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Copyright 2004


Cinema In General


A directionless panel

CHENNAI MARCH 15 2003. Censorship has always bugged the artist fraternity. Whether it is an M.F. Husain or a Salman Rushdie or an Alfred Hitchcock, each one of them, despite his masterly strokes or words or frames, have had to face some form of censorship. It could have been as heinous as tearing up a painting or passing a "fatwa'' or editing a film out of focus. Curiously, cinema has always had many more detractors than the other arts, and these men have, in the course of history, played terrible censorial spoilsport.

This is precisely why every time the Information and Broadcasting Ministry begins a debate on movie censorship, one feels apprehensive. The new man at the helm of affairs, Ravi Shankar Prasad, told the Rajya Sabha the other day that 12,000 metres of cinema reel in 1,942 pictures were scissored last year. "Maybe, there is a requirement to review the guidelines of 1991 given to the Central Board of Film Certification.''

While there is a growing move the world over to do away with any such restriction, Indian films continue to suffer at the hands of a panel, which, unfortunately, is directionless most of the time.

A part of the reason for this state of affairs is the Government, which is yet to make up its mind on what is permissible and what is not.

The result of this confusion can be seen all too clearly on the Indian screen. While much hullabaloo is made about explicit scenes, a liberal dose of violence and vulgarity find little or no obstacle across the country's cinemas.

Outside the Government and administrative ambit, India has seen another disturbing form of "censorship''. The classic examples of this were Deepa Mehta's "Fire'' and "Water''.

While theatres showing the first were vandalised by self-professed guardians of culture and morality, the second was not allowed to be filmed at all in Varanasi.

It must be understood by the Government and others that freedom of artistic expression is an effective barometer of the state of society, and any attempt to place impediments here will merely reflect the degree of the prevailing tolerance. When an administration, in particular, decides to impose its views on individual expression, it indicates a malaise.

Cinema should never be imprisoned, in a nation, which even today takes pride in its diversity. Much like literature, the moving medium is a dynamic means of communicating a plurality of ideas. To try and stifle this will be to strangle it out of existence.

In fact, the very utility of censorship is now under intense debate in many countries. The British Board of Film Classification recently relaxed restrictions on 18-rated movies after a major survey showed that most adults believed they should be allowed to make up their minds about what they watch. They did not want the Board to intervene excessively. There is no censorship in the U.S., merely a rating system.

The larger-than-life presence of the Censor Board in India presupposes that Indians are less mature and intelligent than the Americans and the English. Censorship is outdated, even medieval, and it has no place in societies that thrive on vibrant ideas and experiments.

The moot point is, why must a piece of celluloid be scrutinised by a Government board, when a book or a drawing or even a play does not have to pass through this test.

(This story appeared in The Hindu dated March 16 2003)

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