I haven’t studied law. I don’t know the intricacies of the Constitution of India. I am not a member of the Censor Board either. And I have no clue which Act/Section/Clause allows/prohibits/punishes/hails the freedom of speech (or the lack of it). And that my friends should ideally be a good enough reason to keep my mouth shut, sit on the fence and see things unfold the way they are currently when it comes to all the mayhem surrounding Aarakshan.
But then I am an average cine-goer and hence still talking and writing about it all. A person who just wants his weekly dose of cinema ‘araam se’, without any discomfort, trouble or pain whatsoever. Just allow me to sit in the comfort of a theatre every Friday and cherish my entertainment. Bas itni si khwaish hai! This is the reason why I have been constantly wondering for last 20 odd days about who really is in charge of allowing me that.
Is that a filmmaker who wakes up with an idea one fine morning and says, ‘Chalo iss par ek picture banaate hain’?
Is that a superstar at whose mercy a filmmaker eventually green-lights a project?
Is that those few people representing the Censor Board who watch a film before it’s release and decide whether it is suitable for me or not?
Is that one random man from a Godforsaken small town who finds something objectionable about a film and approaches Court?
Or is it those politicians who suddenly realise that this film may just change the way this country operates and make those frantic calls for a ban?
Hunt for these questions forms the topic for this week’s ‘Reflections’.
Mystery of the unknown
For me, Aarakshan comes across as a typical scenario where the issue, if at all one indeed wants to put it that way, arises due to ‘mystery of the unknown’. No one knew about the film’s content but everyone had an opinion around it. Strange, but true. Call it the volatile title and Prakash Jha’s penchant for controversial cinema but suddenly everyone thought that yet again he would be making a statement on the country’s politics. That’s it; many out there started attacking the film even before the first promo had hit the screens.
I remember asking Jha a couple of months back if he feared trouble and he politely replied that he would cross the bridge when it comes. He wasn’t waiting for it but was prepared for sure. Perhaps some politicians out there also caught a whiff of it and a premature attack began when there was no ‘sawaal-jawaab’ either. Sad, because the least that could have been done was hear what the maker had to say about the film. In case of Aarakshan opinions were made, perceptions firmed up, objections raised, decisions taken and an order read out. All before the film was even seen!
Why was someone else doing Censor Board’s job?
Prakash Jha has gone through quite a few run-ins with the Censor Board before as well. Raajneeti, Gangaajal, Apaharan – there has always been something objectionable, whether small or big, which Jha has had to contend with before the eventual release of the film. Chalo chalta hai. After all, in the times when even a Pyaar Ka Punchnama or a Dil Toh Baccha Hai Ji isn’t spared of cuts then this at least is still a potentially volatile subject. However, little did Jha know that despite abiding by what Censors had to say about the film, there would be a world out there which would have a point of view, however vague as it may be, out there to strike. My question is – When Censor Board has given a green flag to the film, what makes an individual or a bunch of folks out there to raise an objection? Isn’t that the job of Censor Board to represent the entire country?
Can’t there be a control in place?
I, you or anyone else can stand up with a flag and start protesting. Chances are that since we are a democratic nation, there would be good support from the Government as well. But then is it ‘the right thing’ as well? Shouldn’t it be deemed unconstitutional to have anyone else raise any objection whatsoever once the supreme authority in certifying a film, Censor Board, has cleared a film in a way it is good enough to screened? As I said earlier, I am not someone in the know-how of the nitty-gritty of the written word in the Constitution. But in the name of democracy, can a filmmaker continue to be penalised just because someone somewhere out there is looking at making a name for himself at his expense?
In case of Aarakshan, considerable amount of money, time, effort, print space has already gone into discussing the pros and cons of what makes it controversial. Surprising because most of this happened before anyone even saw the film. And even when a ban was announced, it is apparent that there was never going to be any second thought. Result? Not just has the movie seen considerable loss of revenue in it’s opening weekend due to ban in certain states coupled with uncertainty amongst audience mind around whether it is ‘safe’ to watch the film or not, there also is an enhanced risk of further losses due to piracy eating into collections.
And what was the issue by the way?
Leaving aside the whole debate around whether or not a politician have a right to call for a ban or not, the fact remains that at least all doubts around anything being volatile about Aarakshan should be cleared now that it has already been released. As is the fact, the film has absolutely nothing to do with reservation, save for a provocative title and a couple of scenes in the first half of the film. On the contrary, many have questioned if Jha should indeed have gone with this promotional route of the film since the film is more about a statement being made on the educational system of the country than reservation per se.
It is obvious that Jha has just made a point and instead of getting into a debate of being pro or anti reservation, he has quietly moved to a different field altogether, leave aside sitting on the fence and watching the show. Now at least this hard fact should be noticed by those who called for a ban (and got that in place as well) and pronto revoke it so that the film is seen for it’s actual worth than the perception which has been created around it.
Let me add though that if some out there still feel that the film is not ‘the right watch’ since it ‘deals with reservation’ then it is nothing but laughable to say the least since there is no ‘dealing’ here per se!
Note for our filmmakers
Not every publicity is good publicity. To make a hard hitting film is all fine but only as long as it stays true to its genre, subject and content. Jha would have had all the right reasons to believe that with the word ‘aarakshan’ coming in as a title, it would also lead to good curiosity around the film. Well, all fine as long as something like that stays on to be peripheral to the film’s promotion rather than forming the core of it. Even he would have thought that once the film creates enough buzz around itself, entices the audience and makes Censor Board scrutinise it a little more carefully, Aarakshan would settle down to take it’s normal course and be ready to be screened. Of course some questioning from politicians would have been on the radar as well, something that he knows first hand due to his own stint with politics. However, the fact that it would take such proportions isn’t something that even he would have fathomed.
Now this is something that even he wouldn’t have wanted in his wildest dreams since a controversy could take a film some distance but a ban is always counter productive. Now if only he would have named the film something else and promoted it as a jibe on the education system rather than hinting of making a statement on reservation, an all around heartburn would have been much less threatening.
A plea to the Government and Censor Board
Can we please have one unified set of people decide (and that too once for and all) whether a film is worthy enough for public screening or not? Thankfully, despite the constant run-ins that it has with the filmmakers, the Censor Board of today is still far more reasonable than it was say, a decade back. Can we just have them do their job please so that protests, if at all, can be dealt with them directly? And if at all politics really has a part to play in this decision making, why not ask for a representative Minister to be seated for screening of such ‘controversial films’ at the least, if not each and every one of them?
Of course not every politician would have a role to play in deciding whether a Bodyguard or a Mere Brother Ki Dulhan or a Desi Boyz or a Ra.One is suitable for country wide viewing or not. But who knows when someone out there suddenly feels that Bodyguard could have something to do with National Security, Mere Brother Ki Dulhan is propagating incest; Desi Boyz is about porn and Ra.One is about aliens invading the country? Better to take their viewpoint right away than have someone call for a ban and puzzle the likes of a Salman, Imran, Akshay or Shah Rukh!