(to be completed soon)
This is in reaction to a question by a researcher working on censorship in India. According to her, some local film-makers have accused those of us taking on the Censor Board directly of being "pro-censorship"! As per their logic, our act of applying for certification implies our support of a censor regime. While Anand Patwardhan, I and others have long found this to be a ridiculous assertion, especially in the light of our well-documented battles against censorship, the rather mischievous nature of this argument and its unchallenged propagation do need to be dealt with. While I write a considered formal response, here are some bullet points to think about:
The censorship debate in India seems to have been framed mostly around state censorship, either through its Censor Board or during selections for local film festivals.
There are several other forms of censorship often ignored in the entire rhetorical discourse...
Censorship to me is any hurdle or impediment in the way of free speech:
*Or by the State and its censor boards, police or bureaucracy
*Or extralegal censorship by party goons (left/right or centrist)
*Or by the marketplace
*Or funders/ commissioning editors
*Or by any other agency/ individual.
Can and should the entire censorship debate be framed vis-a-vis CBFC alone?
- Is pricing your DVD at Rs 750 or 1000 tantamount to censorship, as it denies access to many! By making a choice to not make it available either through online portals or through stores and bookshops, are some of us practising the very censorship we publicly oppose?
- Why is there such little focus within the debate on the single, and perhaps the only tool to fight censorship of most kinds - Distribution!
- Is documentary to be confined to haloed spaces, colleges and NGO screenings, average circulations not excedding a thousand or two for the more visible docs? Isn't that tantamount to censorship since only a handful are able to access the film?
- Are some kinds of films targettted more than the others, even though theoretically everyone agrees that all films are political in some way or the other...
- Are realities of censorship different for funded film-makers vs independent film-makers? After all, they recover all their costs and make a tidy profit from the lavish budgets and donor grants - on many of them, there's no pressure to earn a living! For the self-funded film-makers, the only way to finance their films is through DVD sales - those of us who oppose censorship and yet comply with the law are often forced to do so only because we hope to have wide local sales or someday have a theatrical release. (It is illegal under the Cinematograph ACT to buy/sell/lease/ rent/ exhibit any film sans certification - no cinema theatre will touch any uncertified film, no well known or major distribution chain will stock or sell the film - and as I have found out, the rare ones among us who approach bulk replicators to make a few thousand copies are invariably asked for certificates - or else we are refused!). The funded film-makers mostly don't own copyrights exclusively, nor do they have any need to distribute widely to earn or raise funds - it'd seem many are even unaware of the reality above as they've never had to deal with it directly, but only in the form of abstract principles and feelings!
- Is the censorship debate as black and white as it is made out to be?
- Isn't the battle of censorship really to be fought in the realm of public opinion? Isn't it important for such a campaign to visibly take on the censor board and expose the nature of censorship and laws etc? Or must we oppose censorship in the abstract alone, without demonstrating to the civil society at large tangible instances of censorship?
- Is a single approach to combatting censorship adviseable or even tactically sound?
-Is a cut by CBFC worse than a re-edit asked for by the funder or commissioning editor? Why is the latter quietly accepted by many film-makers? (while people like Anand Patwardhan, Shabnam Virmani or I battle the censors, not accepting any cut or deletion of a single frame or word!)
- Boycott Indian censors, but what about the adherence to the HongKong/ Singapore broadcast censorship laws (documentaries aired on satellite channels)?
An exhaustive piece follows..
But for now, do browse this piece in Himal, the well-known South Asian journal