How should India certify noir cinema in times of Udta Punjab?

Kishwar Desai
Kishwar DesaiJun 11, 2016 | 11:45

How should India certify noir cinema in times of Udta Punjab?

Cinema, first and foremost, is a piece of fiction. Anyone who has ever written a script knows about the "creation" of characters , the 'invention' of dialogues, the "convenience" of filling in the black holes that one hopes the audience will not see. Exaggeration of the narrative is the price paid for telling a story in 160 minutes.

So the bad guys often become really atrocious and the good guys land with a 24-carat gold halo. To make the distinction even easier there is also background music, little insinuations by other characters, clothes, and most importantly, make-up and lighting. Cinema is made for the lowest common denominator - and so even subtleties can be easily discernible.

This should not be mixed up with the censorship of one film, or the situation in one state.

No matter how much cinema advances, the cognoscenti can predict where a story line is headed, and even young kids are attuned from an early age to react to screen shots in a particular fashion. One wishes real life were so predictable!

I have not seen Udta Punjab, but I am sure it is a well made film. All of us are aware that we need to highlight social issues more and if it deals competently with the debilitating effects of drug abuse, many of us will be satisfied. Of course, it should have a strong story line and good acting too.

And yes, some good songs. As Shiv Batalvi is someone I have adored since my twenties, I am thrilled that one of his poems is in a movie . Long overdue.

Whether cinema can ever depict "reality" is a moot point. In fact, even documentaries which are supposedly based on fact, often carry a bias. So long as the bias does not overwhelm the viewer, the package can fly. In any case,  most of us in India have got used to "fantasy" films, where people sing songs and flash mobs who dance are de riguer.  Nonetheless, there is a dangerous minority who actually think this fantasy is real life!


"Noir" cinema of course has its own space, and there is an impression that because it is dark, it is closest to reality, because it goes boldly where no one has dared to go before. This belief is questionable, because "noir" cinema faces the same challenges as others do.

You still need to tell the story in 160 minutes, and somehow the audience has to believe they are walking into a landscape of dread and degradation.

Yet there are challenges. To begin with, it is not family friendly cinema. You need an adult mindset to understand that much of what is being shown should not be emulated or even romanticised.

The filmmaker, on the other hand, is out there to convince you that this kind of evil exists and that you must be convinced of his story line. Of course it can open a door to a particular issue - but don't forget that the producer and director have a commercial goal. The stakes are very high. This is not social work.

Only those who are truly naive will believe everything that a film puts before them. But then this raises the genuine question that because it is "noir" and supposedly close to reality, should it be allowed for universal screening?


If anything, this controversy has proved that there should be guidelines about what is screened and whom it is screened for. There is a lot of confusion which still obviously exists between "reality" and cinematic fiction where "suspension of disbelief" is required.

Udta Punjab has raised a legitimate debate on how "noir" films must be certified, and also placed the focus on drugs, which is actually a social and not a political issue.

Just because booze is easily available everywhere does not make us all alcoholics, and the same arguments can be applied to drugs. In any case, how the film should be certified and what justice it does to the issue of the misuse of drugs can only be decided by those who have a job to certify these films - or by the high court, at this point.

The other concern about the proliferation of drugs, drug abuse, and the rehabilitation of drug addicts and drug abuse should be treated with profound care - by placing on board a universal policy (especially for rehab) for the entire country.

This should not be mixed up with the censorship of one film, or the situation in one state. Drug abuse is taking place in many parts of the country as well (including amongst the cinematic fraternity) and we need to look at this holistically.

Last updated: June 12, 2016 | 16:56
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