Failed control


June 15, 2016

L-R: Director Abhishek Chaubey; actors Alia Bhatt, Shahid Kapoor and Diljit Dosanjh; and producer Anurag Kashyap at a promotion event for their movie Udta Punjab in Mumbai on Tuesday (AFP)

The attempt by the film certification board in India to censor a film on drug abuse in Punjab in the name of political correctness gets trashed by the court.

Is it yet another case of being more loyal than the king? Or is it part of a larger game to control what society thinks or does?

It is now getting more and more clear that the effort at thought control is par for the course so far as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government is concerned. From trying to control what languages students should learn in school, dictating what people should eat at home and elsewhere, to dubbing some students anti-national because they did not take discrimination quietly, it has done it all. Now, the party’s representatives have taken their obnoxious set of ideas to the film industry, yet again. 

This is despite the fact their earlier attempt to impose a ban on what they defined as ‘cuss’ words in films, fell flat on its nose. This time, however, the representatives thought it fit to impose ‘cuts’ in a movie that reflected the reality of drug abuse in the northern state of Punjab. It is not just one or two ‘cuts’ that the film’s producers were told to implement to get the required certification from the Central Board of Film Certification or CBFC, but a whole body of changes. 

The certification authority, which technically should be classifying whether the content in a movie is fit to be seen by adults only or is it for universal viewing, behaved like the censors which operate under martial law regimes or like they did during the 1975 Emergency in India when fundamental rights had been suspended. The certification authority went so far as to tell the producers that even the name of the state in the title of the movie, Udta Punjab, (meaning Flying high on drugs in Punjab) should be dropped. Not just that, it wanted all references to various cities/towns in that state to be removed from the movie apart from various ‘cuss’ words. The ridiculousness of the proposals, possibly, made the producers more determined to fight it out as an attack on the freedom of expression in the country. 

The CBFC, to be fair, was honest enough to say that it wanted the name of Punjab to be dropped because the state assembly elections were due next year and that it would influence the voters! If films could, seriously, make such an impact in an era when movies can be literally watched on the mobile phone and communication happens with just a touch, then no amount of control would be useful. 

Just the previous week saw how technology aided a comedy or a so-called comedy about two icons of cricket and film industry going viral before hitting the media. But, so determined were the members of the CBFC that chairman Pahlaj Nihalani went to town talking like a priest from the pulpit about how such language and ideas should not be spread. Nihalani, incidentally, is himself a film industry veteran who in recent years became famous for producing a movie, Har Ghar Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi in the run-up to the 2014 general elections. Roughly translated from Hindi, it means ‘Let it be Modi in every house’. 

So overwhelmed was he by his appointment as CBFC chief that one of his first quotes that made him infamous was, “It is a great responsibility both from the point of view of society and the film industry.” None at that point of time realised the implications of his words ‘from the point of view of society’. The moral preacher clearly had come to the post with an agenda. He was so crystal clear that nothing would change his mind on the cuts suggested for Udta Punjab. 

But, the film producers were, obviously, made of a mettle similar to that of Rohit Vemula and his friends in the University of Hyderabad and Kanhaiya Kumar of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Late on Sunday evening, Nihalani and his team changed their tough stand to clear the movie with an ‘A’ certificate and just 13 cuts. The sudden change took place a day after the Bombay High Court’s division bench told the board’s counsel that it was not a censor board but a panel to provide certification to movies. 

Legally, it is clear that the board cannot judge whether it will cause public disorder or not. That responsibility to make an assessment is left to the state governments. It was, perhaps, this belated realisation that made the board change its stance and clear the movie with the reduced number of cuts. The High Court, however, took a stand that should make any board member in future think more than twice before indulging in such misadventure. 

It suggested just one cut and ordered issue of certification within 48 hours. Clearly, Nihalani and his team was trying to please the bosses who appointed him to the post by carrying the brief a bit too far. That has precisely been the problem with the current dispensation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tells the members of the US Congress that ‘all the 1.25bn of our citizens have freedom from fear, a freedom they exercise every moment of their lives’. 

