Steven Spielberg once said that “there is a fine line between censorship and good taste, and moral responsibility”. The ban of the documentary India’s Daughter (2015) follows a long practice of censorship in India that proclaims to be based on a ‘moral responsibility’ to preserve the sanctity and pride of the majority male (traditional) Hindu men of the country, and to keep in check the communal tensions by hiding the blatant truth of various momentous events. Here is a list of some films that have been banned by the Censor Board, apparently in an attempt to preserve the dignity of a diverse nation.
1. Kissa Kursi Ka (1977):
It is said that nothing kills as powerfully as laughter, and Kissa Kursi Ka (1977) resonates with that principle. A humorous political satire by, interestingly, a member of the Parliament Amrit Nahata, Kissa Kursi Ka critiques the Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi led government in a light-hearted but pointed style like that undertaken by cartoonists. It depicts a ruthless politician Gangaram cajoling and wooing a mute woman, who personifies the public mind. Kissa Kursi Ka was but obviously banned during the Emergency period of 1975-77.
2. Sikkim (1971):
For those who are unaware, Sikkim was a sovereign monarchy till 1975, when it merged with India. But, the road to submission to a larger political power was resisted for long by the earlier Sikkim state, despite the fact that India controlled its external affairs, defence, diplomacy and communications. In order to restore faith in the people of Sikkim in their sovereignty, and to send out a political message to India and China, the Chogyal (king) of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal, commissioned the acclaimed Satyajit Ray to create a documentary about the sovereignty of Sikkim.
In 1975, Sikkim became a part of the Indian nation. Due to obvious political reasons, Sikkim (1971) was banned, and all its copies destroyed. Many attempts have been made to recover and showcase it, but with no success. It still remains unseen by the critics.
3. Fire (1996):
Probably one of the most controversial and sensitive of films made in India, Deepa Mehta’s Fire (1996), starring Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi, is a film about is an exploration into the depths of the hidden, widespread and prevailing truths not only of Indian women, but of those world over. The story is based on Ismat Chugtai’s controversial short-story Lihaaf (1942), a story about the homosexual liaison of a neglected Begum and her maid. It is also a strident critique of the patriarchal structure that confines a woman’s sexuality, represses her (the Begum is not allowed to leave the house without permission), exploits her and renders her powerless. However, in Fire, the desire for freedom leads to Radha and Sita, (named explicitly after the two mythological women that signify female chastity, selflessness and subservience to their husbands) breaking out together.Therefore, contrary to popular belief, Fire is not just about homosexual relations between women; such relations have always existed, and have even been accepted within limits because they never threatened the male order which proscribed women to be child-bearers. It is the fact that the homosexual relation becomes an alternative, autonomous mode of being that transgresses the patriarchal notions imposed on women that makes it radical.
Fire ran successfully for three weeks before the Shiv Sainaiks stormed into theatres in various cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Surat, and got violent. The Censor Board felt compelled to re-examine their verdict and bannedthe film. But due to the perseverance of members of the film community such as Mahesh Bhatt and Dilip Kumar, and petitions and candlelit protests fighting for the freedom of expression, the screenings were resumed and there have been no more oppositions since.
4. The Pink Mirror (2004):
It is incredible how in India movies screening the everyday, immutable truths are often censored, despite the majority of the audiences being unperturbed by the content. The Pink Mirror (2004) or Gulabi Aaina, is a film about the transsexual community: it is about their desires, frustrations, marginalisation, love-affairs, and their essential humanity.The Pink Mirror is about two transsexuals and one gay man trying to seduce an upcoming (heterosexual) actor, and showcases the theatrics that follow. It is considered to be the first film made on the transgender community in India, and has been lauded and rewarded in international film festivals and critics, and the global audience. ‘This is more than just the “peeping into the closet” that Rangayan intended. It’s almost throwing the doors wide open for the world to look in!’ (The Indian Express).Sadly, most of us have not had to chance of peeping into this secluded closet as the film remains banned in India, despite being part of various University archives and of resource material for courses focusing on gender and minority communities.
5. Final Solution (2002):
Most of us automatically connect the phrase ‘final solution’ with the Holocaust or genocide. Taking an explicit political stance, the film maker Rakesh Sharma named his documentary on the Gujarat riots in 2002 as Final Solution (2006). Various documentaries have been made exploring, sometimes in the form of a detective fiction, the exact happenings on 27 February 2002 when a coach full of Hindus was burnt down near Godhra, killing 56 people. This incident led to the brutal Godhra riots in which many people of both communities were killed. The documentary is banned because it concludes that the burning of the train was a state-led conspiracy in order to ignite genocide of the Muslim community; reports show that there could not have been a mob that burnt down the train from the outside. The main theme of the documentary is of the communal pride and political extremism that leads to such heinous crimes against humanity. And obviously, it still remains banned in India.
6. Black Friday (2004):
The Black Friday, 12 March 1993, was the culmination of the bloody communal fighting between Muslims and Hindus in Mumbai which had led to the death of around a thousand and five hundred innocents. Most Muslims suffered the loss of property and were completely dislocated. Anurag Kashyaps’s Black Friday (2004) is based on Black Friday – The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts, a book by Hussain Zaidi about the 1993 Bombay bombings, and is a fictitious crime film which explores the motives underlying the blasts. It refuses to take a committed stance with, or against, the bombers. It was definitely controversial, and was banned for two years before the Censor Board felt secure that the film would not re-ignite communal tensions. However, it has gained widespread acclaim globally. It has won the Grand Jury Prize at the International Film Festival of Los Angeles, and was even a nominee for the prestigious Golden Leopard award.
7. Water (2005):
The last of the Elements trilogy by Deepa Mehta, Water (2005) talks about the subjugated and marginalised widow community of Varanasi in the 1930s. It is based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel Water: A Novel, and since it is a Canadian film, it directly critiques the inhuman exploitation suffered by the widows in the hands of the so-called ‘holy’ upper-castes, and ferrets out their delusional, hypocritical and ignorant behaviour. Widows remain a marginalized people in the interior villages and small towns of India.It was released in India only in 2007.
But India’s Daughter is different. It is distinct from the above-mentioned banned films for two reasons: it demonises the traditionally patriarchal men (and women) of the nation, regardless of caste, religion, class or region: therefore the bulk of people it goes against comprises of the majority of the nation; and it is made by a British woman who had the backing of a powerful media company BBC. India’s Daughter is brutally truthful, and exposes the frightening mentality of a majority of men regarding women in India today. And despite the fact that it has been made by a British woman, the Indian government needs to allay its fears that it is yet another attempt of the white civilising mission, and accept this reality as nauseating and unjustified in the contemporary scenario. The film should not be banned, and should reach all strata of society. It concerns all the women and men of this conflicted nation, and can aid in its maturity process with regard to the condition of women. Also, as said famously by Potter Stewart, ‘censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself’, and the last thing India needs is to block the social progress due to rigid fixation with orthodoxy and an inferiority complex rolled into one.
By Ananya Tiwari
Views presented in the article are those of the author and not of ED.