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Cinema in the times of Censorship

In Thailand, Ing Kanjanavanit could not have dreamed that her adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (called Shakespeare Tong Tie or Shakespeare Must Die) would be banned by the government authorities.

world cinema Updated: Jun 09, 2014 15:14 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran

One is not surprised that cinema has always given the jitters to people and people’s representatives. In India, despite its well-professed democracy and democratic institutions, films have been banned or stopped from popping out of the cans for years.

Anurag Kashyap’s Black Friday on the Mumbai riots could be released in theatres many years after it was made. Deepa Mehta’s Fire was not allowed to run. Kamal Hassan’s Viswaroopam could open after much wrangling with a small and insignificant group. Santosh Sivan’s Inam had to be taken off before it could even complete a week.

However, all the Indian producers, financers and moviemakers who have suffered from such “censorship” would perhaps feel a sense of solace to learn that they are not alone in this struggle to express what they want to through what is undoubtedly a visually vibrant medium.

In Thailand, Ing Kanjanavanit could not have dreamed that her adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (called Shakespeare Tong Tie or Shakespeare Must Die) would be banned by the Government authorities. Although Thailand has had various kinds of dictatorial regimes over the years, it still seems incredulous that Mr William Shakespeare, a poet and playwright who lived some 450 years ago in England, can have the power to rattle the powers that be in Bangkok!

The director is being seen as a dangerous subversive, and why? Kanjanavanit, who went to school in Derbyshire (Britain) and later in Surrey (also Britain), got a dose of autocratic medicine when her documentary, Citizen Juling (about the killing of a teacher by some Muslim women in southern Thailand), was labelled controversial and not allowed to travel to foreign festivals.

So, Kanjanavanit decided to tackle something as safe as Shakespeare. Macbeth, she chose, but little did she realise then that even this will attract brickbats.

Though she translated the play as precisely as possible, she added what she felt would be pointers to contemporary happenings in her country, and therein lay the seeds of her trouble. One of them is the way in which Thailand’s former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, is being sidelined. His detractors assumed that Kanjanavanit’s film will keep the memory of the man and his rule alive, even though the helmer has been shouting that she is no fan of his “blatant and obscene ethics”. Of course, the movie is no anti-Thaksin propaganda.

However, a more important reason for Kanjanavanit’s woes may lie in one of the scenes that occur at the end of the film – where Macbeth’s execution resembles the horrifying massacre at Thammasat University at Bangkok in October 1976. Over 40 pro-democracy students, who had been staging satirical plays, were murdered.

The movie, therefore, can viewed as a strong critique of the Thai administration. So was Macbeth in a way. And Shakespeare can shake all right.

It is in a scenario such as this comes the news that Saudi Arabia, whose dislike of cinema in well known, may well have theatres soon. An investor has applied to the Saudi General Commission of Audiovisual Media for opening cinemas.

The Commission has asked the investor to submit a detailed plan, and this in a country where cinema is banned.

But, ban or no ban, Saudis travel to nearby Dubai and Bahrain to watch the films they want to. And television channels in Saudi Arabia have also been beaming movies from across the world. So the ban is hardly effective.

Once, the Kingdom of Bhutan disallowed television, but later had to lift the curb when it saw subjects thinking of ingeneous ways of getting channels into their living rooms.

The right to express through cinema or any other means can never be effectively checked. I have seen Iranian and Chinese movies being smuggled into Cannes through methods absolutely unimaginable and novel. And there you go.