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Stop censoring art

The urge to control what the common man consumes via entertainment is like a disease that refuses to go away.

Stop censoring art

Art imitates life. Or so we are told. In our country though, if art reflects an uncomfortable truth, we scramble to censor it. Freedom of speech be damned, artistic expression too; if what we see makes us question government authority or deeply entrenched social practices, we would rather shove it under the carpet. There is also the dangerous matter of autocracy of the political class that seems to be forcing us to toe the line in cinema, art, and on social media.

Tamil film actor and superstar, Vijay's controversial reference to the GST in his latest film, 'Mersal', has got the BJP's knickers in a bunch. The party says that there are "incorrect references" to GST in the film and wants those scenes omitted. If it is not the government playing big brother, we always have the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The censor board thought nothing of demanding 13 cuts in Madhur Bhandarkar's 'Indu Sarkar', based on former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her son, Sanjay. The Congress party did not rein in its workers that disrupted the promotion of the movie.
The urge to control what the common man consumes via entertainment is like a disease that refuses to go away. From 'Bandit Queen' and 'Fire', to 'Black Friday' and 'Parzania', from 'Gandu' to the more recent 'Unfreedom', films have been snipped, nipped and tucked, and if still found displeasing, they have been banned and banished from sight. Films like 'Kyaa Kool Hain Hum 3' that objectify women and pass off crass, sexist comments as comedy, however, do not get banned. The thinking perhaps is that the common man in India is used to viewing women as objects of sex, he is used to disrespecting women and condoning all forms of violence against them.
Even if this is not how the censor board thinks, this is exactly how it behaves; because while it passed 'Mastizaade' with 381 cuts, it blocked the release of the so-called 'lady-oriented' 'Lipstick Under My Burkha' by not issuing a certificate for the longest time.
We do not want the common man to form his own opinions; we say that any indelicate portrayal will cause riots and violence. The truth is that more often than not the public outcry has been fuelled by political machinations. Politicians have allowed, and in most instances, encouraged the public to run amok and vandalise public property over films and books like Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' and Wendy Doniger's 'The Hindus: An Alternative History'.
The common man gets sucked into the expression of outrage, as he is prevented from understanding the expression and intent of art. Repeated instances of strong-arm tactics by the government or cuts by the censor board, upholds the notion that censorship is necessary. But in today's day and age, will the government continue to play an overbearing role? Do we have to enjoy cinema and literature according to someone else's idea of 'sanskaar'? And will the government behave like China or North Korea and control what we see? We could have a wider and stricter rating system for our films as is done in the US that guides the viewers on the appropriateness of content.
I wish our politicians and leaders would give the common man more credit. If the 'aam aadmi' can vote and choose his representatives, surely, he can decide on which films to watch. I shudder to think, what if the common man wants such levels of censorship? Blinded as they have become to the freedom of artistic expression—I hope we have not become a society, which after years of being tutored to reject ideas, is incapable of evolving socially.
I have been binge-watching the American web television series, 'House of Cards'. I find it thrilling that the makers of the show got away with portraying an American President as a debauched, ruthless, unscrupulous man who will stop at nothing in his journey to wrest power and retain it. Will we ever see a similar show with a cunning Indian politician as the protagonist? Perhaps if the government "allows" it.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Shutapa Paul

Shutapa Paul

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