Ensuring a safe and whole release of movies is lately becoming difficult in the subcontinent. Three days ago, the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) in Pakistan blocked the release the Shah Rukh Khan, Mahira Khan-starrer Raees, over a stated, absurd objection that “the content undermines Islam, and a specific religious sect, [while also] portraying Muslims as criminals, wanted persons and terrorists,” according to Dawn.
Yesterday, CBFC decided to eviscerate another impending Bollywood release: Akshay Kumar’s Jolly LLB 2 – this time more specifically over the “negative portrayal of Kashmiri Muslims”. The chief of the body, Mobashir Hasan, has reportedly required excisions of several key, ‘objectionable’ scenes of the film before dusting their hands off it. The heavily edited film temporary left the distributors in a fix about whether to even bother releasing it. It is hard not to smell a whiff of vendetta against Bollywood in the air across the border, given the toothless reasons offered to uphold the straight ban and the deep edit.
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Then again, things are hardly rosy on the democratic, domestic end where freedom of expression is ostensibly a constitutional right. Cuts, violence on sets, assurances to fringe groups – we have seen it all over the last few months with Sanjay Leela Bhansali, Shah Rukh Khan, Karan Johar and most recently the four deletions within a scene demanded of Jolly LLB 2 by the honorable judges of the Bombay High Court, after entertaining an advocate’s petition who, without watching the then-unreleased film, had come to the conclusion that it made a mockery of the legal profession. The judges called for a 3-member committee to examine the film, which in turn recommended the mandated cuts.
Are our honorable democratic institutions and professional committees so weak that a few shots within a movie should worry them and elicit action? Wouldn’t it have been better if they had instead resisted hypersensitivity in taking offence like lay person communities? Just a thought.
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Movies, like the perennial soft targets that they are along with visual art and books, have been getting caught in the crosshairs of cultural and fringe-group politics and their makers complying to prevent further damage. One cannot bother with Pakistan’s churlishness, but this should concern us in India as a democracy.