Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Barbar-ic act continues

Sandhya Iyer

Why is it that film after film is allowed to get so vulnerable at the time of its release? Can filmmakers and the government show the will to combat the intimidation or is it a losing battle?

Crores of rupees ride on a film and yet, the laws of the land seems to be such that anyone can pull the plugs on a release anytime –either legally or through hooliganism.

The latest to be bullied into compliance is none other than Shah Rukh Khan who was forced to remove the word ‘Barber’ from his latest Irrfan Khan flick, Billu Barber after the Hairdressers and Salon Association found it objectionable. Much like how a section in the country was upset at the use of the line, ‘Samjhe mochi bhi khud ko sonar hai’ in Aaja Nachle( ‘mochi’ is seen as a reference to cast), similarly, the association found ‘haajam’ a derogatory usage. If a film can come under such pressure in spite of having a Censor certification, it raises questions at the relevance of such a body itself, doesn’t it?

Not so long ago, Ghajini’s release was threatened when two court cases against it cropped up. The film’s preview show tickets were selling like hot cakes when the Aamir Khan starrer was stalled, giving its makers and lead actor a mini-heart attack.
But the more serious problem remains that of films being affected due to various ‘special interest groups’(read publicity seekers) who threaten to disrupt screenings on one pretext or the other. Last year, there was Jodhaa Akbar that could not find a release in Rajasthan, after objections from a few Rajput groups.
It’s interesting to see how Danny Boyle reacts to the criticism against his film Slumdog Millionaire. He says, “Protest is a way of life in India. It’s an extraordinary democracy. You just hope it won’t become violent.”
Boyle has been lucky, because his film at least has had a peaceful run in the country. Many films that become controversial invariably endure losses in some form or the other. And it’s not even about ‘objectionable content’ all the time. Last year, a seemingly harmless comment from Jaya Bachchan was enough for the MNS chief to announce that all films starring the Bachchans would be banned. In 2006, Aamir Khan’s Fanaa was banned in Gujarat after his statements on the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Imagine the vulnerability under which the industry and its stars operate!
Which is exactly why one feels hesitant to blame top stars for not responding in time with sound bytes on national or other sensitive issues. One completely understands their position when they choose to refuse the proverbial ‘long rope to hang themselves with’

Coming back to SRK’s decision of going with just ‘Billu’, a lot of it is to do with the fact that the producer and distributors are really alone in their battle. State protection is limited. Similarly, not many multiplexes are willing to take the onus of protecting a film. So is there a solution? Well, only if there is united effort from the whole film chain and most importantly, political will. Film bodies and the State government could invest jointly in high-end securities to protect films that get into trouble in spite of the Censor Board passing them.

The bottom line is simple. Our films do not deserve the constant Friday jitters, unless it is the boxoffice we’re talking about.


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