It now seems that India is not alone in witnessing a turmoil in cinema. The world over, the medium appears to be attracting the ire of those in power.
We saw how Iranian filmmakers like Jafer Panahi and Abbas Kiarostami had been banned from making movies in their country. While Panahi is now under house arrest and not allowed to make films, Kiarostami – like director Sepideh Farsi and actor Golshifteh Farahani among others – have escaped from the restrictive climate of Iran. They now live in Europe making or acting in movies. China’s film policy has been nothing short of repressive. Writers and helmers have had to toe the state line or smuggle their works across the border.
Russian cinema is the latest to face a despotic hurdle. The government there has announced a set of proposals – soon to be made into a law -- to monitor exhibition licences for movies. Those defiling national culture or posing a threat to national unity or undermining the foundations of the constitutional order will not be permitted to screen.
This new plan follows a 2014 law, which disallowed blasphemy in films. A campaign was launched by the Russian minister for culture, Vladimir Medinsky, to promote patriotism by strengthening cinema in a way that it will reflect the values taught by the nation’s history.
Moviemakers have been extremely angry. “Who is going to decide that culture has been besmeared? The ministry? The public? A court? And on the basis of what?” director Andrei Proshkin asked the Russian news agency, Interfax, during a session.
“What is ‘national unity’? This is a completely new term, which did not exist in the past,” wrote Daniil Dondurei, editor of the Russian film magazine, Iskusstvo Kino.
Incidentally, these unfortunate developments have been taking place at a time when Russia should be celebrating the success of its movie, Leviathan, which won the Golden Globe for Foreign Film and has been nominated for Oscars in the same category.
The movie, viewed as a satire, about a common man struggling against a corrupt and evil bureaucrat was panned by Medinsky. He told the media that he did not recognise any of the characters in Leviathan.
Throughout history, cinema has served as a powerful tool of both the oppressor and oppressed. Hitler and Mussolini made use of this platform to propagate Fascist ideology. Men like Anand Patwardhan made documentaries to draw public attention to social ills. Adoor Gopalakrishnan has always said that films are storehouses of information.
So, cinema needs to be handled with extraordinary care.