21 cuts demanded by Censor Board on "War and
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) brahminhigh
class killed him"
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
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
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
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