Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Take the scissors away from the Censor Board

Enclosed below is a piece I wrote for HT, for your information. Please sign our petition at if you haven't already done so. Rakesh Sharma

Hindustan Times, Oct 29, 2005. Mumbai

Take the scissors away from the Censor Board

The Government of India thinks you are stupid, I am an imbecile, indeed each person who steps into any cinema hall is an idiot. The Government is deeply concerned about us, which is why it has appointed wise men to take care of us. Collectively, they inhabit this space called the Censor Board and toil day and night to keep us from plunging headlong into a life of sin. Their boss is usually a retired or out of work actor. He may have molested countless women on screen or she may have gyrated in a sequined bikini, but they discover hitherto hidden reserves of morality as soon as they are appointed to the Censor Board.

The Government does not always think of us as idiots. It has permitted us to decide whom to marry, though there are some groups of even wiser men who boycott or kill those marrying into other castes or religions. The government lets us decide our professions, even has employment guarantee schemes committing to us a minimum average income of five hundred rupees a month! And it has given us the right to vote - Pundits sing our praises and lively, colourful graphics analyse our wisdom in rejecting the politics of hate in 2004 or the politics of totalitarianism in 1977.

The government thinks we are capable of watching 20 news channels and seeing through all the chutneyfied headlines and 'breaking news' to get our daily dose of truth. It feels that we are capable of watching dozens of ads about soaps and shampoos and make an informed choice to acquire our own lather-generating agents. Curiously, it has no problem letting us watch nubile young women gyrating in virginal white garter belts or playfully caressing a bdsm riding crop to the tune of sainyaan dil mein aana rey on television! We can watch any serial or any television show, we can hear any radio programme and read anything on the worldwide web and remain wise. But cross the threshold to buy a cinema ticket and you and I suddenly transform into idiots. We need to be protected by the thought police.

Lets now take a look at the wise men the government has charged with the chest-puffing task of preserving our virtues. They normally sit huddled in small groups of three to five, intently scanning flickering images and sounds for any contaminant. They decide what you and I can and should watch and they do so selflessly, as an act of 'social service', without seeking any payment for their wisdom. They usually represent a wide cross-section of society – a Minister's girlfriend or his unemployed nephew, a local corporator's convent-educated wife, some MLA's campaign accountant who helped him hoodwink EC's regulations, a Jai Shri Ram chant-enthused party worker from the BJP/ VHP/ Bajrang Dal/ Hindu Jagran Manch/ Durga Vahini or one of Soniaji's Congressmen. As associates or chamchas of some politician, they have a rare intellectual depth, a deep understanding of culture and aesthetics and an even deeper understanding of the dark sides of the human soul. Since they also happen to possess expertise in constitutional matters, they can swiftly figure out whether a dialogue will cause a law & order problem and breach peace, faster than any court of law as they only have 3-4 hours to do so while any court can drag on a case for years! These wise men decide to remove words like Gujarat and Ayodhya from Govind Nihalani's Dev, set against the backdrop of riots. They readily send legal notices to film-makers but turn a blind eye to Praveen Togadia's Ramsevak Amar Raho VCDs sold openly over the counter at the VHP office! They brand Anand Patwardhan's cinema as dangerous, even though the Judiciary has never agreed with them! They decree that an anti-prostitution film like In the Flesh is derogatory to women or films like Parzania and Final Solution will lead to law and order problems, even though the Supreme Court has not just dismissed such insinuations in the past but also chastised the government severely - "…freedom of expression cannot be suppressed on account of threat of demonstration and processions or threats of violence. That would tantamount to negation of the rule of law and surrender to blackmail and intimidation. It is the duty of the State to protect the freedom of expression since it is a liberty guaranteed against the State."

Other such bogeys include "relations with foreign countries" – last year, CBFC's examining committee rejected Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 911 when it was playing to packed houses in USA; Dubya was yet to win his first legitimate election and daddy Bush, though he hated the film, could not prevent screenings, even under the Patriot Act. Yet our censor board sprang to their defence.

The crown jewel is the provision included in the proposed new policy aimed at tightening censorship even at film festivals. The bureaucracy would like to retain the powers to ban "any film that affects human sensibilities". So what happens to those of us making films in the fond hope of affecting these very sensibilities? Naturally, this provision will not extend to Guddu Dhanoa's Siskiyan (of the multiple rapes fame) or to the countless dubai-se-bhai-ne-supari-diya films! Not content with butchering documentaries and sensitive narrative features at the Censor Board, the babus now want to dictate what film-makers, critics, students and international delegates can watch in a film festival space.

Though the NDA government tried to introduce censorship for Indian films at MIFF 2004, it had to buckle under the pressure exerted by independent film-makers and withdraw the controversial regulation in the face of a boycott by Indian and international film-making community. MIFF managed to strike back through backdoor censorship – its selection committees found our films substandard. Films for Freedom, a collective of over 250 film-makers was born and an alternative screening space – Vikalp was created, which has by now held hundreds of screenings countrywide, even while facing police action at the behest of the Congress-led Ministry of I & B in cities like Bangalore and Chennai and extralegal censorship by rightwing goons. The 'liberal' UPA regime now wants to introduce tighter censorship at film festivals, something the BJP-led government tried and failed to do. Why should anyone have a monopoly over fascism?

