Film censorship is a weapon that political authority uses so often. Sometimes to throttle dissent. Sometimes in apprehension of what a movie may provoke.
India’s Central Board of Film Certification has refused to allow the public screening of the documentary, No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka – which looks at the last phase in early 2009 of the ethnic war between the island nation’s army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, seeking a separate homeland for the minority community. (Sinhalas form the majority in the country.)
Although the movie has been in the public domain for more than three years, Colombo has been lambasting it, calling the documentary propaganda to shame the Sri Lankan administration.
After India’s Censor Board refused to certify the film, the director of the documentary, Callum Macrae, said his work would now be freely available on the net in India. It will be in English with Hindi subtitles.
On Saturday, the documentary was screened in Chennai by the Youths and Students Federation, a pro-Tamil group.
In recent years, cinema has been targeted by both the government and political organisations. Bollywood helmer Anurag Kashyap’s powerful feature, Black Friday, on the Mumbai riots was not allowed to get out of the cans for years. Documentary movie-maker Anand Patwardhan has had to fight innumerable legal battles to show his works.
Kamal Hassan fell afoul of a virtually unknown political outfit, which sought a ban on his Viswaroopam. It finally opened after a delay of several weeks. More famously, Deepa Mehta’s Water was not allowed to be shot in Varanasi by radical Hindu groups, which felt that the film would denigrate the plight of Vrindavan widows. And decades ago, Krishnaswamy’s wonderful documentary, From Indus Valley to Indira Gandhi, struggled to get a release. His documentary on Operation Blue Star could never see the light of day.
So Macraé’s movie is one among the many in India that have been banned either by the government or radical political outfits. But such prohibitions merely tickle public curiosity – much like what happened years and years ago with the book, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. After it was proscribed, the novel – which later went to become a great classic – became such a hit that just about everybody keyed into reading somehow found a copy. I know high school kids reading the sexually graphic text in the Lawrence book.
Similarly, I am now told that after Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History, was banned and the publisher, Penguin, forced to recall all the copies, the 779 tome is being sold clandestinely like hot cakes.
Ultimately a ban proves to be absolutely counter-productive. It only helps arouse people’s curiosity.