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Ban, ban, ban.. what’s next...

Ashok Rai, Jerry Pinto & Deepa Gahlot give us an insight into the movies, books and plays on the theme of intolerance...

columns Updated: Oct 09, 2009 13:47 IST

A Marathi movie on the education system is banned and then cleared. A cheesy Desh Drohi draws frowns and then smiles.. of curiosity. A city bookstore is asked by the police not to stock books from Pakistan in the wake of the 26/11 terror attacks, even if the books are critical of their country’s realpolitik. Playboy and Hustler are still contraband magazines. Kissing is permitted in some movies, cleavage is excised from others. <b1>

It’s a whimsical world. Ban, ban, ban.. what’s next, Harry Potter if he dares to wear a fez?

‘Fikar not, contacts hai na’
By Ashok Rai

Censorship, film censorship has made my eyes go cross-eyed. If Ghajini with its spasms of violence can get an UA certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification, what does it mean? That kids can get to see it with formal sanction? UA is supposed to mean guidance from adults for an under-age viewer to see a movie. Frankly, does that work.. practically.. at all?

Wait is on
Nope. For long, the Censor Board —incidentally, its Walkeshwar office in Mumbai is situated above a prim and propah finishing school for young women — has been stating that it will introduce new and more certificates (as if that would help).

For long, it has been wanting to become more uniform. Meaning every film will get equal treatment. No kidding, ha ha.

There are loopholes and loopholes. As someone who was on the ‘advisory panel’ — meaning a censor member who’d see films with a jury — to my horror, after a couple of such sessions, I found myself restricted to B, C and Z-grade projects. The juries for the Bollywood blockbusters mostly comprised a section of ‘more lenient and happy’ members of the panel. Wow. After wading through films from Rajasthan, Assam and Chembur’s ESEL Studio, I quit. The censor officials said not to, assuring, “Sir, you will get a chance to see the better movies also.” No thanks, I can afford my own ticket.

Don’t worry
The point is that the ‘juries’ for censoring films appear to be fixed or magically correct. Also when a friend known for his erudition had made a film with a feminist sub-text, he was unsure about how certain scenes of physical intimacy would be viewed.

He expected the film to get an ‘Adults Only’ certificate because the theme warranted that. The film’s producer slung his arm around his shoulder and breezed, “Fikar not. Contacts hai na? UA or no cuts milega.” That’s what he got.

Down the years, the board has appointed a curious line-up of chairpersons. Take Vijay Anand, more progressive than the others, who was given his marching orders soon after he suggested that India should have its porn XXX cinema halls like other Asian countries. Then there have been Asha Parekh, Anupam Kher and now Sharmila Tagore, all of whom have received their equal shares of garlands and rotten tomatoes. It’s a thankless job.

And in these circumstances, we have no idea what can be chopped or retained in a film. What is adult and what for heaven’s sake is UA? What are the tolerance and intolerance levels of the ‘lenient’ and ‘strict’ members of the board’s advisory panels?

No answers to any of those questions, I am afraid. Maybe some day, or in another lifetime. Maybe.

Burning pages
By Jerry Pinto
As a nation, we are rather good at pinching our own freedom to death. If a book is said to have some material in it that is offensive to our sentiments, we don’t go and take a look at the book. <b2>

We get out on to the road and we ask for a ban. Most of the time, none of the protestors have even read a book. It is enough that someone told them that it is a book that is offensive. It’s as if we like giving up our right to think for ourselves.

Our ‘intellectuals’ aren’t much help either. When Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses ran into trouble, two of our best-known intellectuals, supported the ban. Khushwant Singh was one of them; the other was Nissim Ezekiel, who was by some ironic coincidence, the head of the Indian PEN, one of whose stated aims was “to defend literature against the many threats to its survival which the modern world poses.”

From the works of Partap Sharma to Aubrey Menen, from Stanley Wolpert to Bertrand Russell, we have banned books that have offended us in some way or the other. India seems to be the kind of place where a book is an incendiary object.

To ask for Pakistani authors to be taken off the shelves of our bookshops at this time is to play into the hands of those who would like to see the subcontinent in a continual state of enmity. For history has showed us that the only valid way out of terror is dialogue.

Not a single Pakistani author on those shelves has ever been found guilty of terrorism, of India-hating or India-baiting. If dialogue has always been the only way to resolve problems, then books go a long way to initiate that dialogue.

No end
Make no mistake; these are the conversations that will bring peace in the end.

Because we recognise slowly, painfully sometimes, that we share a culture, a history that stretches back thousands of years, a way of life, ways of thinking and building, loving and marrying, bringing up children and talking to our parents.

This is what the terrorist wants to efface. This is what the book seeks to memorialise. On whose side are we?

By Deepa Gahlot
Vijay Tendulkar triggered it off — people’s rage against what they considered ‘unacceptable’. Ghashiram Kotwal, done in folk music style by Jabbar Patel, was deemed to be offensive to the Brahmin community and a ban was sought. A foreign tour was jeopardised because of the court case, but finally, when the play was staged, it went on to become a landmark of Indian theatre.

Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder about a man’s contempt for socially sanctioned relationships, that leads him to pick up and dump women at whim, raised an uproar for its content and ‘obscene’ language. <b3>

Tendulkar almost made it his life’s mission to offend middle class sensibilities. His plays like Gidhade (about a dysfunctional family), Mitrachi Gosht (about lesbianism) and Baby (about violence).. all approached subjects and issues till then swept under the carpet of propriety.

Not allowed
Iqbal Khwaja’s Shakespeare ki Ram Leela was not allowed to be staged at Prithvi Theatre and shows had been disrupted by violent mobs, who felt that the play denigrated Hindu gods. For years Kiran Nagarkar’s Bedtime Stories was banned for obscenity.

A play called Mi Nathuram Godse Boltoy, which put forward the point of view of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, invited protest for its anti-Gandhi content.

Violent protests
Plays Vastraharan, Yada Kadachit, Amhi Pachpute and Deva Kari Love, have invited violent protests, attacks on theatres and even crude bomb explosions. Another Marathi play Bhaiyya Haath Paay Pasari (the title explains the content) had North Indians expressing their displeasure. In Nagpur, the police prevented the staging of Cotton 56, Polyester 84, because the play portrays the plight of Mumbai’s mill workers. Theatre veteran Habir Tanvir was attacked for staging Ponga Pandit, because it lampooned the upper castes.

Because of its limited reach, theatre doesn’t get a fraction of the protests that cinema, art or literature invites, but still over the years enough plays have raised hackles, leading to disruptions of shows by a small group of ‘aggrieved’ people with lung power and a few stones.