At the recently-concluded Film South Asia, the Kathmandu declaration against censorship was signed by all film-makers, jury members and festival organizers. Last week, at the prestigious Yamagata filmfest in Japan, hundreds of delegates signed a petition to the Government of India urging the Indian government to remove the shadow of censorship at MIFF 2006 by removing the controversial clause 8 that empowers the Ministry to reject even those films that have been shortlisted for competition by a selection committee comprising eminent film-makers! But is this government listening?

On Oct 21, when President Kalam handed out the National Film Awards, perhaps the Minister and his officers did not tell him about the ongoing boycott for the last two years by over 200 film-makers, who have refused to enter their films for the Awards since the government insists that only films cleared by its censor board are eligible! The film-makers rightly point out that evaluation of artistic merit or cinematic excellence by a jury of peers can not have censorship as a precondition. Official minutes in sarkari files speak of censorship at foreign film festivals and awards to justify their new policies, but as a film-maker whose work has been screened at over 100 film festivals worldwide, I have never been asked for censor clearance nor have I been ever asked to delete a certain sound or visual by any film festival. Some totalitarian regimes may insist on such censorship in isolated pockets of the world, but surely, our 'liberal' rulers do not wish to cite those as examples to emulate.

Many of us believe that the main censorship law – the Cinematograph ACT of 1952 itself is archaic and needs a thorough review, especially in light of rapid changes in the last decade – the spread of TV channels and internet have led to a greater 'visual literacy'; cinematic images no longer need to be treated as extra-potent images capable of influencing gullible minds and hence subject to a more stringent regulation, which for decades has been the underlying assumption behind the administration and interpretation of the Cinematograph Act both by CBFC and the courts. Some of us argue that to curb hate speech or pornography and denigration of women, provisions of the IPC and the CrPC need to be made more stringent and enforced rigorously – a fine of a million bucks and a five year jail term is a greater deterrent compared to any action taken by a largely toothless censor board. Let the CBFC become a ratings agency and advise parental guidance, if necessary, but do not let it have the power to ban, mutilate or maim a film! If a film-maker violates the law, prosecute him! Further, let documentaries be brought under the jurisdiction of the Press Council of India; it is ridiculous that Togadia can reach millions through a live telecast of his rally but if a film uses a 45 second excerpt from the same rally, it gets banned! An NDTV 'special' or an Aaj Tak 'vishesh' are no different from a documentary – if they can go on air sans censorship, why should a documentary be subjected to it?

For the last few years, we have been suggesting that the law needs to be liberalized even for general public exhibition of all kinds of cinema; instead even the erstwhile censorship-free spaces like film festivals are being taken away! A war is now on. At stake is our freedom of expression and our right to information. The last time such a thing happened, it was called the Emergency.

Rakesh Sharma


Blogger Garima said...

hello rakesh,

totally support the cause and have already signed the petition... have spammed my friends email addresses with the online link address too :o)

also created a blog post here:

have used your homepage image on flickr to blog this... hope that is okay...

thank you for visiting my blog and good luck with your campaign !

in solidarity,

9:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your movie you state "59 Hindus die in clash with Muslims". I think you need to look up the definition of "clash". Those people did not "clash" with the Muslims. They were burnt alive.
You also state that the root of all hatred was the demolition of the mosque. That is incorrect. The correct answer would be the slaughter of millions of Hindus in Pakistan during partition. The proof being there are 150 to 200 million muslims in India; whereas, there are none in Pakistan.
I suppose you want to be all self righteous and show there are good hearted Hindus who condone the actions of a few in Gujarat. I wonder if you will ever make a documentary on all the madrassa in India, and what really is being taught in so called religious schools; Or on the millions of Hindus from Kashmir still living in camps in Himachal and Jammu; or how an Indian Airline flight was hijacked by Pakistanis and the terrorist released in the bargain is openly roaming in Pakistan and spuing hatred and death across the border.
It is easy to sit on the sidelines and preach peace and non violence. You should have visited my village during the kargil war when each day a soldier's body was being cremated. Or even better you should just go and live in Pakistan and preach brotherly love there. But just be careful as they are known to cut off heads.

12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blown Away...amazing documentary!
i had no clue what happened there in Gujarat until i saw your film, i am apologetic to hear how my country has been treating you here. i hope things soon work out properly. though i am curious, after that film have you gone back to Gujarat to see how those areas and people have change? do they still have that hatred?
Good luck,

6:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


11:50 PM  
Blogger संदीप said...

Dear Rakesh,

I'm running blog against Fascism in Hindi, called बर्बरता के विरुद्ध

I need your help regarding that, please contact me.

6:31 PM  

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