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Filmmakers and artists slam censor, show solidarity with Udta Punjab

Sukant Deepak
Sukant DeepakJun 10, 2016 | 21:14

Filmmakers and artists slam censor, show solidarity with Udta Punjab

"Isn’t expressing opinion a basic human function? Yes, when it comes to the censor board, things have definitely changed for the worse. What we are witnessing today is a strong tendency to impose views on creativity," insists lyricist and writer Gulzar, the 2014-receipient of Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest award in Indian cinema, while talking to DailyO about the recent Udta Punjab controversy.

The CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) has demanded 89 (effectively 13-14 cuts, but the words have been repeated, so the count goes up) cuts from Abshishek Chaubey’s film, starring Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Diljit Dosanjh.

"When somebody like Shyam Benegal is saying that it is an important film, what other certificate do you need? And what is happening to the recommendations by Benegal in which he has clearly stated that the role of the board should be restricted to grading a film and not asking for any cuts? What is stopping you from implementing it immediately?" adds Gulzar.

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"What we are witnessing today is a strong tendency to impose views on creativity," insists Gulzar.

Stressing that artists were standing as one on the controversy, he elaborates, "It is fashionable to say that we are not together.What are you trying to suggest - we should get together at a Ram Lila maidan?”

In a rare show of strength, where well-known filmmakers from across the spectrum including Karan Johar are standing with Anurag Kashyap, the producer of the film, (let’s not talk about the sub-industry of Amitabh Bachchan and Khans. Bachchan has already given a statement that he is "unaware of the issue", before adding that creativity should not be killed), painters, writers and other filmmakers stress that restricting the issue only to Udta Punjab would be a folly.

For one of the country’s most important contemporary artist Krishen Khanna, the greatest tragedy is the assumption when a handful of people "decide" what is good for others. "Everything in this country is becoming all about politics. As an adult why do I need to listen to you about what is good for me? I know the best for myself. Who is anyone to assume if I am intelligent enough to consume art in a particular interpretation."

Talk to him about SAD’s statement that the film shows the state in a "bad light", the artist says, "This is so absurd. I am a Punjabi, don’t we all know all about the drug menace in Punjab and how it is eating up the state? Where will we go if we do not discuss problems, not talk about what ails us? As creative people, we not only have the right to make observations on uncomfortable truths, but it is also a responsibility. It is so surprising that we can’t stop being hunky dory all the time and refuse to digest criticism.  When you take away the right of artists to express, the society becomes poor. Very poor."

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Krishen Khanna.

For Khanna, it is important to be "watchful" of any government that tries to mould opinions. He fumes, "They can’t treat us like stupid people. When will they grow up and learn to handle things better. Look at the way the whole JNU crisis was handled by the government. All newspapers and television channels cannot stop talking about Modi’s speech in America. There was so much talk in the industry, about digital revolution. Hear the repeat if you have not listened to it, and tell me how many times did he utter the word culture? Then we’ll talk more," smiles Khanna.

Surjit Patar, receipientof Saraswati Samman, India’s highest literary honour, is absolutely clear, "There is no nuclear science attached to understanding what is going on. We are taken for fools. On what basis are the appointments made in top institutes now? Don’t we need chairpersons and members who have a vision, have seen life in its different manifestations, understand shades, and decipher the unspoken? And look who we have… I don’t even know from where do I start counting? Should it be FTII?"

Talk to him about the cuts demanded by CBFC, and Ludhiana-based Patar says, "I may not have seen the film as it has not been released, you may say that it paints Punjab in a bad light, but what about absolutely vulgar Punjabi songs and films? Don’t we see them encouraging drugs and demeaning women? Isn’t Punjab’s "reputation" harmed when that happens? Are we not telling the world that this is how we treat the female gender, this is how we look at life?"

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Surjit Patar.

Paris-based writer and filmmaker Vijay Singh, who has made critically-acclaimed films like Jaya Ganga and One Dollar Curry, and is all set to show his latest Farewell My Indian Soldier soon, recalls the experience of showing his movie India by Song. The film showcases 60 years of Indian history since Independence and is punctuated by eight Bollywood songs.

"When I brought the film to India, Star TV immediately bought it, got the film a censor certificate, and it was telecast on Independence Day in 2010. A few years later, maybe 2013, a top DD official saw the film and was tempted to telecast it after the Republic Day parade if it could get an approval from their review committee. This committee is like a DD censor above the national censors! I had no problems showing it to the concerned committee as I already had a censor certificate… After viewing the film, a member of the committee said to me: 'Very nice movie, but why did you have to show Emergency and Operation Blue Star in it? This won’t work.' I obviously refused to make any cuts… This was the time of the UPA government. A year later, when the government had changed and fresh faces were in power, even before I could re-submit the film for a DD telecast, someone who was present there said to me: ‘Very nice film but why did you have to talk of Babri Masjid in it?' Now what does a filmmaker do in a pathetic situation like this."

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Paris-based writer and filmmaker Vijay Singh.

"We must be clear: censorship kills all freedom and creativity, which is the very soul of an artist. In the case of India by Song, was the committee member expecting me to falsify history? After all, Emergency, Operation Blue and Babri Masjid did exist, how can I not talk about it in a film on contemporary Indian history? And what is alarming is that levels of intolerance, censorship and even self-censorship seem to be rising.This is a bad sign for any democracy, regardless of the governments in power," he says.

Punjabi filmmaker Jatinder Mauhar, who directed Qissa Punjab, one of the most realistic contemporary Punjabi films released in May 2015, that deals with the rising drug menace in Punjab, offers, "The reason for demanding such an unrealistic number of cuts has to be political. Ever since BJP came to power, everything is about fulfilling their political agenda. Now that elections in Punjab are close, SAD is bound to be uncomfortable with the film. Of course, AAP, which has been talking of making drug menace in Punjab as a poll plank  is loving the controversy."

Insisting that Punjab’s politicians fail to realise the seriousness of the issue, Mauhar elaborates, "Even if we go by what Sukhbir Badal says - that only one per cent of the population in the state is affected by substance, doesn’t the government have a responsibility towards them - from coming down hard on traffickers to setting up de-addiction centres?" 

Meanwhile, a day after seeking an explanation from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) over 89 cuts in the film, Bombay High Court on June 10 said that people should have the choice what to watch or what not. While hearing a petition filed by Phantom Films, producer of Udta Punjab, the high court observed that multiplex audience are mature enough and people should be allowed to see the film as everybody has a choice.

Former director of National School of Drama (NSD) in Delhi, Anuradha Kapur thinks that the government is operating on two levels when it comes to censorship. "Not just straightforward cuts, they are also forcing self-censorship. Artists are now forced to think twice before creating anything - 'Will there be problems?'"

Insisting that CBFC seems to be predetermining what should be said, and in what language, Kapur elaborates, "What is all the controversy about cuss words being used in Udta Punjab? Are they not part of life? When they can be used on the streets, why not in art?"

For this theatre person, it is critical that important institutes remain in the hands of experts and not party sympathisers with questionable merit and qualifications.

"An instiution’s history is a country’s history. Their (the institutes’) role cannot be to prescribe a way of thinking to the young. The latter need to be left alone to decide for themselves and form an opinion."

Last updated: June 10, 2016 | 21:14
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