“Beware those who are quick to censor, they are afraid of what they do not know.” – Charles Bukowski
Udta Punjab was in the pipeline for more than a year because not many mainstream actors were ready to come forward as it had a dark plot and unconventional theme. Little less than a week away from its release, the movie seemed like a dream come true for those associated with it. However, little did the cast and production team realize that the battle has only just begun.
Leading the attack on the film from the forefront is the Central Board of Film Certification. Under the leadership of crusader, Pahlaj Nihalani, the committee has taken the role of moral police and has ordered the Udta Punjab team to implement whopping 89 cuts as well as to remove all sorts of references to any real location in Punjab. It has also directed the team to issue a disclaimer that recognizes the work of Punjab government in tackling the drug problem.
However, this is not the first time that Mr. Nihalani has managed to grab headlines because of his baffling decisions. Recently a movie on homosexuality was not allowed to see the light of the day, the word Indian figure was muted in Angry Indian Goddesses and the nudity scenes were axed from the Hollywood flick, The Nice Guys. From how long can the actors kiss to what words can be used in the film, the man had pre-decided it all. However, making changes in the film owing to societal pressure is not new in the industry. After all, in a country of billion people, it is not difficult to offend or upset someone.
Earlier, Shiv Sena had created a ruckus when the word Bombay was used in Wake up Sid. In order to avoid any kind of ban and drama over the release of the film, Karan Johar had decided to run a disclaimer before the movie that stated that Bombay is nothing but the real-life representation of Mumbai. Was this really needed? Can’t a filmmaker make a film according to his creative ability? A bra was blurred in Queen and the word virgin was muted in Finding Fanny because, come-on, these things are completely against the Indian culture and traditions. However, songs like, ‘Choli ke peeche’ and ‘I am a hunter, she wants to see my gun’ can be readily made available in all the discos and pubs.
By removing Punjab from the scene, the entire essence of the movie and the plot will be lost. What was originally thought and what will finally come on the screen can be something drastically different. The board must be happy that the film is trying to tackle an issue that is so rampant in the state. This can probably push back the youth in the right direction. However, how will you be able to solve the problem, if you cannot face it!
While Pahlaj Nihalani maintains that this is not the case of political appeasement, the upcoming election angle cannot be completely ignored. According to him, the film has over usage of cuss words and puts the entire state into a bad light. However, when Dum Maro Dum was released, nobody said a word to protect Goa’s image! Nothing was said even while the trailer of Udta Punjab was released without any cuts. And, now when the release of the movie is hanging on their head, the Board seems to have gotten up from the slumber or looks like it had assumed that the production would succumb to this sudden pressure and would adhere to all their demands in order to avoid the delay. Cheap trick, CBFC!
We all crib about the quality of the films that the industry churns out. However, when the filmdom tries to take a risk and attempts something more daring, realistic and praise-worthy, these kinds of baseless demands tend to push back the filmmakers into the shell of trying the same old tried and tested formula of masala and overtly dramatic flicks.
Cinema is more than often is said to be a powerful tool of documenting the happenings of the society. However, at the end of the day, the industry serves as a livelihood for those associated with it and if such instances of being stifled continue just to please political circles or certain sections of the society, how will it be a medium to challenge the norms. In the case of Udta Punjab, it has a strong financial backing and chances of Anurag Kashyap bouncing back are strong. However, spare a minute to think about the impact on small-time production houses. They will not think about pushing their boundaries because what is the use of a movie that cannot be viewed and enjoyed by the people.
Today, luckily, the entire industry has come in solidarity to show its support towards a free cinema. However, had it been a small-scale film without any popular stars, things could have been different. Hence, it is important that a change is made at the earliest. No one should be given the power to tell what can be shown on the silver screen and what is off the limits. All that the board can do is certify depending on the target audience intended. Let the audiences decide what is entertaining for them and what is not. If the sad state of affairs continues, the realistic or novel cinema will become a thing of past and there will not be other ‘Bombay’, ‘Aligarh’, ‘Madras Café’etc. All that we will be left with is an overdose of sweetness and happy endings.