Censor Boards war on WAR AND PEACE
Anand Patwardhan June 14,
Our worst fears have come true.
We had suspected that the Censor Boards delay in appointing
an examining committee to officially view our video War and Peace
and the extraordinary measures taken to ban even officially sanctioned
non-commercial screenings in the interim, were an ominous sign.
We felt that contrary to norms, there was no level playing field
and far from being in the hands of objective government officials,
we were up against a very interested party with a strong political
War and Peace had won the Best
Film/Video of the Festival at the Mumbai International Film Festival,
and the Films Division of India (which comes under the Ministry
for Information and Broadcasting) attempted to show it along with
other award winning films at their festival in Kolkata. The Regional
Officer of the Censor Board in Mumbai boasted to us that he would
stop the Kolkata screening. The next day while other films which
had no censor clearance were shown, the inaugural film War and Peace
was withdrawn. The Kolkata press was duly told that the film
had not arrived despite the fact that we had a receipt to
prove the contrary.
The examining committee of the
Censor Board finally saw the film on 6 June. After the screening
though I was present, I was informed that contrary to norms, the
committee members would not discuss anything with me as they could
not reach consensus. The following week the final outcome was given
to me in writing. It makes remarkable reading. The cuts demanded
are unprecedented and the methodical, single-minded approach is
inconsistent with that of a group that could not reach consensus.
Cut No.1 sounds reasonable.
It is: Delete the visuals of burning Indian flag. This
scene depicting Pakistani jingoism balances sequences of Indian
jingoism. But obviously the Censor Board has no objection to scenes
showing the burning Pakistani flag. War and Peace consistently
exposes war-mongers and applauds peace lovers on both sides of the
border. This is clearly not something the Censor appreciates.
Cut No. 2 Delete the
entire sequence with visuals and dialogues spoken by the Dalit leader
refers to a sequence in which a Dalit neo-Buddhist argues that it
is a travesty that nuclear tests were carried out on Buddhas
birthday and that the Buddhas name was used as a military
code to mark the tests despite the fact that the Buddha has always
Cut No. 3 is a demand to
cut a Dalit song which describes the killing of Mahatma Gandhi by
a Brahmin. So now the Censor feels bold enough to muzzle the voices
of those whom our caste system oppressed for centuries, even when
they merely make factual statements !
Cut No.4 is an order to
cut a sentence by a leading scientist that China is our next
possible enemy. This common justification for our nuclear
weapons was endlessly repeated in the media by our politicians including
most famously, by our Defense Minister.
Cut No.5 is a predictable
though thoroughly unjustifiable demand: Delete the visuals
and dialogues of entire Tehelka episode 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 I used are a mere reference to what the
public saw at length on almost every channel. Again, the Censor
Boards bias is clear. Tehelka is not allowable because it
depicts members of the ruling coalition, but my reference to the
Bofors arms scandal is deemed OK as it indicts the Opposition !
Cut No.6 is the clincher.
Under the heading GENERAL is the amazing diktat: Delete the
entire visuals and dialogues spoken by Political Leaders including
Minister and Prime Minister. The censor board has deemed it
unnecessary to pinpoint exactly which leaders visuals and
dialogues they disliked so much that the public should be protected
by suitable deletions. The heading GENERAL applies to all. The Censor
Board deems it illegal to report the speeches of Ministers, Prime
Ministers and all Political Leaders. Do we have a new Secrecy Act?
Should Messrs Vajpayee, etc wear a mask from now on, and speak only
in code? Or should only those who elevate every word of politicians
into gospel and visualize these politicians only when they are the
politicians wearing halos, be allowed to film ?
War and Peace begins and ends with
the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. (Perhaps this too is now illegal as
it could come under the Cut No.6 dispensation). Focusing on the
danger of nuclear war in the Indian subcontinent the video 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. Unfortunately
in both countries there is an invisible force that does not want
peace, a force that has come to power precisely by spreading divisiveness
within the country and the sustained threat of war outside it. This
force has cynically used concepts of religion and patriotism to
hide its own hate-corrupted psyche and has sought to muzzle the
voices of all those who speak out for health, harmony and peace.
So it will not be enough to demand
merely that films like War and Peace be passed without
cuts. Officials of the Censor Board must be made to understand that
their brief cannot be to wield their scissors in the interests of
particular ideologies. We must demand that the Censor Board and
all the vital institutions in our country be freed from the undemocratic
grip of the invisible force.
Anand Patwardhan 14 June 2002