Friday, October 15, 2004

Indian Film Censor Board chief fired; threatens to sue

After the Indian Communist Party made some disparaging comments about Anupam Kher, the veteran actor who runs India's film censorship board, Kher was summarily fired.

Kher is threatening to sue Harkrishan Singh Surjeet and the CPI for accusing him of being an "RSS man." But the Communists have responded by saying that they never called him an RSS man. They simply want him out because he was appointed by the BJP; his removal is part of "de-saffronization."

Michael Moore fans should be pleased; Kher and the censor board recently decided to ban Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 in India (not that it isn't already available everywhere as a 100 Rupee VCD!).


Alka Dwivedi said...

He has already caused stir. Spokepersons of many parties are out defending themselves and insisting they are not involved. :-)

Aravind said...

It is strange to hear that a film as unoffensive (to Indian sensitivities) as F911 has been banned. Anupam Kher doesn't seem to bring any originality and common sense to the board.

Buchu said...

I still find his dismissal pretty 'anti-democratic'. And where are the voices that cried hoarse when Leftists historians were removed from the ICHR at the end of their tenure? (I know that their removal was unjustified, but the BJP could have said in all fairness, their term was up, sorry we didn't renew it. Not how the ICHR is supposed to be run, but that's another story). Here is this man, Kher. I don't agree with some of his decisions, BUT to remove him without even once providing any reason for it, is preposterous. And no, saying he's a "RSS man" isn't good enough. What's the proof that he is? That he was appointed by the BJP? That's not proof enough for me. AND, more importantly, SO WHAT? The RSS is at present, not a banned organization in the country. Is mere membership cause for dismissal from the post of Censor Chief?

I have to admit, that despite my leftist sympathies I am very disappointed in the way the Left in India has handled it. It is typical of their hypocrisy. How is Kher's removal on the unsubstantiated ground that he is a RSS man any different from dismissing historians from key posts because they are 'Marxist' (and many of them, strictly are not)?

This is bad immature governance, bad for democracy and sets an ugly precedent.

Anjali Taneja said...

Does anybody know what reason Kher and the others on the censorship board gave for wanting to censor Fahrenheit 9/11? In the original article I read about it, there were only rumors that the censorship board didn't want to offend American authorities (if that's their reason, I think that's justification for kicking Kher off the board, but then i'm a raging lefty). Anyway, back to my question, has there been more of a statement on why exactly F 9/11 was proposed to be censored?

Anand said...

Many of Kher's decisions were in order to appease the RSS; for instance, Ramesh Pimple's documentary "Aakrosh" was denied certification, Rakesh Sharma's "Final Solution" faced a lot of trouble to get the board approval. Both documentaries are about Gujarat riots. There's no reason why this government should tolerate that kind of a mindset.

Most people who were against stalling of the ICHR project by "Leftist historians" were against it because they saw merit in those historians' interpretaion of history. They were not against stalling every project or sacking every board chairperson.

In any case sacking of Kher does not constitute a precedent. His predecessor Vijay Anand was sacked. Before that Asha Parekh's term wasn't renewed. If Anupam Kher really believes in what he says now he should not have accepted the offer in the first place as his predecessor was also sacked.

I guess political appointees should resign once they are asked to resign by the Government. Otherwise they'll have to be sacked. There's nothing "democratic" in these appointments for the sacking to become "undemocratic".

Buchu said...

Yeah, but the real reason why Kher was recently in the limelight was because of the fuss over Jha's docu on JP Narayan to which the Congress objected to and was happy to censor. Deal is, both the Congress and the BJP happily censor documentaries that they find uncomfortable. So the reason I'm miffed is because all those intellectuals who protested say when War and Peace (the Anand Patwardhan movie, not Tolstoy!!) was banned, are not half as vocal today.

Also, just because Vijay Anand was removed, doesn't make Kher's removal justified? The Censor Board chief is NOT supposed to be a political appointee. It is a sad fact it is. Just as the ICHR postings are. And what I find infuriating is that many of us (including myself) expressed outrage about politicising an institution like the ICHR but no one has dared to raise their voices so far. So yes, it's not supposed to be 'democratic' i.e. you don't require consensus opinion, but also in a democracy you don't purge officials on the grounds they belonged to the previous regime. Because they will come back and do it to you.

Look at the Left Front in my state of WB. Every single academic post in the state has to be approved by them. Right from the Vice Chancellor downwards. (for most major univs). And there are plenty of documented cases of ppl with dodgy credentials being appointed. Just what the BJP was doing, and the Left has been doing it for 20 years in Bengal!

Despite my political sympathies, and if there was an election today, I'd still vote for the Left Front, I find these inconsistencies in their policies, and more importantly, in our reaction, quite glaring.

Finally, I'm not convinced banning two films is proof that Kher is a "RSS man". He could be, he may not be. He just be under huge pressure from the powers that be. Which his successor will be as well. So why have the charade of a censor board? And why do we sit by and not protest while WHICHEVER government is in power arbitrarily decides what we should watch and what we shouldn't?

