“Lady-oriented and fantasy above life, audio pornography, abusive language…” sounds familiar? Yep, these are the profound statements made by the Thought Police/Censor Board, under the inspired leadership of their talking head, Pahlaj Nihalani, about the film, ‘Lipstick under my Burkha’. To have one’s artistic efforts described in this ham-handed manner can be traumatic: Alankrita Shrivastava, I feel your pain. Why in the name of Mogambo do we still need a Mary Poppins-like governess dictating our cinematic choices circa 2017, with or without a spoonful of sugar?
John Wayne said, “Never apologise, and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.” At the risk of disappointing Wayne and Miss Rose, my kindergarten teacher who had such high hopes for me, I'm going 50:50: I won’t apologise, but I will try and explain. In 2003, I directed a Ben Elton play called ‘Popcorn’ to mixed reactions from the paying public. It was categorically marketed as a play for adult audiences which may have been a mistake since the youngsters were far more mature in their reactions than the seniors.
Most creative people can deal with criticism; it goes with the territory, as they say. But to have to deal with confected outrage from greybeards over salty language in this day and age is tiresome. Believe me, if writers thought that taking *#ck and ^#it out of their plays would advance world peace, turn plutonium into talcum powder or wire-transfer Warren Buffet’s assets into Jan Dhan accounts, they would. No question. Irony and satire are two of the most potent weapons in the armoury of the playwright and to deprive him of the use of either would be like sending Sehwag in to open with his smartphone. Or worse, asking him to tweet intelligently: the phone may be smart, but the owner was hit repeatedly on the head with a cricket bat...
Having coped with the morality brigade, it was the turn of the patriots. ‘Why can't you do a nice Indian play?’ or ‘How is this relevant to Indian society?’ Poor Alankrita; she may as well have said, “Why don’t you go and burn a bus?” Poseurs are not unique to Indian society; the reason they receive disproportionate media attention here is because uninformed criticism is far easier than groundwork and research. In any case, what does flag waving have to do with theatre or art? Does putting on a Tendulkar (er, the playwright, not the cricketer) as opposed to Shakespeare make one a better Indian? Priya Ramani tried incorporating the national flag in one of her fashion shows and we all know what happened to her.
For Khan's sake, don't go to the movies expecting a morality lesson. Take an Art of Living course instead. Question the casting couch, the thespian skills or the lack thereof, critique the dedication, passion, or commitment to the material. Rage till the dying of the light about the plot, the music or even the lipstick and the makeup, if you will. But please don't get your knickers in a twist over a couple of f's and b's. As Steve Dietz says, ‘Sex and beauty, hatred and disease, truth and manipulation, hunger and faith exist concurrently in the culture. To ask art to address only pleasant or nice or approved aspects is not only small-minded, it is patently impossible.Censorship is the advocacy by one group of a specific set of ideas to the exclusion of all others’. Arth aagideya, Mr Nihalani? Did you get it, Saar? Ironically, those entrusted with protecting us from evil are in fact blanketing us with a belief system. The world is messy; people get shot and not just in Kansas.
In the make-believe world of theatre, we try and confront idiocy, we revel in social, sexual, religious and political issues which audiences watch and judge in the metaphorical safety of the theatre, before going out to face the real world. We cling to the humanising elements of theatre: it helps us confront and exorcise the demons we grapple with in our daily lives. If drama were an integral part of our high school curriculum, society would be a better place. At the very least, there would be less violence in parliament with more realistic fight scenes and better actors. Pahlaj Nihalani, for crimes against artistic expression, I sentence you to three years hard labour in nation-building, make that road-building.