In the well-heeled and cushioned comfort of PVR cinema in Delhi, the film screening is preceded by a 90-second clip that carries a message against terrorism. There is the ‘bad’ Muslim sporting a black-and-white skull cap, who tries to persuade the ‘good’ Muslim — who is offering namaz in the opening scene and wears his patriotism on his tricolour skull cap — to carry out an explosion in exchange for money. But the ‘good’ Muslim, Yakub, proclaims his love for the nation, his allegiance to Islam and refuses to carry out the attack. The film ends with a shot of the ‘bad’ Muslim left clutching the packet of explosives, staring blankly into the camera.
Titled Aatankvad, the film, written and directed by Mumbai-based filmmaker Brij Bhushan Singh, is his idea of “spreading social awareness” about terrorism. That the film places both terror and the responsibility of shunning it firmly at the door of one community, perpetuating stereotypes about it, worries neither the filmmaker, nor the premier PVR group.
“As long as a film is certified by the Board, we do not review its content. We are nobody to raise an objection to the screening of any film,” said Kamal Gianchandani, president, PVR Pictures. “We do not choose which films are shown at a particular theatre. It depends on the logistics and availability of particular films with our distributors,” he added.
Singh, meanwhile, said, “Statistics will show that most blasts in India have been perpetuated by Muslims. I wanted to show that Indian Muslims need to improve their image. But I show them in a positive light and show how they are waking up to their
duty as responsible citizens. I want to awaken the Indian Muslims who are losing their path and also warn Pakistani Muslims against misleading our youth.”
Screened at all shows at the PVR Director’s Cut in Vasant Kunj in New Delhi for the past fortnight, Singh’s short film is meant to meet government guidelines, which make it mandatory for cinema owners to show at least one short film on “socially relevant themes” before a film screening. The subjects range from dowry, cleanliness, health, women’s safety, female foeticide, education and the environment.
Section 12 (4) of The Cinematograph Act, 1952, lays down that socially relevant films that carry a public awareness message be shown before every movie screening. The films have to be approved by a film advisory panel, which comes under the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), before they can be screened at a theatre. Aatankvad was given a ‘U’ (Universal) certificate this August.
Once the film gets a certification, it can be shown in theatres. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting said they take action against films only if someone complains. “Unless we receive a complaint about a film, we cannot direct the CBFC to review the film or ask cinema halls to take action against it by pulling it down from their screens,” said Bimal Julka, Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Up to the late 1990s, Films Division, which comes under the Ministry of I&B, was the only body that could produce and disseminate films on such themes to theatres and in exchange it would charge 1 per cent of the net revenue of sales from theatre owners. But after protests from cinema owners over the high fee, private distributors were allowed to produce such content and sell it directly to theatres. The government has no control over this dealing. “We do not interfere with the fee-sharing agreement between distributors and theatre owners.
Anyone can get their film screened at a theatre as long as they have a valid censor certificate issued by CBFC. We take action on a case-to-case basis against cinemas that do not show socially relevant films before a screening,” said Julka.
Media International and World Vision are two such private production houses and distributors based out of Mumbai which supply films to cinema halls across the country. Last year, they jointly commissioned Singh to make 200 film clips with “socially relevant messages”. PVR Cinemas in Delhi is one of their clients.
As to what makes the “socially relevant” cut, no one is quite sure. “Some cinemas are showing jewellery commercials before a screening. How does that qualify as a public awareness message?,” asked Leela Samson, Chairperson, CBFC.
The I&B Ministry, on the other hand, is pushing for changes to the Cinematograph Act, 1952, said Julka. “We have received suggestions from the public and other parties on possible changes to the Cinematograph Act. It is under consideration,” he said.