Once again, a cinematic output is getting dragged into another unnecessary pre-release controversy. Once again, forgotten, self-appointed guardians of culture and tradition have reappeared as vultures waiting to feed and foist themselves to limelight over perceived ‘hurt notions’, without even seeing or engaging with the artwork they are protesting. They have scant respect for the humongous number of talents, man hours and resources that have gone into the making of a mammoth film project. Making an epic historical today is no less than a small-scale industry project, and the least vicissitude,the maker of a film like Padmavati should be subjected to, is his right to show post censor certification.
In a nation, where the citizens of its capital city are gasping for fresh air; where commuters are increasingly seeing their daily commutes stretched and travel comforts squeezed on crammed roads in metro after metro;where small businesses are battling constant policy challenges; and the government is in a perpetual strive to make bureaucracy and businesses transparent…these protests and bans are a smoke screen — deliberate means of distracting people and giving them a wrong notion of ‘action achievements’, when in actuality, nothing substantial is ever done beneath this garb of ‘ill-defined Indian-ness’.
Sadly, this misplaced hyper-sensitivity is not limited to any one fundamentalist group or self-declared moral policing lobby, but a malady that’s increasingly being seen by some politicians and political aspirants as social work. The victim and the perpetrator keep changing states and contexts. Yesterday it was the Tamil film Mersal, today it is Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavati, and I won’t be surprised if tomorrow it becomes Tiger Zinda Hai for its bold takes on a certain ‘terror group and its driver ideologies’ as revealed by its trailer.
Bans are never a solution. It’s like prohibition in Gujarat leading to an increase in alcohol consumption in the neighbouring union territory of Daman. The dichotomy is obvious in cases like the move to ban smoking on cinema, while allowing manufacturers to produce cigarettes. For instance, commodification of women in advertising is an issue of debate, but by highlighting on occupational slips in modelling, aren’t we letting go of the big picture, tad lazily. Whether a couple is sitting in a Lucknow park holding hands, a costume malfunction happens with a model on a ramp in Mumbai, or a filmmaker wants to lend authenticity to his vision by shooting in real historical locations in Jaipur, making an issue around such soft targets is a convenient smokescreen to cover up for the larger failure of responsibilities by vested interests and the political elite.
I have always been a supporter of the need and space for an informed debate, which is one of the guarantees of a plural and opinionated democracy like ours. It assures that a larger number of people do care. Personally, I disagree with the arguments in a play like Me Nathuram Godse Boltoi, which offers Godse’s justifications and motivations for assassinating Mahatma Gandhi. But I will not join a campaign questioning its right to be staged. Feel free to disagree with MF Husain’s interpretation of Mother India. Contest him, but why banish him or curtail his right to create? At this rate of ludicrousness, next there will be a call for ban on showing men and women in the same frame or even ask the maker of a forthcoming biopic on Saina Nehwal to sign an agreement that her skirt won’t move beyond the permissible level in a badminton match while jumping for a serve.
An environment and encouragement for dissent is both, a democracy’s most sustaining health stimulant and a valuable sign board on the mood swings of a nation for its leaders. This has become a greater necessity in the context of a new breed of celebrity journalists (especially in the electronic media)wanting to be armchair activists and out-of-court judges; instead of serving as dispassionate dispensers of truths sans agenda.
Most of these publicity stunts, pulled by people of frequently fluctuating affiliations are simply ridiculous. And what’s the fall out? Take the outcome of the first film to court a national-level banning controversy by private individuals – Deepa Mehta’s Fire, revolving around the theme of same sex relationship, featuring prominent stars. Who came out looking silly at the end of it? The well-made film, which wasn’t doing commercially very well, got free publicity and a boost in attendance because of the objections. While a film badly made and misleading like Indu Sarkar, failed at the box-office irrespective of the pre-release brouhaha around it by a Mumbai-based Congress party leader.
Is the average moviegoer even remotely bothered about all this? Try popping the question to anyone on the street. If people don’t like anything they just switch themselves off it.
Intellectually, the state may aspire to pitch us as a liberal economy; but at heart, we still are a repressed society. Hence, issues revolving around tradition, culture, icons and personal ideals around public morality, which generally get ignored in liberal societies are blown out of proportion here.
The media should be careful not to play up such elements, who anyways are a negligible lot. These protests are the last gasps of feudal, orthodox elements unable to cope up with a rapidly transforming nation. We are a young nation and more than half of the population will be below 25 in less than a decade. I did a little informal poll on these issues with some of my students and cousins in the 18-25-age bracket – and the underlying reaction was – ‘Do you seriously have the time to discuss this…? Just ignore!’ They may have exercised sane choice in their decision to ignore. That luxury however, cannot be extended to the state and the policing authorities – it is their duty to protect art and artists, and apprehend and punish law-breakers as any other criminal.

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