Ban-istan: How free is India really?

  • Sweta Kaushal, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 15, 2015 16:33 IST
Anurag Kashyap's Paanch has been facing hurdles and is yet to hit theatres, more than a decade after it was ready for release.

For a country which is celebrating the 69th year of Independence and boasts of freedom of speech, right to expression and the like, are we really free to express ourselves when our "religious sentiments" can be hurt at the slightest of provocations?

No, we are not about to discuss abusive comments made by the horde of politicians, something as harmless as cinema is our subject of concern here. Art as a form often questions and attacks societal malpractices but how can something like Bollywood, infamous for making 'trivial and mindless' films at best, be dangerous enough to instigate and cause violence in the country?

Our 'religious sentiments' seem to be more reactive than those elements we had to mug up in our chemistry classes. A random character in a film dressed as a mythological hero is enough to hurt us! And for a country that flaunts two common religions, cricket and Bollywood, running uniformly it is really disheartening to see we don't even consider our love for the industry which mostly entertains us when it comes to protesting against a film.

Recently, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal demanded that the title of Salman Khan-starrer Bajrangi Bhaijaan be changed as it 'hurts Hindu sentiments'. These right-wing groups threatened to stop the screening of the movie.

Salman Khan in a still from Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

Even the biggest stars of the industry have faced backlash across the country. There have been several instances where movie theatres have been vandalised, posters or effigies of actors burnt and film artists threatened: Aamir Khan's PK and Kamal Haasan's Vishwaroopam are some of the recent examples. Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Aarakshan and Shah Rukh Khan's My Name Is Khan too saw partial ban and violent protests in several states across the country. Last year, Deepika Padukone-Ranveer Singh-starrer Ram-leela faced threats from right-wing groups and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali had to change the film's name to Goliyon Ki Rasleela-Ram leela.

Deepika's character was named Leela and Ram was played by Ranveer Singh in this Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Ramleela.

One might think that most of these protests are purely attempts at publicity. But it is not just the films riding on big names and big money that face such troubles. Even a film like Miss Tanakpur Haazir Ho or Ek Chhoti Si Love Story, which wouldn't have otherwise got so much chatter, faces protests. Sometimes a 'tantalising' item song is a cause of concern and at another historical facts are questioned. And then, there are vested political interests: Black Friday, Paanch, Aandhi, Amu and Rockstar are just some of the movies that faced ban in the wake of the 'threats' they posed.

Ranbir Kapoor in Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar.

There is, however, one factor among these protests that remains common to all - almost all them are registered before the a film hits the theatres, mostly seeking ban on its release itself. Now, a trailer gives you rough idea of what might be in store - MIGHT being the keyword. As cinema-lovers, we know that often trailers seem too promising but the films do not live up to the hype or the promo is just one badly edited video but the movie turns out to be good.

So, how does one decide that the film will 'hurt religious sentiments' or 'Indian sensibilities' or challenge our culture norms much before watching it?

Reacting to protests against his movie PK, Aamir Khan had said, "For every film there will be a group that will protest. This is a democracy and if they have an opinion, so be it. They should not watch the film if they don't like it."

And that is the whole point of this article: If you don't like the subject of a film or the way it has been treated, you always have the option of not watching it. You can also express your disgust or write about your 'hurt sentiments' in blogs, public reviews and on all kinds of social media platforms. But demanding a ban on a product, as subjective as a film, is baffling to say the least.

Dear ban-seekers, people going to the movies in this country are adults - they have the right to drive vehicles, drink alcohol, marry and even elect governments so why not allow them the liberty of deciding for themselves about what they want to do in their leisure time? If the movie is bad enough or hurts people's sentiments on a larger level, they won't come to the watch it anyway and the theatre owners will be forced to pull it down in a few days.

But, please let it test the waters before you pass a judgement.

The author tweets @swetakaushal

Read: Bajrangi Bhaijaan faces trouble over its name

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