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Lights, camera and 89 cuts!

mumbai Updated: Jun 10, 2016 00:30 IST
Ayaz  Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
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Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt with Udta Punjab film actors Shahid Kapoor and Alia Bhatt during a press conference organized by Indian Film and Television Directors Association (IFTDA) in Mumbai.(PTI )

How credible would be the story on celluloid -- or any other medium – on the 26/11 terror attack in South Mumbai without pointing to massive failure of the state law and order and intelligence machinery?

The diabolical nature of the attack which had had areas from Gateway of India and Nariman Point, stretching to VT and Chowpatty being under siege (some of them for more than four days) would have been impossible without grave security lapses.

This would necessarily show the powers-that-were (city, state and national) in unfavourable light. Should the film be stymied for this reason? Or could it serve as a reminder and lesson on how things shouldn’t have come to such pass?

Let me try another plot. Would it be an affront to Mumbai’s reputation as the country’s financial capital to say that it also was (is?) the hub of the biggest, most dangerous crime syndicate in independent India?

And what if someone ventures to make a film only on the latter aspect? Does that mean that all the other wondrous attributes of Mumbai are negated or obliterated?

I’ll give a third storyline. There is no political dimension to it, and which perhaps drives home the absurdity about the controversy raging around ‘Udta Punjab’.

Read: How can a ‘Punjab’ signboard pose threat to India? Bombay HC asks CBFC

A producer wants to make a film on contemporary Indian cricket that focuses on rampant age-fudging, nepotism, match-fixing and opportunities provided or denied on basis of class and caste. Does this mitigate the wonderful achievements made in the sport otherwise and shame the country?

The brouhaha about ‘Udta Punjab’ is not misplaced because there are some fundamental issues involved. But frankly the only person who had some reason to get upset would be martial arts superstar Jackie Chan who has apparently been spoofed as a dog, Jackie Chain in the movie. Chan presumably is sitting somewhere wondering what the fuss is all about.

So why did the Censor Board get so miffed that it asked for the name of the state to be knocked off from the title (since restored by the Revision Committee, but still no mention of it in the film) along with a whopping 89 cuts? What exactly is the complaint against the film?

That it has a lot of profanities and fair amount of violence? That it shows the state’s politicians and police inability, even complicity in the drug problem becoming so huge? Where the tenor, tone and language is concerned, an A certificate — however much the filmmakers might dislike it — takes care of that matter even if in this day and age it seems a bit childish. And why should there be so much hypersensitivity about showing politicians and cops in cahoots with drug cartels? Has that been any different anywhere in the world, leave aside India or Punjab?

Last December, when we travelled through Punjab for the Professional Wrestling League, the most discussed issue was not Olympian Sushil Kumar’s absence from the tournament, but how the state had been debilitated by the menace of drugs. Countless people bemoaned how the drug problem has been treated cavalierly by authority till it had spun out of control. It is no longer even discussed in whispers. It is serious and needs to be instantly and aggressively addressed.

No fictionalized film can provide absolute solutions obviously, but if it creates awareness, as the makers of Udta Punjab claim, it should be welcomed. Why spurn it?

Which brings us to the central character in this drama. On the face of it, CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani seems a goofy character imbued by a deep sense of earnestness. The problem is that several of his decisions seem to stem from a regressive mindset. Considering the position he occupies, this is serious.

It is alleged that he works on the agenda set out by the BJP, which he supports quite openly. How far that is true is not clear because there are others in the CBFC who tilt towards the BJP but are in opposition to Nahalani. This makes the situation even more convoluted and complex. Nihalani seems to see his job as reestablishing a supposed heaven-on-earth past grandeur. In the process he is making make life hell for those working with him in the present.