When, in 1996, the screening of the film Fire was halted, something seemed to have shaken the system. The movie had been passed uncut with an Adult rating. But when Shiv Sainiks and Bajrang Dal followers protested vehemently, vandalising, interrupting screenings and threatening security in the name of morality, surely something was amiss.
The incident seemed to make us want to probe into something deeper. Were we a free country? Did we have freedom of speech? And lastly should anyone be allowed to hamper that particular freedom, even if it was in the name of public good? The debates were endless, lengthy, and often so varied that no final conclusion could be reached. It was a dangerous time to be a progressive woman in urban India (it probably still is) but for someone with the stature of Deepa Mehta, it was even more frightening. The film was eventually screened in 1999 but only after a lengthy legal battle with the most fundamental of all freedoms at stake.
What the above events alert us towards is the core of the issue of film censorship. Should films in India be censored? In a country as culturally diverse and sensitive and as politically volatile as ours, the issue seems hard for me to decide. On the one hand, there is this obvious claim for not tampering with artistic freedom, not hampering the creative expression that results in freedom of speech. Yet, there is also the ground realities of India as a whole that need to be taken into account. Yes, we censor films, and yes, sometimes only for the sake of it, without any solid reason, but can some good also emerge from having the censor board in place?
To investigate this question, let me return to Fire and the events that followed the brutal acts of vandalism. One of the arguments made in favour of screening the film was the presence of a censor board. When a democratically sanctioned board had decided to screen the film without any cuts, what business did these self-appointed goons have to meddle in the process of free speech dissemination? The presence of the Censor Board made it, in this case, a safeguard for protecting the security of the filmmakers in question.
However, there were other incidents where films were banned – The Final Solution, a progressive documentary about the 2002 Gujarat riots, being a case in point. In this case, it was freedom of speech that was curtailed at the expense of maintaining political power. All in all, the question should films be censored is a disputatious one, depending upon the context, I should think.
But what is your say about the whole situation? Here’s a great infographic on film censorship covering everything from the history of censorship, to banned films, to the history of different types of ratings of censored films, films that created a censorship stir and a lot more. Participate in this important debate and do make sure your voice is not censored.