Cinema has become the favourite whipping boy of our administrators. A Malayalam documentary, 21 Months of Hell, on the draconian 1975 Emergency has been refused public screening rights by the Central Board of Film Certification, now headed by Prasoon Joshi. The director of the 78-minute film, Yadu Vijayakrishnan, has said the CBFC felt that there was too much of violence in the documentary.
The movie is mainly a run through of interviews with those who suffered during those dark days of the Emergency, imposed by Indira Gandhi. The work also examines the “methods of torture” which the police adopted against those whom they then termed “enemies of the state”.
(Growing up in Calcutta in those years, I remember the kind of police brutality that was on display. In fact, I think Bengal was the first state to introduce encounter killings - something that has now become commonplace.)
Why deny the history while we still have living breathing proofs?Recognize the people who sacrificed their lives to restore democracy during Emergency.#EmergencyFilmBlocked@prasoonjoshi_ @smritiirani @AmitShahOffice @Ra_THORe— Yadu Vijayakrishnan (@YaduVJkrishnan) January 2, 2018
Saying that there are no evidence for torture methods during Emergency is an insult for all those victims who suffered. #EmergencyFilmBlocked@smritiirani @prasoonjoshi_ @AmitShahOffice @Kummanam @Ra_THORe— Yadu Vijayakrishnan (@YaduVJkrishnan) January 2, 2018
Strange as it may sound, I am also told that the CBFC had asked Vijayakrishnan to furnish proof of the kind of torture which was practised then. “Although there are testimonies of surviving victims and case reports, the CBFC wanted written government proof of the torture methods of that time," Vijayakrishnan told mediapersons.
Vijayakrishnan's film is the latest to fall foul of the authorities. But to blame only the present dispensation would be unfair. I remember Anurag Kashyap's Black Friday on the 1993 Bombay bombings, which remained in the cans from 1994 to 1997.
Black Friday was not even a documentary, but a fictionalised version of the 1993 events, based on a book by Hussain Zaidi. And it was a work that revealed for the first time the superb acting ability of Kay Kay Menon, who plays the deputy commissioner of police, Rakesh Maria, in the movie.
The CBFC had asked Vijayakrishnan to furnish proof of the kind of torture which was practised then. (Image: Twitter/@YaduVJkrishnan)
It was only in 1997 that the Supreme Court allowed the film to be screened and that too only after the TADA court had delivered its verdict in the bomb blast case.
Black Friday turned out to be splendid effort, and I still consider it to be Kashyap's best work till date. Yes, there is always a Mukkabaaz and Gangs of Wasseypur (Part 1 and Part 2), but the way Black Friday drove a message was amazingly powerful.
Post Black Friday, we have seen several films that were examined with a microscope. One of them was Udta Punjab - a black comedy helmed by Abhishek Chaubey. It was a very bold expose of the drug problem in the border state, and several journalist friends of mine have said that the evil is so rampant that even children are victims of it. An important reason for this was the connivance of the police. Such was the addiction that dozens of cops themselves were known to consume drugs openly. Chaubey had woven a riveting story around this, infusing humour into a tragedy.
But the CBFC wanted the movie producers to effect 89 cuts. Here again, like in so many other cases, the courts came to the rescue. The Bombay High Court "cleared" Udta Punjab with just one cut. Today, we are witnessing another film placed on the block. Padmavati is now renamed Pamavat.
The question here is - has cinema in India become so paramount that it needs constant supervision? Does it need to be chastised ever so often as if it were an errant schoolboy?
And in India, what is equally disturbing is the role of radical fringe political outfits that even after a film has been cleared by the CBFC or the courts, they take the law into their hands, threaten theatres and make sure that the movie is not screened.
Tamil Nadu has seen plenty of such cases. Kamal Haasan has been a victim of that. Any work that has even a remote link to Sri Lanka is a complete "no no" in the state. The John Abraham- starrer Madras Cafe was denied exhibition in Tamil Nadu. So was Sri Lankan auteur Prasanna Vithanage's With You Without You, a work that may be described as part of a healing process in an island nation which was ripped apart by sectarian conflict for over 30 years.
Sadly, India appears to be tumbling into a pit where there is no space for a different point of view, where uniformity of thought and action and behavioural patterns is being advocated. Can we call this democracy? Can we call this pluralism? I wonder.