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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Where ideology gets caught up in reality

Movies and books running into trouble with the authorities is not a new occurrence. Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' cost the author his freedom for many years of his life. The Censor Board has always been kept busy by Indian filmmakers of late. With dare-bare movies and bolder plots, which have piqued audience interest, the moral police is also out in full swing.

Movies like 'Murder', 'Khwaish', 'Sheesha' and 'Sin' have been pushing the boundaries - some say of decency - others call it artistic freedom. All the same, the audience is lapping it all up. But the big debate is, that is it alright for filmmakers to push the envelope, just to make a point, when society may not be ready to accept it?

Filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, whose own movies have always dared to tackle bold subjects told CNBC-TV18, "The more things change, the more they remain the same. Now it has become profitable to take a piggyback ride on entertainment products to kind of project your ideology because that's the easiest way. Go outside the cinema hall and create a ruckus and cameras will come and there are 24 hour channels starved of news that will use the entertainment product and the so called passions of the common man and make an interesting story (out of it)."

Bhatt added, "The moment you get into anything, which has got what I call the fiction of fact, it is always dangerous. That's why all repressive regimes, all fascinating regimes have ganged up against a storyteller."

Director and writer Anurag Kashyap has directed two movies, both of which have run into trouble. 'Paanch' ran into trouble with the Central Board of Film Certification, CBFC for its black humour and strong language. The Supreme Court has stayed the screening of his other film, 'Black Friday' because the lawyer for the Mumbai 1993 blasts' undertrials said it would prejudice their cases.

Kashyap said, "With 'Paanch' I was very furious. I was angry because for me it was a question of a film that has come from me, this is what I want to express and I want to show the people and if people chose not to see it, leave it to them, don't become the moral judge and decide things for them. With 'Black Friday' it's a different issue, there is no moral judge sitting and condemning the film. The film is not about who has done what. The film is largely about the cycle of violence, that continues."

He admits thar he could have marketed the film more appropriately. He said, "I think the mistake that we made was, we said it was the 'true story of the Bombay bomb blasts', which we took out later. I think that was a mistake and I'll admit that."

When the long arm of the law comes after you, movies that have controversial subjects as plots, that may open old wounds and incite the public, are the first to be targeted. So how does one a getting into trouble? Bhatt said, "By not making these kinds of films at all. After one 'Zakhm' (his movie on the 1993 riots), my brother who was handling the money said, 'I told you so. Don't make these kind of films, let's make films which the government has no problems with'."

The advent of a variety of international channels and especially their reality shows have increased the public's tolerance level for a more open portrayal of sexuality. Now, more movies than ever before have their female stars willing to wear scraps of clothing to tittilate the audience, So, ironically the movie industry is allowed to become more permissive on sex but not on religion and politics. Bhatt reiterated, "The government of today would pat itself on the back and would say look how liberal we are, we have allowed you to show 'Murder'. But what happened to 'Black Friday' or what happened to 'Zakhm'? Whenever you make a film, which kind of subverts or kind of questions the establishment's role in certain heinous crimes, they will gang-up against you."

State interference does stifle creativity. Kashyap agreed, "It might prevent me from getting films made because that depends on the person who has got the money, who is giving me the money, but doesn't prevent me from making the films that I believe in. The problem is that the establishment is trying to please everybody, I think the problem lies there."

But filmmakers also have a responsibility to not hurt people's sentiments which they will have to balance with their right to freedom of expression. Kashyap explained, It's a balance that an individual has to strike. What is the film trying to say? If it has something, which I feel, is much stronger and much more important to say, than probably an individual's right, then there are two ways to do it - either you take the individual's permission or you camouflage the individual. I realize, that you cannot pick an individual and say he did that and that was the man, it is a problem with all of us. It's a problem with society."

Kashyap added, "In my experience of screening of 'Black Friday', there has never been an incident where people, normal people, have had a problem. People who go to work and do their jobs everyday and go in and watch a film, those kind of people have not had a problem with the film. I have had people coming in and saying that though the film disturbed them, it has something very important to say and they were glad that somebody has made something like that."

Written for www.moneycontrol.com

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