Ask any filmmaker, and most will say he’s the biggest villain in their life these days. After a barrage of stinging criticism against the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chief Pahlaj Nihalani, it is now director Hansal Mehta who has a bone to pick against the board: The trailer of his film, Aligarh – a film on a gay professor – was awarded an A certificate on Sunday, unleashing a string of reactions on the social media.
Mehta called the rating “unjustified” and “downright stupid,” with Nihalani hitting back saying the filmmaker’s public displeasure was “publicity stunt” for the movie. This is what Pahlaj Nihalani said to PTI: The certification we have given to the trailer is according to the content. If the makers feel it is not justified then let them take a public opinion on this... Tell me, is the subject of homosexuality for kids? For teenagers? We have already cleared the film and now they are creating a controversy. This is a cheap publicity stunt by him (Mehta).
The fight continues.
The core of the argument is this: Should a movie dealing with homosexuality be deemed appropriate for an audience that includes teenagers and youngsters. Actor Rajkummar Rao, who plays a pivotal role in the film, counters Nihalani’s objection saying children these days are introduced to the concepts of rape and murder at a very young age.
Common understanding and the parameters used by the CBFC to judge a film, Rao says, is the root of the problem. “He (Pahlaj Nihalani) says it’s unconstitutional, but what about the kind of films kids in our country get to see? We don’t have any problem showing drunkards, murderers, rapists, stalkers… all sorts of wrong-doers in our films, but we have a problem showing a story that is already in the public domain. Do other films not affect the kids? Also, we’re not showcasing any sex in the film. There is nothing wrong with Aligarh, period.”
“I don’t understand why sexuality is such a taboo in our society? There’s nothing to be ashamed about. Who are we to question anybody’s personal choices? These things are there in our system since forever. Shouldn’t the kids know about the LGBT community and their issues?” says Rao.
Even health experts HT spoke to agree, saying that the concept of homosexuality can be introduced to children when they are given a sex education.
“The ideal age for kids to see such a film is same as the time they are given sex education. Ideally, it should be when they are 11-12 years. It’s absolutely perfect to give teenagers an overall idea of homosexuality because if they learn about it at a later stage, they’ll grow up thinking it is abnormal,” says Delhi-based clinical psychologist Dr Pulkit Sharma. “It would be a great disservice to the LGBT community,” he adds.
“They might be less in number, but their problems need to be heard. In medical terms, no diagnostic model treats homosexuality as anything wrong or a disease. It was dropped from the index in the 1960s as a disease, more than 55 years ago. So, whosoever is against a well-meaning, aesthetically-crafted film is biased,” says Sharma.
Voices within the industry too are growing louder at the harshness of the rating, saying the kind of content currently available for young movie goers, the rating is unjustified.
National Award-winning filmmaker Onir adds an interesting perspective to the whole debate. “Ten years ago, my first film My Brother Nikhil was given the U certificate. I was surprised when Aligarh got the A certificate. I wasn’t even a known filmmaker back then. See, homosexuality depends on the context. Any kind of relationships can be shown to kids. It’s all about how you treat it. Children should know their choices and should also respect others’. To put it in general terms, it’s all about perceiving the ‘different’ ones.
Many years later, Onir’s I Am received U/A with the same theme. He adds, “The Censor Board shouldn’t behave like a moral board. In fact, we should have more dialogue and conversation. If this subject is so bad, then why did they give the National Award to my film I Am (2010)? Is the current board questioning the National Award?”
We live in a country where Section 377 gives the administration enough powers to curb the basic human rights of the LGBT community. Slowly and steadily, even the judiciary is realizing the need to modify the Draconian law, and here we’re discussing the ‘unseen’ impacts of an aesthetically edited trailer.
Bengaluru-based Andrologist Dr Sudhakar Krishnamurti probes into the root of the matter: “Sex education starts at different age in different families. They set different parameters for the initiation. We need to get rid of the usual sex education where we feature ridiculous images of genitals in our textbooks. Don’t highlight the botched up version of sex. It has a meaning in human life, it promotes co-existence. Surprisingly in our society, sex is bad and homosexuality is very bad. I wish we had learnt something from other civilisations.”
He adds, “Homosexuality is just another version of sex. The moment we stop our 3 to 6 moth toddlers from touching their genitals after a mosquito bite, we are headed for a blocked mindset. Sex education should start as early as possible.”
A look at the haunting trailer of Aligarh will transport you to the lonely surroundings of Professor Siras and how he was victimised. Shouldn’t that story reach the people beyond the A certificate wall? Is that possible with our current mindset?
We, as a film loving community, have a very strange relationship with homosexuality-based films. Most of the times, we are made to watch mockery-laden ventures such as Girlfriend, Dostana and Dunno Y Naa Jaane Kyun where it’s really difficult to empathise with the characters. Even films such as Kal Ho Naa Ho presents such a serious topic in a lighter vain.
Watch: Haunting trailer of Aligarh
In a world where directors like Gus Van Sant and Larry Clark are taking a raw, unflinching look at teen sexuality through films such as Elephant (2003) and Kids (1995), we’re stuck with a mindset which has a reflection in that stereotypical teen character who prefers suicide than coming out in several films. Maybe unknowingly, but don’t you think Mr Nihalani that your statement pushed those adolescents an inch more towards the brink in the name of ‘societal norms’? It’s not a matter of how we do it anymore, but our explanation of why we do it.
(Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/@nawabjha)