National Award winning filmmaker Suman Ghosh plans to release his censorship controversy-mired documentary on Nobel laureate Amartya Sen online in a “couple of months” in its entirety, including four words that the Indian censor board has objected to. The Argumentative Indian, originally scheduled for a July 14 release, was refused the green signal by the Indian censor board over the use of the words cow, Gujarat, Hindu India and Hindutva, by Sen. The hour-long documentary, structured as a free flowing conversation between Sen and his student and Cornell economics professor Kaushik Basu, has already been screened in New York and London. It had a special screening in Kolkata on July 10.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) officials in Kolkata verbally asked Ghosh to mute at least four words, including “cow” and “Gujarat”, from Sen’s interview in the film. “I will do that (release the film online). I have some screenings organised abroad so I can’t release it before that. It will take a couple of months. It will be there in its entirety,” Ghosh said. Ghosh unveiled a link to a 141-second trailer of the documentary on Friday via his Facebook page. The trailer link was posted on YouTube earlier in July. However, it is being reported that CBFC chief Pahlaj Nihalani has termed the trailer post “illegal”.
“I have to find out though… if he (Nihalani) is objecting to the trailer… whether a new law has been created in India where online content also has to be certified, so I have to find those out. But definitely I can release it all over the world,” the filmmaker said, adding the trailer was prepared much in advance, before the documentary came under the censor’s scanner. Noted for films like Footsteps (winner of two National Awards) and Nobel Chor, Ghosh’s features have had screenings in prestigious film fests such as Busan, Karlovy Vary and London, among others.
Asked about the censor board’s reaction to the trailer, Ghosh said, “I saw that (media report on Nihalani terming the trailer illegal)… I don’t know why. I made six feature films and I know a lot of filmmakers.. all of them said that on YouTube, one need not necessarily certify. If I play the trailer on TV or in theatres, then I need a censor certificate.” In the aftermath of the censor trouble, Ghosh has had no dialogue yet with the censor board.
“No. I am waiting for them to send me some official letter and I believe because of this controversy and everything, they are also scrutinising it. I will get an official letter from them, what they have told me verbally they will write and give it to me officially… that is the next step,” he said. As for as discussing the matter with Sen himself, Ghosh avers the steps being taken are completely his prerogative as a filmmaker. The censor board, which has stoked controversy in recent times by recommending a whopping 12 cuts in Madhur Bhandarkar’s forthcoming Indu Sarkar, as also by wielding its scissors on films like Lipstick Under My Burkha and Jab Harry Met Sejal, drew all round flak after its latest decision.
Branding the censor’s moves as “authoritarian”, Ghosh notes these diktats put India in a bad light internationally. “This is definitely an authoritarian gesture for sure to beep out certain things in my film, Madhur’s film.. but the way the media took this issue up, nationally and now this has become international news also, we can just hope that better sense will prevail on them because they have been criticised for this even internationally,” Ghosh said referring to the coverage in Washington Post and BBC. “It puts India in such a bad light. Why is the government so insecure to mention even (the) truth (of) what is happening in the country… what has happened in the country… why is the government insecure about these things,” he wondered.
“This is not only in films…in other areas too lot of things are happening… not an isolated issue… censorship issue is one spoke in the wheel,” Ghosh remarked about the censor board’s “intolerance”. He also believes all the hue and cry that has been generated as a consequence of the censor board’s recommendations is “counter-productive” for it. “They want to shut out any oppositional voice, but this is counter-productive for them,” he quipped.
Looking forward to the release of his next feature outing “Mi Amor” in December, Ghosh said even if filmmakers apprehend fronting sensitive topics, in the wake of censorship issues, what is remarkable to note are the voices of dissent that have risen up. “If all of us cow down (because), in future, we might be blacklisted or targeted — then it’s like accepting whatever they are saying without any voices raised… I am not such a person… we will see what the future holds. The voice that has been raised… that’s why its so important that the youngsters are also not demoralised by these events,” he added. As for the implementation of the recommendations submitted by a Shyam Benegal-led panel to revamp the censor board, Ghosh expressed doubt on its smooth progress. “Now it (censorship) has become a political issue. I hope it happens, but I doubt whether it will be smooth sailing,” he said.