It was quite sweet how happy some folks were when Arun Jaitley, said the other day, that the era of censorship was over, hai na? Soon after, Pahlaj Nihalani, film producer and obeisance-payer to the ruling party, was appointed new chief of the Censor Board, along with nine other ruling party supporters, all replacing Leela Samson, former chief and the nine members who resigned citing political interference.
Venerable bearded columnists began writing Doom 4 in response. I thought though, it’s almost touchingly truthful. Yaniki, are we under any illusion that we are currently in an era of great free speech and cultural maturity? Why pretend by having representative committees na? To rephrase that old slogan, Hum Log Hamare Log.
Anyone who believes in free and fair expression should really be demanding that the regime of censor certification be replaced by a ratings system which indicates audience suitability, then leaves it to audience discretion.
Because it is this audience discretion we urgently need to foster, not the “mummy, tell bhaiya to stop calling me a kaddu or I’ll hit him” responses that rule. Audience discretion means, sure, don’t like it don’t see it.
But it also means, see it, then argue your objections through other films, writing, columns, blogs, social media — and engage others with your point of view. That’s a mature cultural atmosphere.
The political allegiance of the Censor Board sends out a terrible message of sycophancy, but to focus on its influence is to allow politics to be reduced to party allegiance. The political imbues our every act and utterance, our daily gestures and choices. Politics is boxed not in neat formations of left and right, but in mindsets of homogeneity or heterogeneity, tolerance and intolerance. We should actively dismantle processes, like censorship, that reduce politics to side-taking rather than a dynamic discussion of ideas.
Censor committees are drawn from diverse backgrounds like juries in American legal dramas. Sure, sometimes they’ve made open-minded decisions, often not. But basically the existence of the CBFC has not reduced sexism, violence, hate speech, negativity and absurdity in our cinemas — all these elements are flourishing like a film fungus.
Having a censor certificate seems to be meaningless in conflict. Documentary film screenings are frequently disrupted — as it recently happened with Anand Patwardhan’s 24-year old film, Ram ke Naam. Usually the administration does not ensure that a certified film be screened, but bends to protestors demands. So what purpose does the Censor Board serve?
As a filmmaker opposed to censorship, I have too often found myself in dharnas, and human chains and some eye-roll worthy protests, on behalf of a film I actually feel ambivalent about but am now forced to defend, rather than analyse because it’s aglow with the halo of censorship. You know what that’s really bad for? It’s bad for the political culture because it reduces us to side-taking rather than promoting nuanced political discussion and self-questioning.
Meanwhile, with its insistent homogenising impulse, the highly rigged machinery of the mythical ‘free’ market continues its bloodless coup of the culture. It keeps a million more truths and diverse voices out of the public domain than censors ever could.
The Censor Board does do one thing. It institutionalises and legitimises the idea of censoriousness. If you insist on it, you just think your censoriousness is superior, bas. The British created this censorship system to safeguard the imperial interest and control the natives. So, it is designed to protect rulers not enrich the people by fostering a culture of playfulness, satire, reflection, argument, subversiveness which speak our many truths. Yaniki it’s a bore. It should go.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com. The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.