Amardeep said...

Welcome everybody -- interesting to hear your thoughts on this Kher business (and here I was thinking of this as an innocent, timepass post!).

Though my sympathies are naturally with the Congress and 'desaffronization,' I think Antara has a point on the question of whether Kher himself is particularly blameworthy. I haven't seen his specific opinions on these subjects. On the other hand, as the head of the board he clearly had a hand in censoring "The Final Solution," so I'm not inherently sympathetic to him either.

My complaint is a little different: I find the whole business of censoring ideas extremely distressing and authoritarian -- a relic of Soviet-style social planning. The Left, admittedly, still subscribes to it (as several of Antara's examples show). Judging from the way the BJP handled its success, it does too.

I think the censor board should be banished. No part of a democratic government should be engaged in the business of censoring.

Some ratings system is of course necessary. Maybe I'm biased from living in the U.S., but I think the American ratings system works a lot better than the Indian U/A system currently does. Films here with adult content are forbidden to children, and the restrictions are pretty widely enforced. In India, in contrast, I haven't seen the "A" rating enforced.

The current fuzziness leads to lots of confusion. Right now, even "A" movies are often censored for language. And many "U" movies have humor that is pretty sleazy (I'm thinking of a movie like "Masti"). Also, parents often don't realize that a movie is rated "A." I remember when I saw "Yuva" a few months ago, the cinema hall in New Jersey was packed with families including young children. Now, "Yuva" is a brilliant film (in my view), but with all the graphic violence (the fight on the bridge; domestic violence), it's definitely not for children.

So the rating system should be stronger, and censorship should simply be abolished. Restrictions are necessary (and films with controversial ideas can also be restricted; Michael Moore's film received an "R" rating in the U.S.), but censorship is un-democratic.

Anand said...

The argument for equating the Left with the BJP is a little far-fetched. Antara may have examples of politically motivated appointments and appointments of people with dodgy credentials by the left. I also know about a few such instances in Kerala. But censoring ideas? The "official" left is for the documentary about JP to be shown in DD in full without any censoring. And what's BJP's track record? They burned copies of James Laine's book about Shivaji, wanted to extradite him, burned copies of Ambedkar's "Riddles in Hinduism", manhandled Gopal Menon- director of "Genocide in the land of Gandhi"... All in the very recent past. Also I think there cannot be any hard and fast rules. Situations will have to be judged based on individual merits. For instance, I'm all for censoring math text books which have concocted "vedic sutras" which have nothing to do with mathematics (or the Vedas for that matter).

Buchu said...

hey, is the news about F9/11 being banned confirmed? i just did a quick google check and it seems to me that the censor board has sent it for review ahead of release, but NOT banned it. In fact, here's a TOI article saying it's been cleared and ready for release after being sent to a review committee.
and outlook india has reviewed the movie this week without any mention of a ban. and i've trawled newspaper, and nope I don't think the movie's been banned.

Amrit said...

Anupam Kher ironically fell victim to the hegemonic tendencies of a sensor board he was so astutely trying to defend in a recent television debate. The word “censor” in itself reeks of communist (and of course the Sangh Parivar) mentalities. The censor board should be shelved, and instead there should be a well-formed law. I agree our society is not yet ready for “openness” but one should watch AXN after 11 and see things have gone beyond openness and censoring is just a pathetic sham. You can see an ass but the hole is blurred, you can see a breast but the nipples are blurred, and of course you can partake of all the theatrical acts of simulated copulation (in the wild parties). Censoring like this seems churlish and hypocritical.

Anonymous said...

I read with serious concerns the lack of comments/resentments regarding the lewd and immoral portrayal of the Indian women within the Indian Film Industry.Family audiences are disgusted with this vulgarity....why not show our women in good light...we are supposed to be a cultured wonder the muslim countries resent western cultures and values...I am not going to that extent but some serious thought must be expressed to force the Govt. and Censors to look again at this urgent need to preserve our dignity which should not be for sale. I live in England and collectively...we Indian over here and other parts of the world are truly disgusted at vulgarity that is swamping indian films.

Taij Ramnaresh

Anonymous said...

What's up with people calling for goverment control on vulgarity in indian cinema ? It just annoys the heck out of me to see people living in a democracy having this kind of socialist mind set. Is the goverment supposed to be our nanny ? Do we - the mature eduated people who supposedly have enough sense to vote in our govemerment need a nanny state to regular our morals and our culture ? Hindi movies have vulgarity because a section of the public demands it. It all boils down to freedom and free will. Nobody is forcing you to watch these movies. Why can't you study the censor certification and chose an appropriate movie for your kids to watch ? Why do YOU want a certain movie to be banned just because you find stuff that is objectionable ? How about my right to be able to see all that stuff ?