Sunday, October 17, 2004

Censorship in India: Documentary filmmakers condemn the CBFC

I got this Press Release ("Campaign Against Censorship/Films for Freedom") from SACW. They do make some attempt to balance their criticisms of Kher and the BJP when they also criticize the censoring of Prakash Jha's film on J.P. Narayan (which is critical of Congress, naturally).

I haven't had time to verify their version of Kher's role in the censoring and then (this was a surprise to me), the ultimate approval of The Final Solution. However, quite apart from Kher's culpability, the CBFC looks both profoundly corrupt and seriously incompetent in this account, especially with the "regional panels."

Mr. Anupam Kher led one of the most repressive censorship regimes of recent times . Under the short one year tenure of Anupam Kher as Chairman, the CBFC already mired in controversy, has gone through one of its darkest periods. The targeting of films that dealt with the Gujarat massacres of 2002, which the previous government had in particular a vested interest in stopping, exposed the partisan, authoritarian, and irresponsible use of the powers given to the CBFC. Mr. Kher and other officials of CBFC were directly responsible for the harassment faced by Rakesh Sharma (dir. of Final Solution). Final Solution went through a bizarre process of preview by CBFC. To begin with it was not even being accepted for preview on various pretexts; then it was denied a certificate for public exhibition with Mr. Kher making statements to the media defending the denial of certification and asserting that the film could not be publicly exhibited. The film was finally reviewed under immense public pressure and a certificate with no cuts was granted and now Mr. Kher claims it was his intervention that got the film a certificate! There are many other films that are still stuck with the CBFC.

The process began when the Regional Panels of the CBFC were stacked with political appointees with direct political links to the party in power (and mostly with no connection/interest in cinema). There was harassment of filmmakers at the censor board, and eventually the unprecedented step of the CBFC taking an aggressive and proactive stand in stopping screenings of "uncensored" films, often in collusion with right-wing political fronts. All of this happened with the knowledge of Shri Kher, if not at his behest. Mr. Kher was personally involved in attempting to disrupt the Films For Freedom festival in Bangalore earlier this year. He was aided in this attempt by members of the Hindu Jagran Manch who also claimed to be members of the regional board of the CBFC.

At least one thing in the above seems a little fishy to me. How do we know whether Kher was involved in the attempt to disrupt the film festival?

We also condemn the political censorship being imposed by Prasar Bharati on film-maker Prakash Jha's recent film on Jayaprakash Narain (especially regarding those sections in the film that have critical references to the Emergency that was imposed by the Congress government). This clearly reiterates our belief that important public institutions like the CBFC and Prasar Bharati have been stripped of their independence and continue to be used by political parties to simply further their narrow agendas.

To ensure freedom of expression and to strengthen democratic institutions there is therefore an urgent need to totally review the censorship laws under the Cinematograph Act as well as the functioning of the CBFC.

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