A day before its release Prakash Jha’s movie Aarakshan (Reservation) has stirred a controversy, with the Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh governments banning it and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) reporting to the Central Board of Film Certification that it has “objectionable dialogues”.
Lead actor Amitabh Bachchan, who plays a college principal in the film about quotas in higher education, slammed the bans and protests as the “most unfortunate fascist conditioning”.
Security has been strengthened outside the houses of Bachchan and Saif Ali Khan, who plays a Dalit in the movie.
NCSC chairman PL Punia said, “We have seen the film. Some dialogues are objectionable. We have forwarded them to the censor board to decide.”
OBC Parliamentary Forum convenor V Hanumantha Rao wrote to minister for information and broadcasting Ambika Soni to have the filmmakers remove the “objectionable” portions.
A UP government official justified the two-month ban in the state, saying, “The state government doesn’t want tensions at a time when polls are approaching.” Assembly elections are due in UP and Punjab in less than a year.
"A government with a Dalit base wants to send a political message of strength through the ban,” said Badri Narayan, an Allahabad-based expert on Dalit politics.
Explaining why the film has been banned in Punjab, Shiromani Akali Dal MP Naresh Gujral told HT: “We have the highest percentage of Dalits in India at about 30%. We are also a border state where Pakistan always wants to create trouble. Can we risk social tension?” Jostling with the Telangana crisis and the rebellion of Jagan Mohan Reddy, the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh already has its hands full.
Aarakshan director Prakash Jha said, “For states where it has created problems, it is not a question of re-editing of the film but of sorting out certain issues.”
While filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt rued that “freedom of expression remains a distant dream”, lawyer Aman Lekhi told HT that the film could be in legal trouble if Dalits feel hurt. “Freedom of speech does not encompass derogatory remarks,” he said.
JNU sociologist Vivek Kumar said the promos suggest attempts at “stereotyping deprived communities”.
(Inputs from Chandigarh & Hyderabad)Follow us @htShowbiz