Two showbiz stories are dominating the media these days. The first, is the demand to ban 'Padmavati' and the second, more recent one, being Ravi Jadhav’s 'Nude' and Sanal Kumar Saidharan’s 'S Durga' (changed from 'Sexy Durga' to placate hurt sentiments), having been dropped from the package of films to be screened at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa later this month.
These calls for bans and bending of rules is becoming a distressing norm now. Anybody who can gather a handful of hooligans can threaten to burn, loot and kill, and there seems to be little we can do about it. There is a Central Board for Film Certification that decides on which films can be officially released in cinemas. But increasingly, there are self-styled guardians of Indian culture and extra-constitutional fringe groups looking for easy media presence, and what easier target that the film industry. There is so much money at stake that the best of them have buckled under pressure, just to see their films released, and, sadly, have given power to the loonies who can now hold anybody to ransom.
If the idea of a film – not the film itself because the protestors have not seen it – offends someone, don’t watch it. Why attack the shooting, destroy the set and then threaten to stall the release of 'Padmavati'. There are many people who don’t like many things, that doesn’t mean they can dictate terms to the world citing hurt sentiments as an excuse. (Personally, I am distressed by the glorification of 'jauhar' in today’s times, but that doesn’t mean nobody is allowed to tell the story). It’s not even certain if Rani Padmini is history or legend, created or perpetrated by the epic poem written in 1540 by Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. Just like it is not known for sure if 'Anarkali' existed or was the figment of a writer’s imagination; that didn’t prevent the making of Anarkali (1953) and later Mughal-e-Azam (1960). In fact, films on Rani Padmini have been made before in Tamil and Hindi, and there were no protests or hurt sentiments!
The protestors can see the film and sue the makers if they feel history has been tampered with, but this dangerous tendency to resort to violence and political muscle-flexing has to be stopped.
Even sillier is the dropping of 'Nude' and 'S Durga' from the Indian Panorama section of IFFI, after the selection committee picked them. It is not even sure who took offense at what and decided that the films cannot be screened at a government-backed festival. ('S Durga' was screened at the independent MAMI Festival in Mumbai).
This issue has blown up with members of the committee resigning and giving angry statements, while those from the other side defend the decision to exclude these two films. Suddenly, IFFI 2017 has been hijacked by controversy before it has even started. Ultimately the movie-going public decides whether it wants to see a film or not; and now there are many other ways of reaching an audience.
So many films, that are actually offensive manage to get to the theatres; controversy can generate some noise, but can’t make a film click at the box-office.