Art & Culture

Rohan Sippy on Udta Punjab: Censorship not only kills ideas, it's bad business

Rohan Sippy
Rohan SippyJun 10, 2016 | 18:11

Rohan Sippy on Udta Punjab: Censorship not only kills ideas, it's bad business

Ten years ago, Bollywood didn’t have to contend with the massive competition of Hollywood and regional cinema that it does currently. One of the contributing factors of Hindi cinema dwindling in the mind space of a wider audience is that Hollywood and regional cinema now play better to our audiences beyond urban areas than most Hindi films.

Bollywood, which has to anyway navigate a slightly pan-Indian fictional reality, can’t compete with the spectacle Hollywood provides. The regional cinema, with stories authentically rooted in a specific culture, end up resonating more deeply than Hindi films.


We are now losing young audiences to both of these industries as box office performances of The Jungle Book (English) and Sairat (Marathi) further prove.

We are losing young audiences to Hollywood as box office performance of The Jungle Book shows.

The Udta Punjab censorship/certification trouble is like putting the final nails in the coffin. It is the beginning of the end of good ideas. This is certainly not the way for us achieve "Make in India" in film industry.

What signal are we sending out to producers and writers? Let’s not take on drugs or politics or whatever else may come in the radar of people of power. Don't take any risks. But not taking risks is the greatest risk of all, when the audience is always looking for disruptive new ideas.

Whatever happens to Udta Punjab, you can see every studio head scratching their head and wondering if I want to be the whipping boy on a particular Friday. Though the mainstream press coverage may finally end up helping the box office prospects of the film and the ratings of news channels, it will be ten times harder for any corporation or individual producer to justify pushing boundaries.


Censorship is bad for business. Self-censorship is disastrous. It adds to the dwindling opportunities to do good Hindi content in general and is only going to make it that more difficult for us to catch up with audiences. That’s the real shame of it. And as our audiences, like the rest of the world's, tune in increasingly to films and shows made in LA, we are definitely risking losing jobs in a sector which should be central to anyone interested in developing India's soft power. 

This generation, which has the arsenal of the universe in their hands with their mobile phones giving them access to best content and information, finds itself living in this weird, policed reality where you are treading on eggshells. It’s only going to make it harder and harder to do anything to connect with them. 

There seems to have been no change in this attitude, despite a new government coming in. Controlling the dissemination of information is something that has always been an obsession with politicians in this country. They all speak against it when in opposition, but relish reining it in when they are reigning.

Why the BJP is walking down a path that has led the Congress to impending oblivion, is baffling. While the UPA government stood by silently when My Name Is Khan, and several other films were protested against and their releases disrupted, now the state itself is directly obstructing the release of films.


From crimes of omissions to crimes of commission - I guess that can be spun to suggest progress!

Almost 40 years ago, my grandfather GP Sippy represented the film industry and officially shifted the body from censorship to certification. But little seems to have changed in all this time.  

When you talk about Digital India and all these other schemes which are speaking to a new generation, hand-in-hand you hope there will be a certain maturity towards basic things like putting stories out there. It is ridiculous we are back to deflecting from the real matters at hand, and instead, making whipping boys of films like Udta Punjab.

In all walks of life in India, we are always at the mercy of authorities who can at any time subjectively pull out an archaic law to restrain our freedoms... the reality is that no party is really wanting to let go off this British legacy. They want to rule us, not represent us. It’s a real tragedy that they don’t want to do anything in the interest of citizens.

UPA government watched silently when My Name Is Khan, and several other films were protested against.

In this case, there is no interest in the artist’s right to say something or the audience’s right to be able to enjoy what is being put out there. The reality is that no film can influence individuals or society, compared to the powers the authorities have with legislation and finances to actually make a change in society.

Hopefully, the learning for the studios from the Udta Punjab case is the practical reality of working with bodies like the Central Board of Film Certification. If someone is going to take out anything that they feel is thematically brushing up against an authority, you’re better advised to do it with time on your side.

The state doesn’t care about the investment at stake. You have to jump through all kinds of hoops. You have to go in with your eyes open.

Hopefully, Udta Punjab is the turning point to get the industry together. But the broader point is that we really need to come together against the general Indian behaviour that is condoned – if I don’t like something that you say, I have the right to shut you up.

This is the real big problem. We are seeing very concrete examples of people’s freedoms being curbed, whether it is about what they eat, what they watch, what they think.

It seems to be a part of a continuum the state wants to clamp down on whatever freedoms are available to us.

(As told to Suhani Singh.)

Last updated: June 10, 2016 | 18:15
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