Why censor body should not be deciding the films you should watch and the words you should hear in them
India's film censor board has been accused of arbitrarily curbing creative freedom. Top filmmakers are up in arms against this disturbing trend.
Ghosh has been asked to mute out four words/phrases — Gujarat, Hindutva view of India, cow and Hindu India — to get a goahead from the CBFC. The words in question are not part of the director’s script but figure in Sen’s opinion in the course of a conversation with Kaushik Basu, a fellow economist and former chief economic advisor of the government of India. The documentary, which has been screened once in Kolkata for a select audience, was to be released this week, when it was stalled by the Kolkata office of the censor board. He has uploaded a trailer on Facebook.
“I’m still in a state of shock and trying to figure out what to do next so that film can be screened without beeping out the words,” says the award-winning filmmaker whose first feature film Poddokkhep in 2006 won two national awards, including best actor for Bengali thespian Soumitra Chatterjee. Ghosh, a professor of economics at Florida Atlantic University, will be in India for another month because he has just started shooting for his next film, Basu Paribar, with Chatterjee and Aparna Sen. He hopes that he will be able to sort things out and The Argumentative Indian will be released before he goes back to the US.
“The disturbing trend of arbitrarily curbing creative freedom of film directors started with Abhishek Chaubey’s Udta Punjab, during the tenure of CBFC chairman Pahlaj Nihalani, who took charge in early 2015. More recently, the CBFC refused a release certificate to Lipstick Under My Burkha. And now I feel that the fact that Amartya Sen has been critical of the BJP government may be one of the reasons for the curbs on my film,” Ghosh told ET Magazine over phone from Kolkata. He feels that the Bollywood film fraternity, along with their counterparts from regional cinema in India, should come together and raise their voices against the censor board to ensure that directors’ freedom of expression is not attacked.
Ghosh is not the only filmmaker having problems with censorship. Madhur Bhandarkar’s much awaited Indu Sarkar, which is based on the Emergency period in India and scheduled for release this month, has run into rough weather with the CBFC having demanded 14 cuts. “The things that CBFC is asking us to change will change the essence of the film. We would surely go to the Revising Committee or the Tribunal if need be,” the director said in reply to ET Magazine’s questions on email. The Revising Committee is the second panel with a different set of members from the Examining Committee (the first panel). The final panel is the Film Certificate Appellate Tribunal (FCAT), which usually comprises retired judges and senior industry members. “There is nothing derogatory in the film and all the names that we are using have been used for many documentaries, books and have been reported in the public domain. Also, the film is a human drama; the Emergency is just the backdrop,” Bhandarkar added. “I would request people to let the film release, see it in totality and then judge. Asking for ban, burning effigies or asking people to blacken my face is not the way.”
Lipstick Under my Burkha, which was grounded by the CBFC last October because of its ‘lady-oriented’ content, is now scheduled for a release next week after the FCAT overturned the CFBC ruling. Director Alankrita Shrivastava feels that in a democratic country, the censor body should have no role to play beyond a basic certification of films. “Citizens have a right to engage with and consume whatever content they want to and the censor authorities should not come with any moral baggage,” says Shrivastava. Now that her film, which went on to win several international awards, has been cleared with an A certificate, she is relieved. “Not allowing the film to be released in India at all would have created a wrong precedent, discouraged women directors and been a step against artistic freedom,” she says.
Filmmaker Onir, whose Shab was released on Friday, says there is an urgent need to revise film censorship guidelines. “The Cinematograph Act is completely illogical in the present context. We should only follow a basic certification system in keeping with the principles of freedom of creative expresssion,” the director said, adding that he was fortunate that his new film, which is about relationships and set in Delhi, was cleared with an A certificate, without any visual cuts and he had to only mute four words.
Director Prakash Jha, who is also the producer of Lipstick… has long called for the scrapping of the censor body for films in India and feels that only basic certification guidelines should be followed. “If you give anyone the authority to decide what other people will watch, they will look at it from their own perspective which will be determined by upbringing, education and other factors. No one should be given such authority and an authoritarian mindset can only harm creative expression and freedom of film directors. I have always said this and continue to say it,” Jha told ET Magazine. While he was expecting Lipstick… to run into problems with the censor board, he was surprised that the body completely refused to release the film.
There was no response to an email with questions sent to the CBFC chairperson at the time of writing. The problem may not be only with CBFC, points out Mumbai-based film and TV editor Irene Dhar Malik. “The I&B ministry too recently didn’t grant screening certificates to three documentaries that were selected for the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala — they were on Rohit Vermula, JNU & Kashmir.”