Censor Board’s cultural policing effects on Artistic Freedom

This weekend the controversial feature MSG – The Messenger finally released in theatres. We at BollySitter do not plan on reviewing a film that anyone other than the followers of self-proclaimed Guru/demi-god Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh will find worth spending their time or money on. Most of the Bollywood cinema is kitschy at best and sheer torture at worst served in the name of entertainment, and we at BollySitter have more than often felt the pain while reviewing so-called “popular masala films”.

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Earlier this week when popular Bollywood star Aamir Khan called AIB’s Roast of actors Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh a “violent” act, he received counter-criticism from certain quarters with people calling the actor, who has himself produced a “violently” raunchy comedy called “Delhi Belly”, a hypocrite. But Aamir cleverly hid behind the curtain of the censor board, stating that his movie was made for a specific audience and was approved by the board for that category of viewers, while also highlighting the difference between fictional characters (in a movie) and real people (the recipients of the AIB roast). When the Roast also drew flak from other authorities and the self-proclaimed “culture police” across the nation, AIB was forced to take down the controversial video recordings of the event from their YouTube Channel, fearing legal action.

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This past Friday when CBFC Chairman, Pahlaj Nihalani, sent out a circular to the Regional Offices (ROs) of the Censor Board, listing out words and phrases that he feels are objectionable and abusive, and worthy of being deleted from films, he drew criticism from within the board itself. Nihalani was appointed as Chairman of the Board by the Central Government after the previous Chair Leela Samson and her entire Board quit over MSG – The Messenger being cleared by the Film Tribunal despite the Board calling it a propagandist film and refusing to give it a Certificate. The Tribunal has the authority to override CBFC’s decision and clear any film for release that the board may have raised objections with, in the first place, but it appears certain rules were overlooked and film was cleared without the due process. In a somewhat related story, recently there was also a huge cry on Twitter when the Censor Board reinstated a ban on usage of the word “Bombay” (instead of “Mumbai”) in Mihir Joshi’s music video of the song “Sorry”.

Freedom of expression is an essential ingredient in a true democracy and censorship and restrictions on speech do not allow creativity to flourish.  Over the past few days, we at BollySitter have passionately debated the role of CBFC members in certifying (or not) movies like MSG – The Messenger, banning the use of words like “Bombay”, forcing the annoying appearance of the phrase “Smoking Kills” anytime someone smokes on screen, criticizing AIB’s roast of Arjun Kapoor and Ranveer Singh and how it all relates to BollySitter and its core mission.

Whether one likes a particular film, song, book or a written piece is entirely the freedom of choice that they have. It should not be up to CBFC or anyone else to decide what one can or cannot read or watch. CBFC has anyway been inconsistent in its job to appropriately rate content, especially for the younger audience. On one hand, a bloody and violent sequence in a movie rated U/A is not approved by the censor board while on another, an overtly sexual situation or a scene containing objectionable language is passed without appropriate rating or parental guidance. There are no set parameters or rules and it often appears that their job is to either please the culture police (by banning words or content that some group finds objectionable) or to please the higher authorities. Of course none of us want inappropriate content to reach impressionable children, but banning should not be the solution. CBFC’s job should be to provide a medium that informs people, and let the audience decide on their own what is good for them and what is not. The need of the hour is not stringent censorship but an overhaul of the parental guidance system, a source that provides fair and trustworthy information and tools to the viewers, as well as a discussion forum so that families can make an informed decision about the media they consume.

Let us give the artistes their freedom, and not give undue attention and unnecessary hype to the likes of MSG-The Messenger, a movie that probably would not have garnered this much attention had it been certified in the first place, and would have died a natural death on the day of its release anyway.

 

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