MUMBAI: There is an urgent need for the film fraternity to come together in order to protect artists’ right to freedom of expression through cinematic means. An eminent panel reached this conclusion at the 14th FICCI FRAMES while debating on the topic ‘The Gag Orders: Are we Stifling Creative Expression?’
The session was moderated by a freedom absolutist, Tehelka Magazine managing editor Shoma Choudhary. Actor and filmmaker Kamal Haasan, producer and director Mahesh Bhatt, actor and activist Rahul Bose and Member of Parliament Lok Sabha Jay Panda formed the panel.
Bhatt stressed on the fact that today, the industry lacks conviction to stand for each and every artist. While the entire fraternity showed support for Hassan during the Vishwaroopam controversy, it did not support Kamal Rashid Khan with the same fervour when the Maharashtra Navnirmaan Sena protested against his film Deshdrohi.
Another point raised was whether the artists care enough about freedom of expression to raise a solid voice against its curbing. All agreed that censorship of content based on mob sentiment is not always good. Panda offered that the middle class sensibilities could be considered a bar in this matter since it has started becoming vocal and exercising its rights.
To this Bhatt rebutted, “If we are to consider the views/suggestion and sensibilities of a class, we will fall prey to what is the ‘tyranny of taste’. What you and I find aesthetic, may not appeal to the middle class or some other segment of the society.”
Bose pointed out that there is a grey area in the definition of freedom of expression in the Constitution. We need to safeguard the definition of this and the exceptions to this law should be used only in the rarest of rare cases. Art has the power to make people think and influence them. It could lead to protests but will also get people to think.
Haasan said, “I believe curbing the freedom of expression or speech is not a dignified thing. I believe that the only way to stay young is to be immature, so even as a father I wouldn’t try to curb my daughters’ freedom. Even as the captain of the ship for my movies, I do not believe in curbing my actors ‘freedom of opinion’ or coercing them to change their opinions.”
Bose said, “There was a time some 15 to 20 years back when certain artists preferred to stay away from controversy. Over time, it has been seen that their work has become what may be termed ‘safe’. This is a very discouraging trend.”
Discussing the legal and constitutional aspect of censorship, Panda offered that it is sad that a Supreme Court ruling allowing Censor Board to be the authority on certifying movies is defied by various State High Courts. He also pointed out that there is a need for some major political and constitutional reforms as many of the rules and law we abide by have their foundations in the pre independence era and are redundant or regressive to the cause of freedom of speech.
Bhatt said, “Having a discussion on freedom itself is a sign that we are not free. I have lived with the Idea of freedom for 40 years. Today every film maker lives in fear of mobs outside. We are filmmakers, not underground revolutionaries, who make movies and not armed to deal with mobs. Also there is no sense of community amongst artists; 40 years back and even today, we still do not stand together as a group.”
The panel concluded that a pressure group should be created from within the domain of artistic fraternity that will articulate the need to change the rules. This pressure group will lead the change and require political representatives to take the collective voices to the parliament. More than censorship, personal discipline should drive the content which is affected by cultural sensibilities that are represented by the commercial success of the art.