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Living in denial, forever

india Updated: Oct 23, 2009 22:20 IST

The recession is the official cause of death of Indian Summer, the Universal production exploring the intriguing relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten. Universal, of course, clarifies that the prognosis looks good though the film is in a coma. It will go into production once the cast, budget and script are in place. A likely prospect. Our sarkar is ageless and changeless and it will keep trying to inflict the death of four cuts on the script — no kissing, no dancing, no declarations of love and no bedroom scenes.

It suggests that Nehru never kissed anyone, loathed dancing worse than Aurangzeb, was incapable of love. But these were not handicaps because as you know, the first family reproduces by budding. Imagine a Bollywood movie accepting cuts like this to support the official line.

And for good measure, they are demanding a disclaimer stating that Indian Summer is a work of fiction. Weird, because fiction is not subject to the tyranny of fact. There is no evidence of a physical relationship between Nehru and Edwina. Their correspondence apparently does not suggest it, and both the Mountbatten family and Nehru’s niece, the writer Nayantara Sehgal, have denied the possibility.

But if you force a filmmaker to declare that his work is fictional, you give him the licence to make up torrid scenes featuring a prominent mem and the Chacha of the Nation. It’s fiction — read the disclaimer. Is this just weird, or is it impenetrable babu cunning?

Equally weird is our passion for revering our founding fathers, for perfecting them by stripping away their human qualities until our respect turns into hatred for what we have made inhuman. Nehru and Gandhi arouse mixed feelings not only because of the hegemonies they left behind, but also because we have made them larger-than-life cutouts. Like Diogenes, we want them to stand out of our sunlight.

But we unite to defend public figures from foreign devil filmmakers. Last month, the Argentinean Pablo Cesar had the temerity to propose a film on the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and his muse Victoria Ocampo, a writer and editor in Buenos Aires. The Internet is buzzing with all sorts of caveats, imprecations and prophecies of doom. Cesar is a brave man to persist in his aims, because even the great and the good among the natives get burned when they touch Tagore’s personal life. A foreign devil filmmaker will be incinerated.

Why are we so defensive? Our film censor board is headed by Sharmila Tagore, the original Indian bikini babe whose cover image for a film magazine marked the arrival of the modern heroine in the 1960s. A thinking fan’s actress, she has brought maturity to the policing of a totally sexualised industry. Anyway, the cure for an inappropriate film is not the censor’s scissors but the viewer’s thumb pointing down. And the viewer has always voted fearlessly and maturely with his wallet. Blue is entirely about bikinis, but no one’s watching it with their hearts in their mouths. Can’t we be as unafraid of foreign filmmakers as we are of our own? Can’t we close our eyes and imagine that someday, somewhere, Nehru kissed somebody? It’s such a harmless daydream. Good God, it could even be true!

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

The views expressed by the author are personal