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Merchants of hurt sentiments strike again. Now a controversy over Shorgul

Rangnath Singh | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

The journey of a movie to the theatre in India is not easy. Even if one manages to find producers and distributors, any film project has to cross a river of fire, namely the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). It is often referred to as the censor board, because its priority seems to be to censor rather than certify.

The board was recently in the news for trying to clip the wings of Udta Punjab and recommending several cuts in another movie called Haramkhor. The regional units of the board are not far behind with similar controversies over Malayalam movie Kathakali and Salagto Sawal: Anamat (Reservation: A Burning Question), a Gujarati movie that highlights the "ill-effects" of caste-based reservations.

Even after passing under the scanner of the scissor-happy CBFC, a movie is required to pass the undeclared censor boards of various religious, social or political groups.

The hypersensitive Indian

Hollywood flick Independence Day: Resurgence was released in Indian theatres this Friday. The media reported that the makers of this movie had desisted from incorporating any India-related scenes considering the 'sensitive nature of Indian citizens'.

The English newspaper Mumbai Mirror quoted 20th Century Fox, the producer company of this movie, to state that scenes depicting annihilation of India Gate and Taj Mahal by aliens were deliberately dropped.

It seems the whole world is aware of the 'touch-me-not' nature of Indians. Nobody can predict what can hurt the sentiments of any religious, social or political group in the country. A mere trailer or even a news related to a movie is often enough to offend us Indians. Nobody cares to watch the whole film.

The latest case in point is the movie Shorgul. It is reportedly based on the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. The film was challenged in Allahabad High Court after it was cleared by the censor board. The movie could not be released on the scheduled date of 24 June despite a green signal from the court.

The reason: Sangeet Som, BJP MLA from Sardhana, Uttar Pradesh was aggrieved by the movie. Also, a Muslim organisation has issued a fatwa against film's protagonist Jimmy Shergill for hurting the religious sentiments of the community.

According to media reports, Shergill's character, called Ranjeet Om, resembles Sangeet Som. Complaining that the movie has shown him in the wrong light, Som warned the producers of protests in the cinema halls of Meerut and Muzaffarnagar, if it was released at all.

The effect of this threat was visible despite the state government's nod for the movie. The owners of movie theatres across western UP have decided not to show the movie. This has led the producers to delay its release until 1 July.

The Hollywood movie Da Vinci Code (2006) was banned in several countries for showing what some people called as 'blasphemous content'. Indian Christians were among the first ones to feel hurt by this movie.

One Christian group moved a petition in the Supreme Court demanding a ban on the film. The court rejected the demand by pointing out that even the most prominent Christian nations had not objected to the movie.

Regardless, several states including Nagaland, Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Punjab prohibited its screening.

Aaja Nach Le, Madhuri Dixit's comeback movie, touched the raw nerve of Mayawati and many other Dalit groups for a song with lyrics, "kahe mochi bhi khud ko sunar (a cobbler also pretends to be a goldsmith)."

Similarly, Firaq (2009), a movie directed by Nandita Das was banned by the Gujarat government before its release as it touched the subject of 2002 riots.

The song 'Mehangai Dayan' from Anusha Rizvi's movie Peepli Live (2010) was liked by all the segments of the society except for the Congress. The party leaders thought it attacked the government on the issue of inflation.

Similarly, Maharashtra politicians like Ramdas Athawale and Chhagan Bhujbal were not amused with Prakash Jha's Aarakshan (2011). Jha was forced to remove several scenes and dialogues from the movie before its release.

Even corporate houses are not far behind in feeling offended by cinema. The Bata and Birla groups did not take a song from another Jha movie, Chakravyuh (2012), in good humour.

The Bata group went to the apex court asking for the removal of words like Tata, Birla and Bata from the song. A similar petition was also filed by the Birla group in the Calcutta High Court.

The Supreme Court allowed the song to remain with a disclaimer and an instruction that Jha would not repeat such experiments in the future. The Calcutta High Court verdict was also on the similar lines.

In 2014, Vishal Bhardwaj's Haider somehow managed to escape the censor board and the public sentiments. But Twitterati did not like the way Bhardwaj had handled the subject of insurgency in J&K. The hashtag #BoycottHaider was among the top trends on the microblogging website following its release.

The Punjabi movie Kaum de Heere was banned by the Central government in the same year. The state units of both BJP and Congress were up in arms against the film. The film producer was accused of bribing the censor board to get it cleared.

Modi govt was so offended with India's Daughter that its screening was banned across India

The Modi government felt so offended with the British documentary India's Daughter in 2015 that its screening was banned across India. Some Leftist organisations did not take kindly to the movie Buddha in a Traffic Jam this year and there were protests in some states.

All these examples are enough to explain how one movie of the other falls prey to the 'hurt public sentiments' every year despite escaping the wrath of the censor board. These 'sentiments' belong to a group or party with an agenda in most cases.

The business of 'hurt sentiments' in not restricted to movies alone. Intellectuals, writers, painters, musicians are also equally afflicted by it on several occasions. One cannot recall a single incident of people taking on to the roads after coming out of the cinema halls. Same applies to books and paintings.

Ultimately, the buck stops with the people in any democracy. They have to power to choose their leaders. Yet, it is the leaders that decide what they should watch in theatres.

Most filmmakers, writers, artists and journalists are powerless in front of the 'traders of the public sentiments'. They cannot match the street power of these elements.

It is, therefore, incumbent upon the Indian masses to decide whether the wisdom of adult citizens of this country can be counted upon or not. Do we the citizens of India need 'headmasters' to tell us what we should watch or read?

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 25 June 2016, 9:11 IST