He also prefaced this statement with the line that the constitution of the country was the ‘Holy Book’. What he did not say was freedom, as guaranteed by the constitution, has to be fought for in a court of law.

The lone rider? 

There is little doubt that there is none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi who can capture the imagination of the people. His address to the US Congress has made every body sit up and take note of him, perhaps, more than the Madison Square moment during his first visit to the US. The hype in the wake of the atmospherics of standing ovations by the Congressmen at Capitol Hill has made his fans go gaga and describe him as a world statesman. 

The cynics may see it differently but the fact is that Modi has a remarkable quality about him. That is to bring energy to any framework that has remained unimplemented in the past and take it to its logical end. The best example of this capacity is the implementation of the Unique Identification or the Aadhaar card project. The pet project of Infosys founder Nandan Nilekani, under the patronage of the then prime minister Manmohan Singh, was to ensure that the benefits of technology are used for the financial benefit of the underprivileged. The then Congress-led government had several problems implementing it. 

One of them was the lack of political sense to understand the advantages of such a project. But Modi was convinced about its role in transferring benefits of subsidies, pensions, scholarships to students and reducing loss of revenue by way of eliminating middlemen and corruption. The Aadhaar card has now become a mandatory instrument of proof for benefits to accrue to an Indian. It is a similar story about India’s changing relationship with the US. 

The first one to click on the reset button on India’s approach towards security ties with the US was the then scholarly prime minister of India P V Narasimha Rao who belonged to the Congress party, two decades ago. That approach got a solid push during the tenure of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Atal Bihari Vajpayee who as prime minister termed India and the US as ‘natural allies’ and pushed for closer cooperation on nuclear, defence and counter-terrorism. 

Manmohan Singh pushed hard on all these issues. Between him and president George Bush, they got the civil nuclear treaty signed but for various reasons the creases remained. Modi has ironed out those differences to the point of, say, tarring the road towards the setting up of six nuclear reactors in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. That development is significant for more reasons than one. There was a time when the developed nations set up the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) soon after India had conducted its 1974 nuclear tests. There were sanctions against transfer of technologies as well. 

India fought all that over the years to finally land up in a position where the US has come around to back India’s membership of the NSG. It is, again, as part of the agreement between the two countries that India would be gaining entry into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). This is in lieu of India putting its reactors under scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), no more nuclear tests, giving enough business to US nuclear reactor companies, among other things. Again, the declaration of India as a ‘major defence partner’ by the US is also laced with commercial benefits to US companies. 

And, without doubt, it would not have been possible without Indian diplomats playing the game of patience to make India accepted globally. But, the entire path to that acceptance is not rosy as yet. Dealing with the US alone is not enough for India. The geo-political aspects kick in strongly here because China is openly opposed to India’s entry into the NSG. It has promoted Pakistan, known as a rogue state so far as nuclear proliferation is concerned unlike India, as the pawn to keep India out. 

To what extent the dropping of any reference to the ‘South China Sea’ in the joint declaration issued after Modi’s visit to the US softens China will, at this stage, remain in the realm of speculation. South China Sea is an issue which China has been hyper about since it was mentioned twice earlier after Modi’s meetings with President Barack Obama. But, there are some experts who believe that China is not a member of the MTCR and India could well get into a quid pro quo arrangement with China. 

How the process of entry into the NSG plays out in the next week or so would be an interesting aspect to watch particularly since Modi is out to lobby hard by utilising the help of India’s old and time-tested friend, Russia. His energy, it appears, is driven by a single point agenda. Of being considered the lone achiever.

Tailpiece

The world has paid amazing tributes to an amazing man who boxed his way from the ring to touching the lives of millions. As the world mourned the passing away of Muhammad Ali, the sports minister in the newly elected Left Democratic Front (LDF) in the southern state of Kerala, mistook him to be somebody ‘who brought laurels to the state of Kerala’. And we thought that the LDF members were knowledgeable! 

