The battle to free “War and Peace” from the murderous grip of the censors continues unabated. The film won the best film/video award at the government run Mumbai International Film Festival in February 2002. In June the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) ordered 6 major cuts in the film. When we took the film before the Revising Committee, the cuts increased from 6 to 21. An appeal against the cuts has been filed before the Apellate Tribunal, New Delhi.
Lack of Transparency
So far the CBFC has shown a completely partisan attitude towards War and Peace. Even before an official viewing committee had been constituted, the Regional Officer of the CBFC intervened personally to stop authorized screenings of the film at a government run festival in Calcutta. After the CBFC panels saw the film, contrary to established norms, the filmmaker was repeatedly prevented from discussing the film with members of these panels on the flimsy grounds that “there was no consensus.” However consensus was eventually reached and the consensus is that amongst other things, even the mildest criticism of the BJP must be deleted !
By not allowing the right to discuss the “cuts” with those demanding them, the principle of transparency was thrown to the winds. On one occasion when the filmmaker did have an informal conversation with members of the Examining Committee, it led to the discovery that two out of four members were functionaries of the ruling BJP. Indeed the 21 cuts finally asked for by the CBFC body, now headed by a former BJP legislator from Gujarat, do not reflect “a lack of consensus” but seem to be drafted with a single-minded political agenda.
Sample Cuts (Complete version available on demand)
Cut 1. “Delete the visuals of Gandhiji being shot by Nathuram Godse”
Even for someone expecting the worst from the CBFC, this cut comes as a shock. Is it now illegal in India to state that Nathuram Godse killed Gandhi? The visuals in question (a close up of a country-made revolver being fired) have been taken from an old documentary film made by the Gandhi Film Foundation. The Censor Guideline 2(xii) used to justify the cut is” visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups are not presented;” CBFC does not specify exactly whom they wish to protect from contempt.
Cut 2.”Delete the visuals of hands being cut with a blade and signing with blood by Hindus.”
This sequence shows people (not necessarily only Hindus) who celebrated the nuclear tests by signing messages of congratulations in their own blood. The BJP conducted many such campaigns across the country. The Guideline 2(iv) referred to is: “pointless or avoidable scenes of violence, cruelty and horror, scenes or violence primarily intended to provide entertainment and such scenes as may have the effect of desensitizing or dehumanizing people are not shown;” A visit to any Bollywood film will prove how lax CBFC is about gratuitous violence in the entertainment driven commercial cinema. In contrast the express purpose of “War and Peace” is to denounce violence and sensitize people against the kind of jingoism and machismo depicted by the scene in question.
Cut 5. “Delete the commentary ‘BJP is faced with growing criticism”
This is the first of a number of cuts which blatantly attempt to prevent the slightest criticism of the ruling party and is as such, completely unconstitutional. The scene in question is the inauguration of a pro-bomb music video by the BJP and the commentary factually states: “With criticism growing against the bomb, the BJP invites the press to the launch of a music video.” CBFC sites two guidelines to justify their cut: 2(xii) “visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups are not presented;” and 2(xvii) “public order is not endangered;”
It is impossible to understand how either of these guidelines is applicable. A political party seeking popular support must face criticism. It is not the job of the Central Board of Film Censors to protect the BJP from criticism. Nor is peaceful protest outlawed in our country.
Cut 7 “Delete the entire sequence, visuals and dialogues spoken by Dalit leader
including all references to Lord Budha (sic )”
This cut refers to a sequence in which a Dalit neo-Buddhist argues that it is a travesty that nuclear tests were carried out on Buddha’s birthday and that the Buddha’s name was used as a military code to mark the tests despite the fact that the Buddha, in contrast with gods in the Hindu pantheon, has always been depicted as unarmed. Needless to say the self-evident irony of this sequence is crucial for the argument in the video. If we learn to question the very concept of Holy War, not only would it help build communal peace, it could also help to rebuild our fractured nation. The guideline evoked 2(xvii) “public order is not endangered;” cannot but cause amusement. In scores of private and public screenings no violent mood was detected. The truth whether the CBFC like it or not, is that “War and Peace” works as an antidote to violence and not as an incentive to it.
Cut 8. “Delete the reference to BJP uttered by villager.”
No villager utters anything about the BJP. The utterance is by a lawyer in Pokaran city who states that he is a long time member of the BJP. There is no reason to delete this. Once again the CBFC is revealing its true agenda by wanting this pro-bomb lawyer to hide his party affiliation.
Cut 9. “Delete the entire sequence and visuals and dialogues spoken by Dalit leader
commencing from ‘Nathuram Godse high class (sic) brahminŠhigh class killed himŠ”
The fact that a Brahmin killed Gandhi cannot be written out of history. This Dalit song describes the killing of Mahatma Gandhi by a Brahmin in contrast with the fact that although Dr. Ambedkar had serious differences with Gandhi, when the latter had undertaken an indefinite hunger strike against Dr.Ambedkar’s demand for separate electorates for Dalits, Ambedkar compromised his stand in order to save Gandhi’s life. This song is the remembrance of a historic event by those whom our caste system oppressed for centuries!
