Shobhaa De | BBC Badnaam Hua…. Darrrrrling Tere Liye!
Let me put it bluntly: I am keen to watch the much-talked about, highly controversial, banned in India BBC documentary titled India: The Modi Question. Why keen? For several reasons. For one, any book/film/art show/documentary that warrants a “ban” makes it a hot potato. I love hot potatoes. Especially during a blah winter! Blocking or banning a “product” (everything falls into the product category these days) makes it intensely desirable. A ban arouses intense curiosity of the cheap, voyeuristic variety. I’m writing this column on India’s 74th Republic Day. And freedom is definitely on my mind. Freedom in the widest, most comprehensive and inclusive sense. Then the reality quickly kicks in. What freedom? Who is free in today’s India? Am I free to watch this BBC documentary, no matter how narrow-minded, bigoted and vicious it may be? Naah! The authorities, using “emergency powers” under the IT rules, have arbitrarily decided to treat 1.3 billion Indian citizens like moronic kids incapable of judging for themselves. What are “they” afraid of? The obvious answer is: the elections next year. But is that reason enough for the Central government to block YouTube and Twitter from sharing the documentary? Is it even remotely democratic to do so? Despite efforts to “protect” innocent citizens from the explosive content, a defiant student group in Hyderabad went ahead with a screening of the first part on the university campus. Nothing terrible happened. Nothing at all. Nobody urinated on anybody to show anger and outrage (they reserve their precious pee for Air India flights). Riots didn’t rock the city, as 200 interested students showed up to watch the badnaam BBC docu on India’s Prime Minister. “Çoncrete action” was demanded by the ABVP. Why concrete? Why not liquid? Just kidding. “No prior permission was obtained”, said the registrar Devesh Nigam piously. Retorted the Fraternity Movement: “We believe in building voices of dissent and a culture of questioning injustice.” Pardon me, but I am a little bewildered! Injustice towards the BBC…? Or…?
Meanwhile, JNU and the youth wings of political groups in Kerala have announced screenings of the documentary, leading to the BJP urging chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to halt any such thing from taking place. The young in India have more guts than us old fogies and are actively defying the latest censorship move.
BJP state committee member C.G. Rajagopal termed the screening as a part of a campaign by “anti-national parties to tarnish the image of PM Modi and India”. The Centre called the documentary a “propagandist piece, bereft of objectivity and reflecting a colonial mindset”. Possibly, it is just that and perhaps much worse. I am not an apologist for the BBC. If anything, I remain a sceptic and often wonder why we treat all things BBC with such reverence? Come on… the BBC is as wicked or saintly as all other international commercially-driven television networks. The BBC is in the business of making money, same as the others. The BBC is neither infallible nor one thousand per cent credible. It’s not about that at all. A documentary can never ever be totally unbiased or even completely fair. There will always be a debate around intention and authenticity. Neither can be convincingly established. I am not a diehard fan of the BBC or any television channel, having been up close and personal during the making of quite a few “well-researched” documentaries which were anything but!
This particular one comes with several narratives attached. Which one do you want to believe? “Recollections are relative”, the late Queen Elizabeth II had famously declared after Meghangate. Equally famously, the royal Brit stiff upper lip had remained frozen and rigid after another “well-researched’’ BBC exclusive on the Queen’s daughter-in-law, the late Princess Diana, which had rocked the Empire and beyond in 1995. Decades later, it was established that the interview, with the princess playing a tragic heroine in the royal saga, had been a neat, clever set-up by BBC journo Martin Bashir. The poor princess had been conned into granting it!
We in India, give far too much importance to firangs who write books or make documentaries on and about us. Ki farak penda, folks? As Rahul Gandhi, who has successfully cast himself as a modern-day sage in a fitted white tee, said about the documentary: “If you read the Bhagavad Gita or the Upanishads, you will see it is written that the truth cannot be hidden… you can ban…. You can suppress the press…. You can control the institutions, you can use the CBI, ED, all the stuff… but the truth is the truth.” Yes, honey. Glad you can pronounce the names of our scriptures, and maybe you have rapid read bits and bobs, too… but even the scriptures say the truth is never absolute. It is relative. Whose truth is THE truth?
It’s time for us desis to borrow the Brit stiff upper lip. Our lips are like Mick Jagger’s -- a bit too rubbery and loose. We react and over-react to any and every small thing. The BBC is not our maa-baap. Chill. Relax. Bolney do! If our PM and his loyal party members believe that the BBC has indulged in serious character assassination while maliciously projecting NaMo’s role during the Gujarat riots, it is their prerogative to feel offended and upset. But equally, it is our prerogative as citizens to watch the documentary and decide for ourselves. The PM’s advisers should have told him to give the documentary zero importance. Had the Centre chosen to ignore it, it would have made Rishi Sunak’s life a lot easier. Now the poor chap is being forced to take a position and condemn our PM’s representation, which he has attempted to do just days after being fined by the local police for not wearing a safety belt. Errr… Sunak is also being accused of cronyism after the appointment of Richard Sharp as the BBC chairman! Wheels within wheels, I tell you!
Chalo, if we cannot master the stiff upper lip, why not work on a natural desi asset -- the great Indian jaddu ki jhappi, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi used to dole out so generously to all and sundry in the global political pecking order? One more jhappi for Sharp and a hard kick on the backside for the naughty documentary makers, should resolve the prickly issue far more effectively than a ban. We may not possess a stiff upper lip, but we do have the world’s thickest skin. Hum sab rhinos hai. Saat khoon maafi… aaram se, boss…
BBC Badnaam Hua… Darrrrrling Tere Liye!!!