Censor board stuck in time-warp; stubbornness won't work in this age

  • Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Feb 19, 2015 01:19 IST

Controversies happen but if the raison d’etre for some people being in certain offices is controversy, it is damaging for the office one holds.

Ever since the NDA came to power this is something that first happened with the chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR). A similar miasma seems to be enveloping the institution of the censor board, whose chairman, Pahlaj Nihalani, was appointed in haste as his predecessor, Leela Samson, resigned amid unpleasantness because she had felt her authority was being undercut.

Mr Nihalani first made a remark praising Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a somewhat cloying manner. He has now ruffled more feathers by bringing out a list of 28 ‘profane’ words — in English and Hindi — that films must avoid using.

This has understandably angered the film world, which loathes any restriction being placed on its freedom. The government has rightly sensed that the friction can snowball into a greater spat and asked Mr Nihalani to be more cautious and circumspect.

While Mr Nihalani could be said to be well-intentioned in purging cinema of some words that cater to people’s base instincts, he can be said to have performed a small part of that job.

First, he has restricted himself to only Hindi and English. There are films in regional languages to which he has virtually no control. Second, Mr Nihalani should consider the question what kind of service he is doing to the film industry through the excising job.

True, profane words are not to be used in public discourse. But it is a fact that abusive idioms are part of social interactive processes and literature and cinema do nothing but depict that. And it is through the medium of culture that people learn the folly of such language or some other ways of communication. And if showing violence in films means encouraging violence in society, much of Bollywood would simply not be there. The same logic holds for abusive language, which is nothing but a manifestation of psychological violence.

The censor board seems to have got into a time-warp in the sense that it is not being able to appreciate the fact that society has progressed and become liberal to the point where this is a matter of little consternation. Such moves are likely to bring a bad name to the government and alienate the liberal elements among the middle class, which has been known all over the world for their prudishness. Finally, in a multicultural society like India an organisation such as the censor board or the ICHR would do well to avoid pursuing a cultural policy that is too heavily value-loaded and sheers towards majoritarianism. Stubbornness just doesn’t work.

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