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]

thought control is par for the course so far as the rulingBharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government is concerned.From trying to control what languages students shouldlearn in school, dictating what people should eat at homeand elsewhere, to dubbing some students anti-nationalbecause they did not take discrimination quietly, it hasdone it all. Now, the party’s representatives have takentheir obnoxious set of ideas to the film industry, yet again.This is despite the fact their earlier attempt to impose aban on what they defined as ‘cuss’ words in films, fell flaton its nose.This time, however, the representatives thought it fit toimpose ‘cuts’ in a movie that reflected the reality of drugabuse in the northern state of Punjab. It is not just one ortwo ‘cuts’ that the film’s producers were told to implementto get the required certification from the Central Board ofFilm Certification or CBFC, but a whole body of changes.The certification authority, which technically should beclassifying whether the content in a movie is fit to be seenby adults only or is it for universal viewing, behaved likethe censors which operate under martial law regimes orlike they did during the 1975 Emergency in India when fundamentalrights had been suspended.The certification authority went so far as to tell the producersthat even the name of the state in the title of themovie, Udta Punjab, (meaning Flying high on drugs in Punjab)should be dropped. Not just that, it wanted all referencesto various cities/towns in that state to be removedfrom the movie apart from various ‘cuss’ words. Theridiculousness of the proposals, possibly, made the producersmore determined to fight it out as an attack on thefreedom of expression in the country. The CBFC, to be fair,was honest enough to say that it wanted the name of Punjabto be dropped because the state assembly electionswere due next year and that it would influence the voters!If films could, seriously, make such an impact in an erawhen movies can be literally watched on the mobile phoneand communication happens with just a touch, then noamount of control would be useful. Just the previous weeksaw how technology aided a comedy or a so-called comedyabout two icons of cricket and film industry going viralbefore hitting the media. But, so determined were themembers of the CBFC that chairman Pahlaj Nihalani wentto town talking like a priest from the pulpit about how suchlanguage and ideas should not be spread. Nihalani, incidentally,is himself a film industry veteran who in recentyears became famous for producing a movie, Har GharModi, Ghar Ghar Modi in the run-up to the 2014 generalelections. Roughly translated from Hindi, it means ‘Let itbe Modi in every house’.So overwhelmed was he by his appointment as CBFCchief that one of his first quotes that made him infamouswas, “It is a great responsibility both from the point of viewof society and the film industry.” None at that point of timerealised the implications of his words ‘from the point ofview of society’. The moral preacher clearly had come tothe post with an agenda. He was so crystal clear that nothingwould change his mind on the cuts suggested for UdtaPunjab. But, the film producers were, obviously, made of amettle similar to that of Rohit Vemula and his friends inthe University of Hyderabad and Kanhaiya Kumar of theJawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).Late on Sunday evening, Nihalani and his team changedtheir tough stand to clear the movie with an ‘A’ certificateand just 13 cuts. The sudden change took place a day afterthe Bombay High Court’s division bench told the board’scounsel that it was not a censor board but a panel to providecertification to movies. Legally, it is clear that theboard cannot judge whether it will cause public disorderor not. That responsibility to make an assessment is leftto the state governments. It was, perhaps, this belatedrealisation that made the board change its stance andclear the movie with the reduced number of cuts.The High Court, however, took a stand that shouldmake any board member in future think more than twicebefore indulging in such misadventure. It suggested justone cut and ordered issue of certification within 48 hours.Clearly, Nihalani and his team was trying to please thebosses who appointed him to the post by carrying the briefa bit too far.That has precisely been the problem with the currentdispensation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi tells themembers of the US Congress that ‘all the 1.25bn of ourcitizens have freedom from fear, a freedom they exerciseevery moment of their lives’. He also prefaced thisstatement with the line that the constitution of the countrywas the ‘Holy Book’. What he did not say was freedom,as guaranteed by the constitution, has to be fought for in