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Copyright 2004


Cinema In General


Editorial: Why censor cinema?

ARTISTIC EXPRESSION HAS always had its detractors. A Rushdie or a Husain has had to face wrath only because what one wrote and the other painted did not conform to the ideas in vogue. Or, maybe, both were far too original in their interpretations. Filmmakers too have faced not just criticism but ridicule and hostility as well. But for the artistic tribe, such reactions have never been entirely unexpected; after all, its point of view could be so radically different from popular notion. A Shakespeare and a Shelley knew and accepted this ages ago. They lived and died with it. But when protests against a movie or a piece of prose appear vindictive to the point of promoting narrow partisan ends, it is time for alarm. No society can hope to achieve excellence without its men of letters. No society can be happy without strengthening its power to tolerate and even accept a differing note, however jarring.

The Supreme Court must have meant precisely this when it pointed out the other day that ``in any democratic society, there are bound to be divergent views''. This was part of an important ruling which said that once a film had been certified by an experts panel suitable for public viewing, the Government could not prevent its exhibition on grounds of law and order. ``It is no excuse to say that there may be a law and order situation. It is for the State Government concerned to see that law and order is maintained.'' A Bench dismissed an appeal from the Centre against the judgment of a High Court striking down a section of the Cinematograph Act, which confers the power of review even after a movie had been cleared. Usually, in a dispute after the Censor Board has passed a film, it is shown to a quasi-judicial tribunal. The latest Supreme Court verdict, while granting the right of such an examination by the tribunal, forbids government interference thereafter.

This is a welcome step in a climate where fundamentalists have been attempting Talibanisation of India. The fact that many of them are part or have the support of political parties has merely added to the discomfort of artists who now find that their creativity is being questioned, sometimes even trampled upon. Deepa Mehta's Wateris a classic example of how hoodlums stopped her from picturising a script that was twice approved by the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry. Terming it worse than censorship, the lady packed up and left. In fact, the very utility of official censorship is being debated. 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 this test? One can, at best, adopt a rating system (as is practised in the U.S., where an age-related suitability certificate is given) and leave it at that. Censorship is outdated, even medieval, and it has no place in societies that thrive on vibrant ideas and experiments. Of course, a revocation of censorship must be preceded by a greater degree of responsibility. Cinema is a medium which offers enormous scope for visual and verbal communication. This should never be allowed to touch a level of crassness. Violence and vulgarity often convey shock, and little else, and moviemakers who feature these without any qualms probably suffer from a sense of delusion.

(This editorial appeared in The Hindu dated December 11 2000)

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