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Wednesday, 08 June 2016 07:56
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Sarthak's edit

If that lowers Punjab's drug problem, censor the film

 

With the SAD-BJP combine in Punjab trying all manner of things to get its vote bank together, from getting the centre to pass a bill to ban Sehajdhari Sikhs from voting in SGPC elections to denotifying the land acquired for the SYL canal in the state, the last thing it wanted was Udta Punjab, a movie depicting the extensive drug abuse among the state’s youth, a fact that many feel will hit the SAD-BJP’s chances at re-election. In which case, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) asking the makers of Udta Punjab to remove all references to Punjab and its cities must be like manna from heaven. Since movies are different from documentaries in terms of the truth they seek to portray, the censors’ action only reinforces the view that Punjab has a serious drugs problem. Apart from the fact that the censor’s demands infringe upon the artistic rights of film-makers, the censors would do well to read the Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey, jointly carried out by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and an NGO, which found that the state had 2.3 lakh opioid-dependent people and 8.6 lakh users – that’s around 4.5% of the total adult population, a figure that rises when you take into account the fact that most users are men, and dramatically higher than that for the rest of the country. While it is not clear if there was political pressure on CBFC, remember the fate of Kissa Kursi Ka, the movie loosely modeled on Indira Gandhi?

If Udta Punjab is forced to remove the Punjab context – the Censor Board is said to have proposed the movie be based on a fictional state – will it remove Punjab’s drug problem? Would a Salaam Bombay, named Salaam anything-else, have been a story of the poverty, exploitation and despair of some other city, outside India preferably? In fact, the attention the movie gathered helped set up the Salaam Balak Trust that helps homeless children in the Maximum City. There are examples galore of India trying to dodge the reality some films, both feature and documentaries, have tried to portray. It was India’s Daughter last year – though the BBC documentary was not without prejudices, it did expose patriarchal attitudes and how they contribute to both rape and victim-blaming – and Aarakshan in 2011 which examined the faultlines caste-based reservation has created in society; or the Tamil feature Ore Oru Gramathile (1987) which also criticised caste-based reservations. To be sure, the ban on Aarakshan was only in some states and the ban on Ore Oru… was overturned by the Supreme Court. But there are many films that haven’t been as lucky despite the potential they had to, at the very least, inform the discourse on some of the social ills that afflict us today. The Pink Mirror which dealt with the mainstream attitude towards sexual minorities and the obstacles the latter faced in access to healthcare until recently, received rave reviews from critics and film festival attendees worldwide. Yet, in India, it continues to stay unapproved by the CBFC. For a body named for film certification, the CBFC has been empowered to shape films’ content cuts and approvals, consequently determining what the viewer can see. It would be better if the Board were to just sort films as per the level of viewer maturity required and let viewers decide how much the reel is reflective of the real.

 

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