Thursday, March 24, 2011

Scissored Cinema

Cinema draws the fine line between art and mass media. Although it evolved as a mass medium, it soon transcended to a form of art through the hands of masters like Griffith and Eisenstein. T S Elliot's use of montage in "Wasteland", Bergman's use of sets based on neoclassical paintings and Ionesco's obsessions with the the­atre tell us about the questions it has posed before art and literature.
So when it comes to issues such as censorship, naturally the question asked would be, whether it is the mass medium or the form of art, which is being put to test. This clearly explains the director's freedom and cinema's responsibil­ity to depict the truth, which most often assumes the shape of sexuality as in Bandit Queen, Kamasutra or Fire and sometimes blatant politi­cal statements like Padwardhan's War and Peace. Still, censorship or discus­sions on it relate only to sexu­ality in this country, and never the inhuman and internecine ideologies or propaganda unleashed on its grounds, and that is the sad­dest part of it. Vijay Anand's resignation as the Chairman of CBFC (Central Board of Film Certification) too points to this fact, that he urged for guidelines which permitted for more abusive language to be depicted on screen as it is 'part of reality' and proposed theatres for X-rated movies. He would have remembered the way political muscles are being flexed to impose the censor­ship rules and how the puritans are going the Hindutva way even with films.
Films are excellent tools of prop­aganda in which the potion can clev­erly be put as an additive or 'taste­maker'. We have always enjoyed the Donald Duck of the Disney sta­ble which told the American way of life but never acknowledged to it. Cut to the famous Lion King in which the treatment is much more arrogant. The King is depicted as a wise man who is White, and all the hyenas who are portrayed as crooked and insensible bore the ges­tures of the Black. The Lion King was not censored, for it was beauti­fully clad in a nice wrapper called "animation film for kids".
Come to films like Narasimham in Malayalam in which the central character depicted by Mohanlal bears all the attributes of a swayam sevak, and all his violent deeds are justified. Al1 the films of the ace actor after Narasimham have him playing the 'upper caste', character who resorts to violence, which is accepted on grounds of so-called 'social responsibility'. The image the swayam sevak builds through a series of such films (it still contin­ues) is imaginable which gives him a licence to take to violence at the drop of a hat. The worst has been Mohanlal’s Ustad which portrays him playing the central character of Parameswaran who is a sober uppercaste businessman·indulging ·n clandestine activities for promot­ing his business. When the charac­ter enters the underworld, he takes on a Muslim identity. In another of the star's entertainer, Chandralekha, released some years back, there was an explicit state­ment glorifying an upper-caste com­munity and degrading the minori­ties. Why did censorship rules not apply here? Does this also come under the license to use abusive lan­guage as urged by Vijay Anand?
Coming back-to sexuality, it is the female body that is overtly and overly marked as the sexual body. But it is subjected to a different criterion when it is portrayed in a for­eign film; the same censors would clear it for screening. It seems that we really lack clear guidelines or it is twisted at the behest of vested interests. The song cholee ke peeche which came as a slap on the face of India's traditional morality, was cleared on the grounds that it was a traditional song sung in Rajasthan.
The structure and rules of the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) can be a good lesson for its Indian counterpart. It has traditional­ly observed a distinction between what it calls ‘man­ners’ - flexible attitudes on the part of the public towards things such as nudity and obscene language and ‘morals’ - immutable codes of conduct. This conveniently allows it to change its classifi­cations if it judges that public attitudes have changed. The BBFC also makes public con­sultation in its decision-mak­ing, and organises 'road-shows' to both canvas public opin­ion and to justify its decisions. The Khosla Committee on Film Censorship also had similar views that it is not sexual immorality which should attract the censor's scissors, but how the theme is han­dled by the producers. The words of Dev Anand who has fought great battles against.  Censorship is worth remembering here: ‘What we need is intelligent censorship that will stop irresponsibility. Indeed, and not X theatres.’

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