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Art not for Art's sake

Despite art across the world becoming gutsier without the threat of repression or censorship, in India, it is a completely different story

Art not for Arts sake
Apparently 'Good Morning' messages on Whatsapp are clogging smartphones in India and depleting phone memory space. Google researchers stumbled upon this reason while probing the probable causes for one in three smartphones in India slowing down. It is both sad and hilarious, I said to myself, as I sent a quick reply to one of the many day's greetings messages that reach me every day. Of all the things that we could use Whatsapp for, we in India probably love using this technology to send mindless forwards to our contacts. But I have no complaint about the funny videos, especially the animal ones. After all, laughter is the best medicine and humour is the only remedy for the crazy, irrational behaviour that is displayed by some in our country.
I was stoked to receive a funny animal video showing a gorilla in an inflatable swimming pool twirling most gracefully to the tune of 'Ghoomar', the song from Sanjay Leela Bhansali's controversial film, 'Padmaavat', starring Deepika Padukone. It was hilarious, I thought, but then cringed to wonder how the right-wing fringe group, Shri Rajput Karni Sena, who have been agitating against the movie, would react to such a video. After all, they are devoid of humour and any sense of reasonableness. There is no other way to explain the terror that they have unleashed in some BJP-ruled states. Who in their right mind would attack a school bus filled with innocent children? Who would have put young, helpless lives at risk in the name of protest? Burning bikes, destroying multiplexes, the Karni Sena seem more barbaric to me than the gorilla in that video.
Protests are as much an Indian right as is the freedom to watch a film without armed guards. As India made yet another mark on the global stage thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's inspiring presence at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Indians in the country were held to ransom by senseless terror. Sure, PM Modi made a faux pas in his speech about the number of Indians who voted for his government (he erroneously said six billion Indian voters instead of Election Commission of India's official 2014 numbers of 814.5 million Indian voters), but that is alright; to err is human, PM does it, Rahul Gandhi does it. It is a slip of the tongue. However, what is not a slip but an open endorsement and encouragement of mob violence are the numerous instances of Karni Sena activists wreaking havoc on the public with no hindrance from state authorities. This, even after the Supreme Court has cleared 'Padmaavat' for screening to the public. This violence too made international headlines along with the Indian PM's rockstar welcome at Davos.
With the freedom of artistic expression summarily squashed and our right to watch a film directly under threat in many parts of the country, we celebrated our 69th Republic Day. We must introspect on where exactly is our republic headed? A country where the apex court's verdict cannot be safeguarded, where the government is siding with fringe groups rather than the majority, where freedoms remain only empty promises made in our Constitution. Now, we hear that the Karni Sena has decided to release a film on Bhansali's mother, titled 'Leela ki Leela'. And, they can, because our Constitution allows for the freedom of expression. If they had resorted to this kind of artistic protest rather than rioting, even I would have watched their film. Maybe they can watch 'The Windsors', a parody soap opera on the British Royal Family, to take some pointers on how art across the world is getting gutsier without the threat of repression or censorship. In India though, it is a wholly different story, and we are a long distance away from making it to the global stage on that.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Shutapa Paul

Shutapa Paul

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