Creative freedom in ICU…

Creative freedom has been the burning issue this week. First, two films got dropped from International Film Festival of India, resulting in Sujoy Ghosh stepping down from its jury. Second, the vandalism over yet-to-release Padmavati for hurting religious sentiments continue; a multiplex in Kota where the trailer of the Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus was screened bore the brunt. Actor-director Farhan Akhtar opened a new front by pointing out that there is ‘lack of unity in the film fraternity’.
Is it just a transient phase or a serious one in which creative expression is in the line of fire? Writers, filmmakers and film enthusiasts share their take.
It’s very unfortunate
Attacks on creative freedom have worsened over the last few years. Not only is this unfortunate but shameful that no one from the authority has taken a stand on it. We have seen goons having their way whether it was Padmavati, Udta Punjab, or Indu Sarkar. The jury is set up by the government and the films passed by it and cleared by the Censor Board, how can they just be drooped? Marathi cinema is thriving and to drop its opening film at IFFI is just not acceptable.
My Journey: My first Laado won me a national award but I had to take up a fight with the government for that. I am sorry that things have only worsened. And sadly, the film fraternity hasn’t stood together for creative freedom.
Ashwini Chaudhary, film director
Oh, so politically motivated
As a filmmaker, I strongly feel that it’s the government that’s more paranoid than the people of this country. You can’t drop two films just because their names are Nude or S*** Durga. We have survived with all our differences for all this while. Khajuraho is an example of broadmindedness of our society. But when the authorities try to control what you eat, what you wear, watch or say, it definitely becomes a serious problem. All these riots, we have ever had, were politically motivated and that’s a sorry state.
My journey: So far, I have never faced any such concern. Environment and gender issues remain my subject and I have seen that once women trust you, there is absolute freedom of expression in their take and the intimacy in my films is a reflection of that.
— Kavita Bahl, filmmaker
It is an insult to the creative minds
Heedless attacks on artistic expressions are a matter of grave concern. Censorship and vandalism are being used frequently to suppress genuine creative expression and the same is backed by the regime and political institutions, it is nothing short of repression against the community. A film is not work of one single individual but a collective product of a team working in synergy. Such a dastardly attack is an insult to the people working behind a production and is utterly condemnable.
My take: The government ought to protect the artistes and their works from such regressive pressure groups and prepare a practical and sane policy with all stakeholders to protect and promote works of art.
— Harish, co-founder, Chandigarh Creative Cinema Circle
Let the court decide
The recent two incidents are sure a threat to freedom of expression. When films have been cleared by the Censor Board, nobody should have the right to stall the screenings. Let people reject the film. If any film is biased or bad obviously people would scuttle it by not buying tickets. If there is no curb on political leaders’ speeches and only legal recourse is the way out, then let the film take the same route. If any movie has intentionally hurt the sentiments of a particular group, let the court take a call.
My journey: Though there has been no direct confrontation, I have written under pressure… what if my work is interpreted this way or that.
— Dr Atamjit, playwright, director


An absurd canvas: on Padmavati

The coalition ranged against the screening of Padmavati, a big-budget period drama, is growing more violent and absurd by the day. The Uttar Pradesh government has joined the ranks of the Karni Sena, a self-styled Rajput organisation that uses vigilante methods to uphold its notion of caste honour, to raise anxiety about the film’s scheduled release on December 1. Lucknow has written to the Union Information and Broadcasting Ministry requesting that the Central Board of Film Certification be alerted of the “public sentiment” about distortion of “facts” in the film. Its release, the U.P. government has said, could disrupt law and order in the State, especially with the administration’s energies focussed on the municipal elections in end-November. Governments are expected to enforce law and order, not buckle down in the face of threats — whether perceived or real. As the Supreme Court observed in S. Rangarajan vs. Jagjivan Ram, a mere threat to public order cannot be a ground to suppress freedom of expression. By harping on the question of “historical facts” in connection with a film based on a work of fiction, the government is tacitly endorsing random groups and persons using Padmavati to delineate their notions of Rajput honour and Hindu-Muslim enmity. Over in Rajasthan, a Minister, Kiran Maheshwari, has intemperately railed against the film. And the Karni Sena, which vandalised the sets on location in Rajasthan earlier this year and on Friday blocked entry into the Chittorgarh fort where the story is set, freely hands out threats to the life and well-being of those associated with Padmavati, especially Deepika Padukone, its lead actor. Even Congress politicians are counselling that “sentiments” must be heeded.


The many Padmavatis

Sanjay Leela Bhansali, the film’s director who is known for his lush sets and high emotion, has been at pains to give an assurance that he has not distorted history. Leave aside the fact that the story draws from a 16th century Sufi poem, ‘Padmavat’, and has over the centuries been retold across north India, and that there is no historical record of Padmavati’s existence, the insistence on demanding accuracy in period dramas is anyway an infringement on creativity. Fictionalising the past is a longstanding way of understanding it, from K. Asif’s Mughal-e-Azam to Oliver Stone’s JFK. But the anxieties that are driving the Karni Sena and members of the Sangh Parivar are evident. That Alauddin Khilji, the Delhi Sultan who wages war in the story to try to win the beautiful Padmavati, could be humanised obviously disturbs the Hindutva narrative about ‘evil invaders’. The visuals of the heroine singing and dancing evidently militate against the latter-day patriarchal telling of Padmavati’s story, in which she is shorn of agency and is dutifully circumscribed by notions of purity and honour. In this, it is not just that the film is fuelling such worries: the film is being used to heighten such anxieties and consolidate a regressive and intolerant world view.



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