The year 2015 was full of noise and confusion, especially for artists, writers and filmmakers. Many of them got so disillusioned with the state of affairs under your leadership, Mr Prime Minister, that they chose to return the honours bestowed upon them by the nation and organisations of national importance.
The lack of respect to national honours shown by them was unpleasant, to say the least. However, what was truly unsettling was your silence and your inability to engage them in a dialogue. That you chose to remain silent when your ministers resorted to belittling their protest was even more disturbing.
The year witnessed the irony of a protest against protests, staged by some individuals who have direct or indirect affiliations to your political party. It also saw a film being denied certification (practically a ban) on the ground that it showed the prime minister in bad light.
It would be remembered as a year in which films were chopped, books were banned, cinemas were attacked and artists were asked to “go to Pakistan” because they chose to express how they felt under your regime.
When filmmakers made representations to your ministers, they were offered empty promises. On the other hand, a man without sufficient credentials was allowed to function autocratically as the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) chairperson.
Such incidents create a perception of you being an individual who rewards sycophancy and punishes those who speak their mind. It also creates a perception of you as a leader who is against the arts and artists and only likes to use artistic expression as a means of propaganda and pedagogy.
I also get the impression that your government believes that writers and filmmakers are worth their salt only when they sing praises of your government and paeans to the motherland. Your officials tend to look at them with suspicion the moment they disagree with what they have to say or show. As a first-time filmmaker, this makes me feel uncomfortable. When I narrate stories to producers, the first thing they talk about is whether or not it will get passed by the censors without cuts. Is this the way to go about making films in this country?
I would like to remind you that I, a village boy from Jharkhand, could make a film only because of the supportive environment created by national institutions like the NFDC and various film schools. I find it confusing when a government-supported initiative — the NFDC screenwriters’ lab —encourages me to find my own voice and speak fearlessly but another government body, the CBFC, chops my film mercilessly, interfering with my vision as an independent filmmaker.
You represent the whole nation and not only those who sing your praises. Some of us disagree with you at times but that doesn’t make us enemies of the nation. We have chosen this profession only because our country and our people move us. We tell stories or make films about our people only because we share their lives.
I would like to ask you if this is the dream nation that you want India to become, where artists and filmmakers have to live in fear of censorship, state-sponsored protests and attacks for speaking their mind? Do you want India to be a country where cinemas will be attacked if an actor criticises your government or a country where students of a national film school will be arrested if they find their director unworthy of guiding them? Do you want India to be a country where intellectuals will be dropped from panels if their views differ from the official position of the state? Do you want India to be a country where someone who has a track record of making films that are low in artistic quality will issue diktat to filmmakers on what is in good taste? Or for India to be a country where an unqualified actor will be made custodian of the next generation of filmmakers?
How do you expect arts, films and literature to flourish in the country if their creators have to live in an atmosphere of fear and retribution? How do you expect people to strive to excel when we see sycophancy being rewarded all around us?
I would like to remind you of a saint-poet who once lived in the city that you represent in Parliament: “Nindak niyare rakhiye, angan kuti chhawai; Binu pani bin sabuna, nirmal kare subhaw (Keep your critic close to you; give him shelter in your courtyard. With-out soap and water, he cleanses your character).” I would urge that you think of
Kabir when you think of the glorious past of our country. Don’t be suspicious of your critics; don’t try to belittle them. Show the humility and magnanimity that befits a leader of a billion people.
If you want to set an example in the new year and begin a new chapter, I would like to ask you to do the following. First, ask Pahlaj Nihalani to pack his bags from the CBFC. Two, tell the CBFC that their job is to certify films, not censor them. Organise workshops for the CBFC members to make them understand what certification means and how it is different from censorship. The CBFC rules and guidelines need a thorough review. Make filmmakers part of the revision process. Three, relieve Gajendra Chauhan of the responsibility as the FTII chairman. Ask him to focus on his acting career.
Let the new year begin with hope and happiness.