THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Hearing about the High Court verdict on Udta Punjab at his apartment in New York, filmmaker Jayan Cherian would have felt not just a sense of vindication but also of empowerment. The court, while throwing out most of the cuts insisted upon by the Censor Board, said: "None can dictate to the film maker how he should make a film and use words; there is no need to censor films."
Four years ago, in 2012, the Regional Censor Board had refused to issue a certificate for his explosively political film Papililo Buddha and later the Revising Committee had sought 56 cuts. Now, his second film Ka Bodyscapes, his non-conformist take on sexuality, has suffered the same fate. This time the Board has treated the film like a hot potato and has referred it straight to the Revising Committee. This is rare, as it is usual for the Regional Board to first express its opinion.
The regional officer said the decision was taken because the film deals with "sensitive gay scenes, use of derogatory words against women, vulgar dialogues etc." Cherian will take the Board to court. The Babusenans, debutant filmmakers Satish and Santhosh who made Chayam Poosiya Veedu, have already tasted success. "The Board asked for three cuts and we took them to the High Court. Our film was passed without a single cut," Satish said.
He finds the chest-thumping over the Udta Punjab verdict distasteful. "Even if a single frame of your film is allowed to be cut, your integrity as a filmmaker is lost," he said. Satish feels Udta Punjab makers should move the Supreme Court to get even the last remaining cut withdrawn. Veteran filmmakers like T V Chandran have grudging respect for this brash new generation of filmmakers.
"During our time we were not able to put up such a fight even though the Board tried to hurt us in whichever way possible," Mr Chandran said. He had to delete three scenes from his film Susanna (2000). "I still don’t know what was it about these scenes that hurt the dignity of women," he said.
In those times, the Board’s whims had serious financial implications for the filmmakers. "Once, the Board wanted the word ‘bastard’ in my film Danny to be muted. Today it is easy but then it meant an elaborate technical process that forced us to postpone the release date causing losses to the producer," Chandran said. (On June 13, the Mumbai High Court mocked at the Board’s insistence on muting swear words and expletives.)
There is also the thinking that there should be some kind of policing in the street corner named cinema. "Offer a needle-hole of opportunity and the most macabre things will be done in the name of creativity. One sees it on the internet, on television," said ace scenarist John Paul. Even the Mumbai High Court, too, has acknowledged the gate-keeping role of the Board. "It is undisputed that the CBFC possesses powers to call for cuts, changes, deletions in a movie while certifying it," it said on June 13.
According to John Paul, it is the politicisation of the Board that has caused the trouble. "What is the competency of certain members to sit in judgement of what is objectionable in a film," he asked. "You cannot expect justice as long as the job is not in the hands of sensible people," he said.
John Paul recalls how the Regional Board asked the makers of Thakara to delete a popular saying in the film that uses the word ‘kundi’, a native word for human rump. "A member told Bharathan (the director of the film) that ‘kundi’ was obscene. And he said ‘yes, if you have not washed it’." His logical reasoning notwithstanding, Bharathan was forced to use ‘kunnu’ (mountain) in place of ‘kundi’.
But the Board has sprang pleasant surprises, too. "There is a scene in ‘Yatra’ where a convict climbs up the water tanker and looking down on the cruel jail warden standing below he yells 'ninakkum illeda ammayum pengalum maire’. Even before he completes the sentence, he jumps to death. No member objected to the last word though it was not the kind used in respectable homes," Mr Paul said.
Limiting the Board to just certification, as recommended by the Shyam Benegal committee, too has its pitfalls. "For any hope, the Cinematograph Act itself has to be scrapped. The Benegal committee too has retained the Board’s right to deny certification for a film based on this Act," Mr Cherian said. According to him, the Act remains a tool to exclude unwanted elements and mute political dissent.