Censor board or moral police?
The need for censorship of movies in India is an old debate. Some filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap have opined that in a big country like India where sensibilities and tastes are so diverse from region to region, it makes no sense to have a single body deciding what is suitable for watching and what is not.
That apart, the fact is that the Censor Board of India is expected to play the role of the ultimate decider as to what the Indian audience should watch or what they should be shielded from. Ideally, the Censor Board should be the last pit stop for any film, but it seems like no one takes them seriously, including the board members themselves!
Today, the Indian Censor Board has taken on the role of moral police. It meekly tries "protecting" the filmmaker from any trouble by chopping off any insinuating stuff, sometimes as innocuous as a political leader's picture, or even a cow passing by in the frame. The board bends backwards, fearing backlash from various political parties, professional groups, animal rights activists, so on and so forth.
But even after the Censor Board gives away token certificates, ironically the filmmaker's journey of seeking approvals just about begins. No one can dare defy the various self-appointed moral, cultural and social police, more and more of which keep mushrooming, some for publicity and some for other selfish reasons.
Ask Prakash Jha who tried being defiant. Finally, he had to toe the line and make the minor changes that the political bigwigs asked for only a few hours before the release of his film Rajneeti. Earlier Kashyap had a similar experience with his film, Black Friday, which dealt with the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai. While the Censor Board asked for many cuts, apparently under political pressure Kashyap tried standing his ground for a long time, till he realised that it was a no-win situation. He made the necessary cuts and the film was 'allowed' to be released.
There is no knowing what could irk whom. Back then in 1995 the otherwise non-controversial celebrated South Indian director Mani Pathname was arm-twisted into showing his film dealing with Bombay blasts to Bal Thackeray before the release of the film. Shah Rukh Khan's Billu Barber got the nais tearing their hair apart, Dhobhi Ghat got Dhobhis losing colour. While SRK promptly dropped Barber from the title, Aamir Khan held a seemingly unending press conference trying to convince the Dhobhi community that they are actually like brothers to him. Karan Johar's Wake Up Sid got the Shiv Sena upset for the usage of the word Bombay instead of Mumbai, and the seemingly harmless poster of his film Qurbaan with Kareena Kapoor's bareback got the MNS foaming at their mouths.
From what I can see, there is a serious lack of trust. While everyone's getting more and more aggressive about defending his or her community, political agenda, vote bank etc., no one gives a damn about the film industry which is getting stifled under constant pressure. So in such a scenario, would it be any surprise if filmmakers shied away from stories that reflected any kind of conflict? Films, which are supposed to be powerful tools for social change, will only get more and more stunted as filmmakers continue to get bullied by various elements.
What kind of a growth do we really expect, when freedom of expression is asked to take a long hike time and again? At best, if this continues, we will only be made to watch love stories with happy endings where the hero and the heroine sing around a tree. The Censor Board can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief then. Until, of course, the Forest department decides to object against the humiliation that tree has to go through...