June 7: It has been a bad week for freedom of speech and expression in India. While on one hand, we have had AIB stand-up comedian Tanmay Bhat being threatened to be imprisoned for a silly Snapchat video, where he made fun of ‘our icons’ Sachin Tendulkar and Lata Mangeshkar, on the other hand, Censor Board has moved to censor ‘all references to Punjab’ from the film ‘Udta Punjab’. While the first one speaks of our tendency to follow the ‘holy cow’ syndrome, the other one is plain ridiculous, bordering on gross stupidity. It indicates another one of our more tragic tendencies- that of making taboos out of issues that make us uncomfortable, instead of dealing with them.Also Read - Shilpa Shetty Kundra Gives a Modern Twist to Ethnic Fashion in a Double Pallu Saree Worth Rs 24,500
While the discussions in both the instances are widely different, one thing is common- the inherent hypocrisy of the custodians of the so-called ‘Indian culture’. We can have motions and campaigns against a comedian who dared to make fun of our icons and even devote air time to the non-issue, while completely forgetting to rage about other important issues. Also, we will not tolerate foul language and a story depicting the truth about a state which is grappling with a serious drug problem, but we are completely fine with films with sexist and crass humour, which objectifies women, encourages rape culture and ridicules people of the LGBT community. ALSO READ: Anurag Kashyap on Udta Punjab controversy: Bollywood needs to get rid of mediocrity or Hollywood will take over Also Read - Slimmer, Fitter And Better: Arjun Kapoor on Battling Obesity, COVID-19 And Fitness
The Censor Board has long been a constant thorn in the side of film directors, producers and ardent movie buffs in India. But more than that, it has normalised a world of make-believe, which has always perpetuated regressive beliefs and is in fact, almost always far from reality. The censorship on Udta Punjab marks a new low for films in India. For one, the fact that the board wants Punjab obliterated from a film which is based on the problems in the state, is conclusive proof it has to invariably bow down to political pressure. For another, it’s attempt to white out the truth will be an impediment to realistic stories and situations being depicted in films, in the future as well. Also Read - Nora Fatehi Means Serious Business in a Black Peplum And Pants Worth Rs 92K
Punjab is dealing with a malignant narcotics trade which is thriving with compliance from corrupt local politicians and police men and since that is the premise of the film, it will not only defeat its purpose, but will also maim the concept, eventually making it lose its impact, as is true with any film exploring political and social themes. Films have always been powerful tools to reflect society and if they have to undergo the kind of censorship that Udta Punjab had to, they will lose their significance and will be reduced to mere sources of entertainment.
Removing Punjab reference from Udta Punjab will not make the state’s drug problem disappear, just as banning BBC’s documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ from the country, did not make rapes vanish. It’s time that we rethought censorship and made it more useful to the society, rather than impede free speech, expression and a healthy dialogue on the issues that confront our society.