Raj Amit Kumar.
Picture By Pabitra Das
Calcutta, July 13: Censorship is absurd and it should be abolished, feels writer-filmmaker Raj Amit Kumar, whose socio-political drama Unfreedom (2014) starring Victor Banerjee and others has been banned in India.
Kumar is now leading a campaign with League Against Censorship, an organisation with a four-point agenda that includes organising "banned film festivals" to protest against the "pre-judging" of films by the censor board.
Passing through town today, against the backdrop of the denial of a censor certificate to The Argumentative Indian, a documentary on Nobel laureate Amartya Sen by economist Suman Ghosh, Kumar said: "Even a documentary is not spared and words as innocuous as 'cow' and 'Gujarat' cannot be used. What are we going to have now, some kind of other language?"
Yes, the party in power has been repressive about censorship and Pahlaj Nihalani, the board chairman, "does whatever he feels like", but according to Kumar "it's not about this government alone, it's about the Act which has been in existence for 65 years".
Why is it that no other art form like books or paintings has to face the pre-judging that films do, demanded the director whose Unfreedom has had 100 underground screenings. "It's totally illogical and unfair. This is part of the reason why cinema cannot grow like other art forms though it has so much potential," said Kumar, who is now working on his next film that aims to "break all the conditions of the Cinematograph Act".
Unfreedom is a dual tone drama based in New York and New Delhi, mirroring Muslim and LGBT identities. The film, whose sound design was done by Oscar winner Resul Pookutty, was refused certification by the examining committee. A revising committee of the censor board had then asked for cuts, including the climax.
Kumar appealed against the board's demand to information and broadcasting appellate tribunal FCAT, which banned the film on the ground that it would incite "communal and abnormal homosexual passion" among the audience.
"One of the members of the censor board told me 'your film is very artistic but the common man will not understand it'," Kumar said.
Unfreedom was released in North America in 2015 and has been screened in about 30 international film festivals.
How has the audience taken his film? "They either love it or hate it," said the director, arguing that the State must not come between the director and the audience. It can stamp and categorise films, not censor them.
That is the plank on which the League Against Censorship met in New Delhi on July 9 to "have as many conversations on censorship, including write-ups, cartoons etc, fight against self-censorship that directors impose upon themselves having faced bans from the censor board, and organising a legal agenda around censorship".
The absurdity of censorship in today's times is also being highlighted, with everything available on the Net, from pornography to communally inflammatory content, and television serials and digital serials like Game of Thrones not requiring certification.
Filmmaker and actor Amol Palekar has moved a public interest litigation challenging such discrimination and the "pre-censorship of films", particularly the provision of the Cinematograph Act, 1952, and the Cinematograph (Certification) Rules, 1983, contending that in the age of the Internet and social media, the existing set of rules providing for pre-censorship of films must change.