Cut 11. ” Delete the visual of ‘Hindu rath’ ”
The rath(chariot) in question is not a “Hindu” rath but a BJP election vehicle dressed up to look like a rath. Why should it be deleted? If the BJP is allowed to use it during elections, is the filmmaker not allowed to film it as it passes by? If the very act of filming it invokes Censor Guideline 2(xii) ( “visuals or words contemptuous of racial, religious or other groups are not presented;”) then what about “the contempt of racial, religious or other groups” that those who ride in raths inflict in real life?
Cut 14 “Delete the RPI speech especially deleting the dialogue ‘Not poverty but poor are eliminated’ “
Having already eliminated two important interventions by Dalits – the Buddha speech and the Gandhi song – the CBFC is obviously on the look out for more. The singers who sing the words “They said they would eliminate poverty but instead they eliminated the poor” are peace marchers singing about politicians who waste precious money in the arms race. Once again the CBFC is invoking law and order as if an anti-militarist song can cause a revolution for peace! What a lovely thought!
Cut 16. “Delete the visuals of Hon’ble President of India, Dr. Adul (sic)Kalam.”
Neither guideline 2(xviii) “visuals or words involving defamation of an individual or a body of individuals, or contempt of court are not presented” nor guideline 2(xiv) “the sovereignty and integrity of India is not called in question” comes to the defence of this cut as Dr. Kalam is not being defamed. On the first occasion he is shown receiving a high honour and on the next, he makes a speech invoking India’s aspiration for greatness and military preparedness. As such this is a faithful reproduction of the values Dr. Kalam regularly espouses. If in the context of the film these values do not seem so attractive, this has more to do with the evidence amassed in other parts of the film and less to do with the personage of Dr. Kalam, whose integrity is never questioned.
Cut 17. “Delete the reference to BJP.”
The cut has been directed under Guideline 2(xii). Here the journalist Achin Vanaik argues that the BJP and other forces have used nationalism in the nuclear area but have surrendered sovereignty to the USA in economic and cultural fields. Such criticism is perfectly legitimate. The Board is not BJP’s keeper. Legitimate criticism of a political party and even frontal opposition to it is absolutely permissible and cannot be curtailed. This cut is again reflective of the strong bias operating in the decision making process.
Cut 18. “Delete the entire sequence of Sadhaivi (sic) Ritambara including reference to Lord Rama.”
If by merely deleting Sadhvi Rithambara’s utterances in the film one could stop her from spewing venom, the filmmaker would gladly oblige. But by not accurately reporting the hate speeches of people like Rithambara, the media has prevented the public from realizing the extent of the danger they represent. The fact that in the film her utterances are juxtaposed with those of Islamic jehadists from Pakistan, brings home the point that there are holy warriors on both sides of the border. This realization undermines their damage potential and encourages peace lovers on both sides to find a solution before it is too late.
As for the invocation of guideline 2(xii), it has been remarked in several judgements by the Supreme Court that in order to effectively combat evil one may first depict it. Just as almost no one who watches the sequence where Pakistani fundamentalists burn the Indian flag while demanding the annihilation of India would sympathize with the flag-burners, so, few will sympathize with the madness of Rithambara’s words calling for the annihilation of Pakistan. On the contrary barring the ideologically pre-determined, all those who watch “War and Peace” are likely to imbibe some of the peace message that permeates its every pore.
Cut 20 “Delete the entire sequence of Tehelka wherever it occurs in the film.”
Over 4 hours of these Tehelka tapes showing hidden camera footage of corrupt arms deals were broadcast nationally at prime time. The tiny extracts seen here are a mere reference to what the public saw at length on almost every channel. Cutting it would amount to a denial of history as the film merely quotes from what the mainstream media has already widely shown. Many of those who appeared in the Tehelka tapes have confessed their guilt. A fact-finding commission has so far held the tapes to be authentic. Until such time as the matter goes to a proper court, there is no issue of its being sub-judice. The commentary that accompanies the visuals is appropriately descriptive and factual.
Cut 21. GENERAL CUT “Delete the entire visuals and dialogues of all political leaders, including President, Prime Minister& Ministers”
Surely in a list of shockingly undemocratic cuts this must rank as the worst of all. The censor board has deemed it unnecessary to pinpoint exactly which leader’s visuals and dialogues they disliked so much that the public should be protected by suitable deletions. The heading GENERAL applies to all. The Censor deems it illegal to report the speeches of Ministers, President, Prime Ministers and all Political Leaders. Do we have a new Secrecy Act? Should all politicians wear a mask from now on, and speak only in code? If a person’s own utterances are considered defamatory of himself, surely this can only be done on grounds of insanity and if that is the case, should such persons be allowed to remain in office ?
While a cursory glance at the cuts demanded by the CBFC exposes a blatantly pro-ruling party bias, reverse inference should not be drawn. War and Peace is not a film against any particular party. If the BJP is criticized in places, so is the Congress Party, for having tested the first Bomb in 1974. Where the Tehelka armsgate in which the present ruling coalition seems embroiled is mentioned, so is the Bofors scam which undid the Congress Party in the past.
War and Peace begins and ends with the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. Focusing on the danger of nuclear war in the Indian subcontinent the film goes on to describe the problems faced by people living near nuclear testing and mining sites, the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the culpability of the USA in using Atom bombs on a nation that was about to surrender, the globalization of the arms trade, but most of all it derives its power and emotional appeal from the growing movement for peace both in India and in Pakistan.
I trust that the Appelate Tribunal will uphold principles of democracy and resist attempts to shoot the messenger instead of allowing people to listen to the message.
24 August 2002