Union minister for information and broadcasting Venkaiah Naidu seems to have taken up where censor board chief Pahlaj Nihalani left off. In a recent speech at the 47th International Film Festival of India in Panaji, Goa, he spoke of the need to go back to values in Indian films while saying that the portrayal of obscenity and violence on screen are hurting society. He went to talk about how respect for the elders and gender justice as also keeping our traditions should be part of cinema. Naidu made an impassioned plea to return to our values reminiscing about the days when films without vulgarity and violence ran for days on end. While it is heartening that Naidu is on a nostalgia trip, he must not forget that film makers are very much influenced by the society they live in. And they try to portray what they see realistically. It is a moot point what particular values Naidu is referring to, there are no single set of values governing all of India. The film maker uses his/her creativity to interpret values and norms.
Naidu may feel that “without touching heroine you can create romance. You have the capacity to express. The expression need not be by words it can be through eyes, nose and lips, looks...If our looks are good, the way you convey the message it would be very romantic.” But not every film maker or audience subscribes to this school of film-making.
Unfortunately, thanks to people like Nihalani, the very word “values” has come to mean the Right-wing’s interpretation of tradition. Creativity cannot be constrained by values. Often, a film may not have any particular message, as Naidu wants, but is geared solely to commercial gain. Nihalani had gone to absurd lengths to make film makers fall in line with his vision, which excluded kissing and cuss words among other things.
In fact, he went so far as to introduce words to replace cuss words which had no meaning at all and insisted on shortening kissing scenes in a Bond movie. Naidu may of course air his views on culture and cinema but his words should not be taken as licence to censor films.
The Shyam Benegal committee has rightly suggested that the censor board should serve as a certification body and leave it to the viewer whether or not to watch a particular film. Of course, it is no one’s case that any message which promotes social discord or violence be encouraged. But that is for the film maker to decide and also for him/her to face whatever consequences there may be.
Naidu being fond of films should know that the discretion of the viewer is always a better way to judge a film than a dictate from the censor board or suggestions from the minister.