Thursday, February 19, 2009

Censorship: small mercies

The Sean Penn starrer Milk, about the first openly gay man to be elected to a major political position in the US, is being released in India without cuts. An sms doing the rounds urges people to see the film in its first weekend as a way of supporting the progressive intent behind its release. I'll be glad to see Milk on the big screen rather than taking the Piratebay option.
In a nation where strict censorship is approved by all political parties, the stance of one government is not hugely different from that of its predecessor. Nevertheless, to those not inclined to the Gore's-the-same-as-Bush attitude, signs of liberalisation have been visible during the UPA's term in office. Sharmila Tagore, the current censor board chief, has consistently spoken up for artistic freedom, and lifted the board from the ridiculous depths it had sunk to under Anupam Kher during the NDA's reign.
The most egregious acts of censorship in the past five years have originated outside the ceritification body. Some of these came from the government, like Health minister Ramadoss's injunction to ban images of smoking, while most originated from extra-legal pressure groups. These groups have become a serious threat to free expression, and I hope some sensible judges come down heavily on them soon.
For the moment, though, one can savour the release of Milk (that sounds a bit gross, sorry), as also of Dev D a couple of weeks ago. Anurag Kashyap's film didn't come through completely unscathed, but considering the rough rides he's had in the past, this must have seemed like a holiday cruise.
Meanwhile, a fracas at the opening of Bangalore's new National Gallery of Modern Art gives an indication of what we can expect if the BJP returns to power. The Medical Health Minister Ramachandra Gowda, speaking at the museum's inauguration (the very fact he was deputed to attend tells us a lot about the Karnataka government), tore into "pseudo-intellectuals who have distorted the tradition and culture of the country".
I await NMGA Director Rajeev Lochan's repudiation of Gowda's statement, but I'm not holding my breath.


Anurag said...

It's interesting that you mention savouring the release of 'Milk' a film that tells the story of the first openly gay man to have been elected to a major office in the US Government and condemning Ramadoss's orders to ban images of smoking, in the same piece. While i couldn't agree with you more, it's ironic that Ramadoss is also the man who has been fighting tooth & nail to get rid of or at least read down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes homosexuality in India!

Girish Shahane said...

Well, Ramadoss almost resurrected himself in my eyes by taking up the issue of section 377. But I wouldn't go so far as to say he's fought tooth and nail to have it changed. He started the discussion far too late in his term to have any serious chance of changing the cabinet's stance.

Jabeen said...

Besides which, Ramadoss wanted 377 scrapped for health reasons, to aid HIV prevention or something. Isn't that a bit like arresting Al Capone for tax evasion? It's useful to have someone support the cause for any reason, sure, but it isn't like Ramadoss came out in favour of homosexuality.