was the inimitability, the matter-of-factness of these, and trust me I am not exaggerating, ‘masterpieces’ that both the government and the Censor Board found ‘too bold and sensitive’ for the common Indian masses to receive. Let me begin with Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Black Friday’, one of the few Indian films that have gone on to receive fame and appreciation on international levels (Grand Jury Prize at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, nominee for the Best Film award at the Locarno International Film Festival). The film is inspired by S Hussain Zaidi’s novel of the same name and depicts, with the finest of details, the repercussions of the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts and also what triggered them. The film, just like its printed version, is a classic, one that apprises you with the devastation caused by the blasts as well as with the commendable work done by the Maharashtra police to apprehend the perpetrators. However, the film’s release had to be barred owing to the ongoing trial of the convicts in TADA court and it was not before three years that ‘Black Friday’ hit the theatres after the Supreme Court of India granted its release.

The film that seconds my list is Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ and I could not find a single valid reason why it had to be banned initially. The film is a commentary on the plight of widows at an ashram in Varanasi in pre-independent India and covers ‘controversial issues such as misogyny and ostracism’.‘Water’ is another film that received acclamation all over the world but India for the censor board was of the notion the film showed the Indian society in a bad light. However, after a lot of debates and discourses, the film was finally released in India on 9th March, 2007 but not without a “U” certificate. What enthralled me about the film, besides its plot and story, were the mind-blowing cinematography by Giles Nuttgens and some spectacular performances by Lisa Ray and the veteran Seema Biswas. Like all of Deepa Mehta’s movies, ‘Water’ too acquainted the Indian masses with some appalling realities about the Indian society, something that, obviously enough, irked the Censor Board.

Anurag Kashyap is known for making ‘bold and pragmatic’ movies and perhaps that’s the reason why most of his progenies fail to meet the guidelines of the Censor Board. ‘Paanch’ is one among his many movies that precariously outraged the Censor Board and was denied a release on grounds of the film’s candid treatment of drugs, violence and sex. However, what I felt after watching it (all thanks to YouTube) was that the film is not what I thought it to be. Underlying the gruesomeness of the plot is a very important message which Mr. Kashyap tried to convey to the youth of this country through the lives of the five protagonists who get so much obsessed with wealth that they lose their sense of judgment. “Crime never pays” is what the film endeavors to illustrate but the Censor Board seemed to have got it all wrong!

What could be more exasperating and contentious than an open and comprehensive portrayal of something that is still considered a taboo in our country! Yes, I am talking about the unreleased film ‘The Pink Mirror’ (Gulabi Aaina) by Sridhar Rangayan that took the Censor Board by shock with its blunt take on transsexuals. I won’t say much about the film but Mr. Rangayan’s audacious attemptto explore such a “rough-edged” subject should not have been dealt with so austerely. Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’ (1996) is another movie that went a step ahead in dealing with Indian ‘taboos’ and blatantly covered the issue of ‘homosexuality’. The film is a masterpiece, one that every inquisitive Indian should watch for it questions the very norm of the societal framework and quivers you from the inside. Although the film was granted an uncut release by the Censor Board, it could not evade the fury of the members of Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal who vandalized the theatres screening the film and also burned down its posters on grounds that the theme of the film was “alien to the Hindu culture”.

Nandita Das’ directorial debut ‘Firaaq’ (2008) and Rahul Dholakia’s ‘Parzania’ (2007) were two films that had to face a lot of hostility before being released in our country. Both the films were inspired by the Gujarat riots of 2002 and were considered potential threats to the ‘harmony’ of our nation, especially that of Gujarat. As such, the Censor Board found it very difficult to grant releases to these films. However, when you watch the films, you will know why some (political as well non-political) groups didn’t want you to watch the movie. The films describe the agonies of the victims of the riots with such truthfulness that they will leave you inconsolably spellbound and you will be wondering how a section of people, stirred by some ridiculous communal propaganda, can turn into savages and put humanity to shame.

The practice of banning movies is not a novel one in our country. In 1977, a political spoof titled ‘Kissa Kursi Ka’ was made by Amrit Nahata who also happened to be a member of the then Indian Parliament. The film was not just banned but all its prints were burnt by the supporters of a popular political leader of the time. It was alleged that the film ridiculed the Emergency of 1975; as such, the ban was inevitable given the kind of situation that prevailed in India at that time. However, the film was remade with an entirely different cast after the culmination of the Emergency and after watching it a day ago, I wonder how audaciously witty Mr. Nahata must have been to take a dig at something he himself was a part of.

Apart from the films mentioned above, there are numerous others (‘Aandhi’, ‘Bose: The Forgotten Hero’, ‘Gokul Shankar’,‘Un-Freedom’, ‘Kamasutra: A Tale of Love’, etc.) that sparked controversies with their treatment of “impudentand objectionable” subject matters. While some of them were granted releases, most others could never hit the theatres.

Artistic freedom is the key to ‘good cinema’. Yes, the Censor Board’s intervention becomes necessary when it comes to films like ‘Liela Ek Paheli’ and ‘Hate Story’ which have nothing more than unwarranted sex in them but imposing a ban on every ‘unconventional’ film will in all ways prevent Indian cinema’s development and impede its path towards global recognition. The Indian audiences possess the deftness of choosing between right and wrong, good and bad. They are no longer gullible. As such, neither the Government nor the Censor Board should be given unrestricted authority to decide which film we should watch and which we shouldn’t. Some movies’ fate should be left at the discretion of the common masses for what I’ve understood from my banned-movies-watching-spree, “a film that sparks a ‘controversy’ also conceives a new idea.”

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