The Censorship of India

 

udta punjab
Written by Randeep Singh

The Bombay High Court has overturned the censor board of India’s decision to make 89 cuts to Udta Punjab, a film about drug abuse among Indian youth. That’s good news for Udta Punjab; so why was it subject to such censorship in the first place?

It’s because India’s Censor Board (i.e. the Central Board of Film Certification) is an arbitrary, paternalistic and repressive tool of government which dates from the colonial era. The first censor boards in India were set up in 1920 to discipline, rear and guide Indians from their naïve, childlike and unruly selves.

Today’s Censor Board continues the colonial tradition of parenting Indians, protecting them from all sorts of realities films. It has grown increasingly conservative since 1991 as a reaction to Westernization and is currently staffed with BJP members and supporters, including its head, Pahlaj Nihalani.

The Udta Punjab controversy has nevertheless brought out Karan Johar, Mahesh Bhatt and Aamir Khan in support of the film. Online petitions to screen the uncensored version of the film gained tens of thousands of signatures. The Bombay High Court decision too leaves hope that, if censorship of cinema grows in India, so too will resistance.

Nanak Shah Fakir

nanak-shah

Written by Randeep Singh

In April 2015, Sikhs in India, UK and the United States, forced the withdrawal of the film Nanak Shah Fakir from cinemas. The film, a biopic on the founder of Sikhism, was objected to by Sikhs and Sikh organizations on the grounds that filmic representations of Guru Nanak are prohibited. I became aware that this film was banned just a few days back when I was speaking with an old acquaintance about the current state of cinema in India.

I doubt that the depiction of Nanak was prohibited given that there was no film in Nanak’s day, and given how he is depicted with abandon by Sikhs in paintings and images obviously not sanctioned by him.

Jesus has been depicted in films like The Passion of Christ. Muhammad has been depicted in films like The Messenger. Why prohibit films on Nanak? It is so that Sikh religious institutions, and members of the Sikh community, can maintain a particular, sanitized image of Nanak for themselves. They refuse to admit Nanak was a human being or anything less than divine.

Sikhs and non-Sikhs should welcome films and literature that furthers understanding of historical figures like Nanak. Surely the life of the subcontinents great historical personalities – whether Nanak, Amir Khusrao or the Buddha – deserve to be known better.

The director of Nanak Shah Fakir, Sartaj Singh Pannu, stated in November last year, that he would release the film with amendments. It makes me wonder just what protestors in cinemas like those in Wolverhampton found so objectionable in Nanak Shah Fakir? The refusal to conform to officially standardized representations of Nanak?  The nerve to ask questions? Surely, Nanak, someone who in the traditional accounts, traveled far, encountered new ideas and debated vigorously against religious leaders, still has a lesson to teach to today’s self-appointed guardians of faith and culture.

The Art of Madonna (Part II)

Justify My Love (1990)

The black-and-white European-art style “Justify My Love” video was shot in Paris by director Jean-Baptise Mondino. The video begins with a worn-out Madonna being approached by a stranger in a hotel hallway. While they kiss and prepare to make love, Mondino teases out a series of sexual images, including bisexuality, androgony, cross-dressing, voyeurism and sadomasochism. Madonna leaves the stranger behind and runs down the hallway, laughing. The video ends with the words “poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.”

justify 2

Click here to watch video: http://vimeo.com/59487452

The video is deliberately surreal, blurring the line between reality and fantasy. The furor over the video was all too real. MTV banned the video for its sexual content. Madonna responded by releasing a video-single of the song, which became the best-selling video-single of all time. It was named the “Best Video of the Year” by the critics of Rolling Stone magazine and as one of “Best 100 Videos” of all time by that magazine.

“Justify” asks what constitutes acceptable sexual behaviour in (American) society. For Madonna, sexual behaviour with a woman as its subject was always going to be socially problematic. “I was not objectified,” she explained to Bob Guccione Jr., “and that is unacceptable.” The “Justify” video shows Madonna granting permission to her lover to enter her room, taking control of her fantasy, creating one erotic scene after the next and leaving the man after she’s done with him. While a public backlash was brewing against her for going too far, Camille Paglia defended Madonna for exposing the puritanism and hypocrisy of America.

The video also appealed to sexual sensibilities other than standard male heterosexuality. In presenting, homosexual behaviour, cross-dressing and gender-bending, “Justify” challenged the idea of a  heteronormative America. As Madonna explained, “sex is the metaphor that I use, but for me it’s about love…tolerance, acceptance and saying, ‘Look everybody has different needs and wants and preferences and desire and fantasies.’”

Madonna was not the first mainstream artist to showcase voyeurism, androgony or even bisexuality, but she was the first to present that content as natural outside of the conventions of heterosexual male desire. As J.D. Considine points out, music videos like George Michael’s “Freedom 90” featured lesbianism but as a spectator sport for straight men. “Justify”  on the other hand implied that both bisexual and homosexual desires were acceptable subjects for fantasy.  “These feelings exist” said Madonna in her interview on Nightline defending “Justify,” and “I’m just dealing with that truth here in my video.”

Written by Randeep Purewall

Further Reading:

Camille Paglia, “Madonna – Finally, a real feminist,” The New York Times, December 4, 1990

J.D. Considine, “How to justify Madonna’s new video?” The Baltimore Sun, December 9, 1990.