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Let Udta Punjab fly. It has dared to look at the enemy within

Atul Sabharwal
Atul SabharwalJun 09, 2016 | 16:35

Let Udta Punjab fly. It has dared to look at the enemy within

Summer of 1987. Walking around the lanes of Sarojini Nagar in New Delhi my eyes caught posters of Manoj Kumar’s latest film lined on a wall. The film’s title was – Kalyug Aur ??? or Kalyug Aur Ramayan. That black was a strip of paint. Controversy had been brewing over film’s title Kalyug Ki Ramayan. “How can you have Kalyug and Ramayan in the same sentence?” asked Baldev Chawla, president of the Rashtriya Suraksha Samiti (as reported by Madhu Jain in India Today, Feb 28 1987). The title was changed to Kalyug Aur Ramayan but the agitation didn’t die down. Close to the release date anxious distributors altered the publicity material as per their discretion. Producer Manoj Kumar aka Bharat, as the record goes, has had made most patriotic films.

[Disclaimer: Words "Party" and "Manifesto" in the below sentence are used as metaphors only and are not the operative words. Word "leanings" does not imply "towards Left".]

Anurag Kashyap worshipped Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and he would hand it out like a party manifesto (it was not dirt cheap like a manifesto and nor was he a very rich man then) to any young filmmaker who he thought had the same leanings as him and could be converted to the cause. The copy that I own was also a gift by Kashyap in 2002.

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The book speaks of the decade between mid 1960s and mid ‘70s when the director had the ultimate power; the director was the biggest star for the first and the last time in the Hollywood system of movie making. That decade in Hollywood was an offshoot of French New Wave Cinema.

Anurag was hopeful of such a decade in Hindi cinema. He believed that success of Lagaan, Company and Dil Chahta Hai and CBFC’s ban of Paanch, directed by him, were the symptoms hinting the arrival of mid 60esque decade for Hindi cinema. We all probably chose to ignore that Gadar – Ek Prem Katha was the writing on the wall.

[Disclaimer: Certain words have been removed below in the wake of recent events at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. These events were works of professional and are not to be tried at home, schools and colleges.]

Two quick points:

a) Henri Langlois was one of the founding fathers of Cinematheque, France where the New Wave was born. Langlois was sacked from Cinematheque by Charles de Gaulle regime. Filmmakers, young men and women from all walks of life erupted across the world into a protest. Langlois was reinstated. (Louis Menand, The New Yorker, Oct 20, 2003).

b) The auteurs of this era owe their popularity to the support they received from their youthful audience. (Wikipedia on French New Wave)

Nothing like a) happened across universities of our country when Gajendra Chauhan was appointed as Chairman of FTII. Our "youthful audience" did not partake in the protests. The battle was the business of FTII students, current batch and alumni. Still is.

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Marathi film Sairat.

Yesterday, there was a gathering organised by Indian Film & Television Directors Association (IFTDA) in Mumbai. Heads of organisations like IFTPC, Producer’s Guild and IMPAA were present too. Anurag Kashyap was on the stage, a little off-center though. Ashoke Pandit was in the center. The stalwarts of our film industry showed their solidarity for UdtaPunjab (this is what it is probably going to become).

Everyone spoke about freedom-of-expression or abhivyakti kiazaadi. There was surge and synergy. Then everyone dispersed. Outside the venue, which is only a stone’s throw from Mithibai College Campus, there was no "youthful audience" showing solidarity for the film. Media was there of course, inside and out. Probably those OB Vans should have gone to colleges or wherever "youthful audience" is to be found and asked them how they feel about this censorship. After all who is all this freedom-of-expression for? Where are the recipients of that free cinematic expression demanding unabridged, uncensored films?

Three very successful films this year are Airlift, Neerja and Kapoor & Sons. First two had foreigners as bad guys – Iraqis and Libyans respectively. The third one, my favorite of the lot, had people who misunderstand each other and are misunderstood in return. They are not bad people at heart. None of the films looked at the bad guys amongst us. Even if there was a Hindi film like that, it didn’t make the cut with the audience probably. Sairat is a Marathi film.

Udta Punjab has hopefully dared to do that, to look at the enemy within. It probably is against the current zeitgeist if one were to read the trend of successful Hindi films of this year. Or it probably will turn the zeitgeist around like Sairat and will usher in a new decade that has been awaited for decades like some Godot. But for that you have to let Udta Punjab be Udta Punjab in letter and spirit.

You have to let it flex its own tiny muscles, let it wail aloud and not abort it as the state appointed mid-wife delivering a messy fetus to the audience. Else we will never know. And neither will you get to know dear audience. You will never get a taste of that freedom of watching an unfiltered, uncensored film. You will never get a taste of that decade where for once you are trusted to make your own choices.

Last updated: June 09, 2016 | 16:35
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