Messenger of God: unlikely to set box-office recordshttps://indianexpress.com/article/entertainment/screen/messenger-of-god-unlikely-to-set-box-office-records/

Messenger of God: unlikely to set box-office records

The Censor Board needs to defend creativity and freedom of expression without taking sides

MSG- The Messenger of God, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh
The bone of contention this time is a film titled Messenger of God.

The Censor Board is in news once again and for all the wrong reasons. The bone of contention this time is a film titled Messenger of God, purportedly a show-reel for one of India’s countless Godmen Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim (of Dera Sacha Sauda).

One has been privy to just the film’s trailer and it would suffice to say that it is unlikely to set box-office records. Or have any lasting impact on the audience.

Sure, the followers of the said guru might lap it up eagerly but then, hey, who are we to complain as long as we are not being forced to watch it. Meanwhile, the film has been banned by the Punjab Government for fear of protests and violence from other religious groups.

This followed by the resignation of the Censor Board chief, Leela Samson citing political interference due to the film being passed by the Film Tribunal after it was rejected by the Censor Board has raised several questions about the functioning of the board.

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First and foremost, what exactly is it in the film—and I am not holding my breath to watch it—except for the fact that it appears to be something of a propaganda that makes it unsuitable for a release? Among the reasons cited in newspaper reports were the fact that there is miraculous healing (by the guru) shown which could mislead the viewers etc.

Errm… now if scientific logic or logic of any kind were yardstick to films being released, masala films would not make the cut. Several films in the past although cleared by the Censor Board have been opposed by extreme religious outfits and a ban of sorts imposed.

And now, oddly enough, the Censor Board, given the en masse resignation of its members, seems to be following in the footsteps of fringe groups with extreme reactions and viewpoints. And in doing so, it is giving the film far more attention than it deserves.

The second and the more important point that CBFC members are making about political interference—well, it is in the nature of the beast. The CBFC chairperson is likely to be aware that should an occasion arise, the Film Tribunal is within its right to examine and overrule the CBFC’s deci- sion.

As per the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting website (and one is unaware of these rules being changed recently.) The functioning of FCAT is as follows: The Film Certification Appellate Tribunal (FCAT) is a statutory body, constituted vide Section 5D of the Cinematograph Act, 1952 (37 of 1952), under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India.

The Tribunal hears the appeals filed under Section 5C of the Act under which any applicant for a Certificate in respect of a film who is aggrieved by an order of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), can file an Appeal before the Tribunal, which has its headquarters in New Delhi.

The Tribunal has a Secretary to look after its day-to-day affairs. In light of the aforementioned rules, allowing the release of the said film hardly seems like an out of turn, politically motivated move.

And even if it were, the film would garner far less attention if it was treat- ed like any ordinary film by the CBFC. As for the larger ques- tion of autonomy of the Censor Board, it is a cause definitely worth pondering and executing.

However, it is a known fact that Censor Board Chairperson are appointees of the govern- ing political party, Anupam Kher, an NDA appointee despite his credentials as a fine actor was summarily removed from the post as soon as UPA took over.

The film industry perhaps should mull over the question and if it deems fit, lobby for the change. Till then members of the Censor Board, in the larger interest of creativity, must remain the voice of sanity and reason without taking sides.

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After all, as the essence of thinker/philosopher Voltaire’s musings on the subject go, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”