Mumbai: Even as filmmakers, writers, and artists feel they should have freedom of creativity, the average citizen cannot be denied the right of protest as long as it is peaceful and within the law.
This was the general consensus at the concluding day of the IBM² (Infrastructure-Building for Minds & Markets) held as part of the two-day Tenth Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema in the western metropolis.
While they would not like to have any kind of censorship, most speakers who took part in the discussion on ‘Ban the Book – Flaunt the Film’ agreed that some kind of control was essential in a democracy.
But they agreed that bans on books like Nine Hours to Rama, The Da Vinci Code, Lady Chatterley’s Lover or the books by Salman Rushdie and protests to films like Jodha Akbar, Fire and Water had proved counter-productive.
There was also general agreement that state governments should have the right to control law and order in the case of dissent about any film or work of art, and not ban a film that has been cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification.
Initiating the discussion, critic and founder of the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival Aruna Vasudev said there had been increasing intolerance towards works of art and cinema, often leading to bans and violence. She said if the CBFC had cleared a film for exhibition, there should be no reason for people to protest or want a ban of a film.
Filmmaker Rahul Dholakia, whose film Parzania had faced protests and resistance from theatre owners in Gujarat last year, said it was unfortunate that most people who protested did not understand the message of a film when they began to protest.
He gave the example of his own film which was merely the saga of a suffering family after their son goes missing, but had been unnecessarily politicized. As an artist, he should have the freedom to make what he wanted, and the people could choose not to see it if they wanted.
He also noted that bans had been counter productive as they gave popularity to a film. And in the case of his film, many in Gujarat saw it on pirated DVDs or on the internet. He hinted that some of these bans are deliberately orchestrated to help a film.
Writer Nayantara Sehgal said that as a writer she wanted her freedom to hurt sentiments because this was the only way to bring about change for the advancement of society. She said what artists made or wrote could affect one’s national pride, regional sentiments, or moral values.
As an example, she said that a large number of books and films condemning the ‘sati’ tradition had resulted in the practice being declared illegal. At the same time she said she was opposed to violence and regretted that the kind of protests that had been seen in the western metropolis had been tantamount to terrorism. Mob frenzy often prevented a debate on what true art meant.
Women’s rights lawyer Flavia Agnes said she felt protest was the basic right of a society but it should not mean violence. However, it was often very difficult to draw a line between the two. Opposing a work of art was not always regressive, she said. She said value systems keep changing and so do the perceptions of the people.
However, she was categorical that the media – particularly the electronic media – created a lot of issues. She particularly referred to the travails of the bar dancers, noting that the media never talked about prostitution or other crimes but had played up the bar dancer issue.
Senior journalist and Shiv Sena Member of Parliament Bharatkumar Raut said he was opposed to bans of creative art but freedom of the artist should not mean anarchy and unlimited freedom. He therefore supported protests as long as they remained peaceful, adding that the man on the street also had the freedom to do what he liked if the artist had the freedom to make what he wanted.