EVEN as the Indian film industry is striving to go beyond the tried-and-tested formula, according to the writer-director of Lipstick Under My Burkha Alankrita Shrivastava, there are some factors which would help it in being a truly dynamic one. “Studios have to be more supportive of unconventional content. The audience needs to be more accepting. Artists have to stop self-censoring and the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has to stop snipping,” says Shrivastava, whose film about the lives and desires of four women in a small Indian town has been denied a certificate by the CBFC. She was speaking at the panel discussion “Brave Voices: Screenwriters who are Changing the Game”, on the third day of FICCI Frames, Asia’s largest business conclave for media and entertainment (M&E).
The industry today is undergoing an evolution, according to screenwriter Anjum Rajabali, but screenwriters still feel that their creative expression is being stifled. “In the ’80s and ’90s, people were happy to stick to formulaic stories. Today, a number of mainstream producers are pushing boundaries, as seen in films such as Piku, Aligarh, Dear Zindagi, Nil Battey Sannata and Kapoor & Sons,” said the writer of Raajneeti while who was moderating the panel. “It’s true that producers and studios have become more open to different kinds of stories,” he added. Sanyuktha Chawla Shaikh, the writer of Neerja, echoed that. “At the same time, however, I still have to be wary of the political scenario the film will appear in. I have to ensure that it is placed smartly and will be accepted by the audience. After all, I want people to watch the film,” she said.
Speaking about India’s tradition of censorship, Rajabali said, “This is a country with a very rich tradition of storytelling. You have complex plots and flawed characters, which people can relate to. But when this translates to cinema, they seem to disturb our culture and offend people.” Shrivastava has struggled with this issue. “I believed that I was making a story about ordinary women in Lipstick Under My Burkha, but the CBFC refused to certify the film because it was “lady-oriented”. Certification is about silencing people’s voices, particularly those of women. Facing this, I can’t lose courage and hope. If we don’t take a stand, it will lead to the death of creativity.”
The importance of taking a stand, believes Atika Chohan, who wrote Margarita With A Straw, lies in why they chose to be writers in the first place. “We chose this profession because we wanted to say something,” said Chohan. Margarita With A Straw, a film about a rebellious young woman with cerebral palsy who falls in love, faced cuts from the CBFC. “We needed to allow an emotion to come out that would have otherwise exploded. There’s a lot of wisdom in sticking to our true voice when others — whether it be producers, the CBFC, or the audience — are trying to gag it. It sends a wrong signal to apologise and back down, as some people in the film industry have done.”
According to Rucha Pathak, chief creative officer of Fox Star Studios, the bigger problem is that no one listens to the film industry. “People think the film industry is just about entertainment, and that its suppression is a small matter compared to all the other bigger issues that the country faces,” she said.