Women can’t ask for condoms, no to ‘intercourse’: What’s wrong with censor board | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Women can’t ask for condoms, no to ‘intercourse’: What’s wrong with censor board

Cinema is always the soft target. Censorship is an old gag in India; under this BJP regime, voices against it are louder than ever before. No sensible mind in the government would likely find any artistic or cerebral match in the CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani, director of asinine Bollywood films in the 1970s and 1980s

opinion Updated: Jul 03, 2017 13:09 IST
Pahlaj Nihalani ordered a ban on Lipstick Under My Burkha because he thought was too “lady-oriented”
Pahlaj Nihalani ordered a ban on Lipstick Under My Burkha because he thought was too “lady-oriented”(Agencies)

The theatrical release of Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha should encourage Hindi film-makers to recognise that sexual women can make good cinema. Hindi cinema has left the vamp and the virgin behind. Through the noughties and beyond, we have been seeing heroines who live in with boyfriends, who work at offices and run businesses and fiefdoms. But in almost all these films, they transform to human equivalents of ductile dolls at the exact sequence in which a song plays (nowadays in the background) and they fall in love. With a man. Yash Raj Films’ Daawat-e-Ishq (2014) is an example.

But Lipstick Under My Burkha is important for another big reason. It is a free speech milestone in India.

Twelve years ago, Maqbool Fida Husain left India. In a country that has always treated the art gallery as a rarefied, air-conditioned echo chamber best left to the elite, Husain was known to everyone. The supreme colourist, the most famous Indian modern artist, stunned the philistine and the aesthete alike. He died in London in 2011, having maintained that he was always an Indian artist and an Indian patriot. The truth is, he had no choice but to leave India. The Hindu establishment, through the Shiv Sena, its most potent vehicle in the 1990s and early 2000s, virtually hounded him out of the country. He painted Saraswati nude, he made Bharat mata trivial — there were such allegations against the artist, which became court cases Husain had no patience, will or temperament to fight for years.

Like then, India is still using Section 295 (A) and Section 153 (A) of the Constitution to justify offence and demand cuts, bans and serial silencing of artistic voice in cinema and art. Both these sections allow punishment of imprisonment or fine for “deliberate and malicious acts” that insult religious beliefs of any class of citizens. Section 153 (A) extends the purview of the offended: Offence can be on grounds of “race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever”, which may encourage feelings of hatred or animosity. The easily offended Indian, in most cases, a Hindu, has used these two archaic sections of the Constitution freely and gleefully.

Cinema is always the soft target. Censorship is an old gag in India; under this BJP regime, voices against it are louder than ever before. One of this government’s contributions to the arts is appointing primitive minds to helm State-sponsored organisations like the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). No sensible mind in the government would likely find any artistic or cerebral match in the CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani, director of asinine Bollywood films in the 1970s and 1980s.

Culture for this State is largely indigenous art forms, and the need to save them, rather than promote voices that shatter tastes and traditions. This position is perfectly in harmony with the ‘escapist entertainment’ that majority of India believes films should be.

Nihalani now wants the word ‘intercourse’ cut from the trailer of Shah Rukh Khan’s next film, Imtiaz Ali’s Jab Harry met Sejal. He wants 1 lakh votes from 36-year-old Indians and above. Not from unmarried people, and not on social media.

Shrivastava made her battles with the CBFC a selling point for her film Lipstick Under My Burkha, which Ekta Kapoor’s Alt Entertainment is releasing in theatres on July 21 after the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal ordered that the film be granted an ‘A’ certificate with some cuts and reducing of the duration of sex scenes. The film’s second trailer has the hook: A victim that is finally triumphant.

Ratna Pathak Shah, Konkona Sensharma, Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur play the lead roles of women in a small town. They have secret desires — the character Sensharma plays, of a burkha-clad woman, asks for topis at a chemist. How dare a Muslim woman stifled under a burkha ask for a condom? Nihalani ordered a ban on the film because he thought was too “lady-oriented”.

He of course meant the film had deracinated female sexual perverts who had no business pursuing their desires. Let’s watch the film and decide.

Sanjukta Sharma is a Mumbai-based writer and critic, and former editor of Mint Lounge

The views expressed are personal