Quality, not morality, should be the benchmark for films

Hindustan Times Nov 14, 2017 12:22 pm
A poster of Sanal Kumar Sasidharan directed Sexy Durga
A poster of Sanal Kumar Sasidharan directed Sexy Durga

“People can judge for themselves. I am not making films for the Indian government.” Clearly, the information and broadcasting ministry does not agree with these sentiments expressed by SK Sasidharan, whose film Sexy Durga, modestly renamed S Durga, has been knocked out off the Goa film festival. The film had been cleared by the jury as had been another film, Nude, which did not meet with the approval of the I&B mandarins.

This has led to the resignation of the international film festival jury chairman and renowned filmmaker Sujoy Ghosh. This is the attitude which has prevented India making a bigger splash in international film festivals. To the world at large, India is still synonymous with Bollywood, which tends to overshadow many films on serious topics that smaller artistes make. Presumably, the Victorian sensibilities of the I&B officials were offended by the titles of the two films though the Durga in question is not a goddess but a young North Indian woman who marries a southerner; Nude is all about women models who pose for artists.

The same misplaced sense of morality saw the former FTII chief Pahlaj Nihalani wield his scissors far too generously on films which would have been considered inoffensive. The absurdity of his actions was highlighted when he sought to chop a Bond film and insisted on extremely clumsy changes such as substituting a cuss word with the expression `Oh cats.’ It is interesting to note that while the I&B ministry is busy deciding what we should or should not watch, other countries with far stricter moral codes have really pushed the envelope when it comes to addressing potentially provocative subjects.

Several Iranian films on homosexuality, a topic which is considered off limits in the country, such as Be Like Others and Circumstances, have made it big at international films festivals like Sundance. Apart from touchy officials, we also face the added problem of the so-called sensitivities of interest groups when it comes to films. The movie Padmavati has run into trouble in Rajasthan, with vested interests asking that the film be cleared by them. In which event, there is no point in having a censor board or film festival jury at all. Films, as also other creative works, should only be judged by their quality. They should not be subjected to the moral standards of those who have no expertise in the matter. Viewers both in India and abroad deserve to see the best of Indian cinema. Dropping these two films denies the audience this opportunity.

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