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‘It would be exploitation, not entertainment’

For Hindustan Times, reality cinema specialist Madhur Bhandarkar writes on why filmmakers should not ‘cash in’ on 26/11.

entertainment Updated: Jan 13, 2009 12:40 IST

Right now, as many as a dozen films on the recent terror attacks, are in various stages of pre-production.

Film titles have been registered at the producers’ association. And frontline actors have been approached to enact the roles of the martyrs. Whether these projects will eventually be completed and accepted by viewers is another question altogether.

For HT Café, reality cinema specialist Madhur Bhandarkar writes on why filmmakers should not ‘cash in’ on 26/11.

Frequently, I do not understand why we need a film on every awful incident that confronts our lives. Surely, our mind does not slip into an unconscious state after a few weeks, months or years that we need to make a movie to remind ourselves what we have gone through.

I am not against making films on real-life issues. If I was then I would not have made the kind of cinema that I do. Some call them slice-of-life cinema, others call them reality cinema. Yet I am unequivocally against making feature films on the 26/11 terror attacks.

The recreation of the ghastly attacks is not justified in the film medium. And it is simply because whenever a film has been made on terrorism or for that matter the underworld, the perpetrators have been glorified — which is a dangerous use of cinema. Like it or not, the image of a Bombay film villain has always been larger-than-life.

Not again
Many wounds have to heal yet, wounds left by the horrors of those 60 hours. Recreating them on film would only deepen those wounds.

Incalculable tragedies cannot be commercialised in the name of cinematic liberty.

Take the communal riots for instance. So many films have been made on the subject and more are aiming to explore its details. If a filmmaker manages to tell us something that we do not know and we can gain positively by that revelation, then fair enough. If not, I don’t think the audience is ready for any more riot movies.

In recent months, A Wednesday was one film that shook me up. It was anti-terrorism and it was written and directed with sense, sensibility and imagination. Such thought-provoking films are fine but I am afraid those which merely exaggerate and distort reality to sell cinema tickets should be discouraged, at this very juncture.
But who is to prevent filmmakers out there from capitalising on tragedy? There are various hurdles in suggesting a code of conduct as such. There are no guidelines or parameters for reality cinema. When I made Chandni Bar, the censor gave me an A certificate.

Such discrimination
They were a bit more moderate with me, subsequently, and didn’t give me an adults only certificate. They gave U/A to Page 3, Traffic Signal and Corporate. As it happened, three of my films won National Awards even though explicit scenes of sexuality and frank dialogue were a part of them.

Then the same censors gave me an A certificate for Fashion. I was shocked. According to the censors, I had shown fashion models smoking and taking drugs.
Obviously, they thought I should be depicting them as cute, pig-tailed girls-next-door. Didn’t they realise that I was exploring the dark side of the fashion industry?

In Page 3, I had shown gay sexuality. The same film dealt with child trafficking for the first time ever on Indian cinema. I was applauded universally for exploring the darker side of everyday life.

Yet, I would say that there are some areas where you cannot go beyond a certain limit. The world of politics is one of them. My film Satta based on politicians and their liaisons, was an eye-opener. The late Pramod Mahajan had complimented me for making a film that was so close to reality. He told me that the film was not a figment of a filmmaker’s imagination but the reality which he had seen, up, close and personal as a politician.

Reality bites
In India, a filmmaker doesn’t have a sufficient amount of freedom. We have to think 10 times before adding or writing a scene. There was a word — ‘kinnar’ — in Traffic Signal. This word is usually used to describe a ‘eunuch’ but the film was banned in Himachal Pradesh. It was said that Kinnar is a community there and I was making fun of it. Absurd.

Such taboos are, however, nothing compared to the self-censorship that’s essential for a filmmaker. Cinema is a mode of entertainment. If in the name of entertainment the audience feels hurt, scarred all over again and relives the horrors of those 60 hours, it goes without saying that this is exploitation, not entertainment.

In no way would it be sensitive to recreate the experiences of three of the blackest days witnessed by a city under siege. I am sure my senior colleagues like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani would agree with me. They have made films on real people and real incidents. Benegal’s Ankur, Kalyug and Zubeidaa and Nihalani’s Ardh Satya are my favourities. But their cinema has remained within boundaries. They have not overstepped the limits to exaggerate and distort.

Truth be told
At times, I even wonder how much we can show of our Bombay film industry. There would be a furore if the whole truth and nothing but the truth were to be told about Bollywood. On the other hand, there can be no better film on Hollywood than Sunset Boulevard. I’ve been toying with the idea of making a film on the same lines but have held back.. because I don’t want to be a sensation monger.

Whenever I have depicted real life, the dignity of the inhabitants of those worlds has been retained. I have never crossed the boundaries between reel and real life. The line between the reel and real is very thin, it takes very little to merge it. After all, filmmaking is a commercial business. Cashing in on 26/11 would be another commercial gambit.

Please let us refrain from it. Let us not feed on the tragedy of our countrymen.

First Published: Jan 13, 2009 12:29 IST