Many taste the bite of censorship because of such incidents although Chief Minister Mamata Banerjeee says that things are blown out of proportion and she is not even aware of such films being screened in the Star Theatre. She is also very upset. It is not unnatural for her to be upset. In her own ministry the present Education Minister Bratya Basu, who is an eminent playwright had the experience of such dadagiri of CPI(M) in staging his drama, ‘Winkle Twinkle’.
Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) descended onto the stage to warn against the screening of the drama. It was a biting satire on the Left. Bratya Basu’s drama embarrassed the communists. The DYFI also disrupted the performance of The Rite of Spring, a ballet by Russian Composer, Igor Stravinsky while Buddhadeb Bhattacharya was the culture minister.
Shooting of the film, ‘The City of Joy’ was also obstructed on the ground that Calcutta was shown in a poor light and from an American perspective which the Left Front government could not endorse. Suman Mukhopadhyay’s film ‘Herbert’ was not denied screening at Nandan because of the anti-government elements.
Shows of Bratya Basu’s ‘Rudrasangeet’ were also stalled because in this drama he attacked the sectarian internal politics of IPTA, the left theatre association. Nandan was not allowed to screen Kaushik Ganguly’s ‘Arekti Prem er Galpo’ on the ground of overt homosexuality and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s CEO Nilanjan Chattopadhyay at Nandan played a big hand against this film.
The shows of Poshu Khamar, the translated version of Orwell’s Animal Farm were also stalled on the ground that it had political motivation against the Left Front government. Roopchand Pal, a renowned CPI(M) leader of Hooghly played the lead role in the protest. This kind of attack on the films is not new and there have been numberless instances of such administrative interferences.
Since 1959, we have seen such attempts to ban films or stall shows in a number of theatre halls across the country. ‘Neel Akasher Neechey’ was banned for two years for overt political overtones; it showed the troubles faced by an immigrant Chinese wage laborer in 1930s Calcutta.
‘Nine Hours to Rama’ was banned for depicting the psychological motivations of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi. Sikkim was banned for showing Chogyal -ruled Sikkim as a sovereign state. The ban was lifted in September 2010. ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ was banned for its "racist portrayal of Indians and overt imperialistic tendencies". ‘Kutrapathirikkai’ was banned for 15 years for portraying the events that followed Rajiv Gandhi’s 's death. It was proclaimed to be a pro-LTTE film, justifying the LTTE's activities. However, the film was censored and released in 2007 after many cuts.
‘Kamasutra: A Tale of Love’ was banned due to bold sex scenes. Cut version is available now. On its opening day in India, some film theatres were attacked by Hindu fundamentalists; the film ‘Fire’ was banned for a period, but theater screenings resumed later. The story was based on the lesbian relationship between two sisters-in-law. Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das created a huge controversy in India. Theatres were attacked by Hindu fundamentalists because according to them lesbianism did not exist in Hindu families. ‘Water’ was also banned in India as well as in Oscars for some reasons. Tarzania or ‘Bandit Queen’ was also banned for the reason of adult content. Shekhar Kapur's film on Phoolan Devi ‘Bandit Queen’ faced problems with the censors due to the crude language and sexual content.The producers then approached the Supreme Court, which paved the way for the film's release.
Recently Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ashvin Kumar’s Dazed in Doon based on the life in Doon school was banned by the Dehradun court. Nandita Das’ debut directorial venture ‘Firaaq’ was banned because it was based on the Gujarat riots.
‘Firaaq’, an ensemble film with multiple interconnected narratives, was set over a 24-hour period, one month post the riots. When Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ was released, people belonging to the Kshatriya (Rajput) community in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh protested against the movie because they believed that the film portrayed distorted historical facts. However, a month later the Supreme Court lifted all restrictions imposed on its screenings by various state governments.
Kamal Khan’s debut movie ‘Deshdrohi’ was banned in Maharashtra because the government thought it would escalate an issue surrounding Maharashtrians versus North Indians. Rahul Dholakia's 2007 film ‘Parzania’ starring Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika was also banned. It was based on the true story of a 10-year-old Parsi boy who disappeared during the 2002 Gujarat riots. The Censor Board had cleared the film, but it was not screened in Gujarat because of an unofficial ban.
Amrit Nahata's controversial film‘Kissa Kursi Kaa’ had ruffled the feathers of Sanjay Gandhi and the Congress party. The prints and negatives of the film were destroyed. The film was later reshot. The 2005 film ‘Tango Charlie’ starring Sanjay Dutt, Sunil Shetty, Bobby Deol and Ajay Devgan was banned in Assam, after the Bodo community opposed its 'distorted' portrayal in the film.
Madhuri Dixit's comeback film ‘Aaja Nachle’ was banned in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab. Some sections of the Dalit community had objected to a 'derogatory' reference in the title song. The producers of the film subsequently removed the 'erring' words from the song and issued an apology. The concerned state governments later lifted the ban.
‘Black Friday’ director Anurag Kashyap's film based on the book Black Friday - The True Story of the Bombay Bomb Blasts by S Hussain Zaidi took two years to reach Indian theatres. The Bombay High Court had stayed the release of the movie till the trial in the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts case was over. 'Black Friday’ finally hit Indian screens on February 9, 2007.
‘Paanch’was Anurag Kashyap's directorial debut, but the film has not been released yet. The film was refused certification by the Censor Board which thought that the film, about five serial killers, was too violent and because it did not have a social message. Thus on this or that ground, some justified, and some filmsy, films and dramas were banned in India and in West Bengal.
Since there exists nothing like a please-all film, many films end up irking one segment or the other and in the process a few of them end up getting prohibited from screening. This is more likely in a multi-cultural and conservative country like India. This trend of film censorship originates from the Cinematograph Act 1918, which was later repealed by the Cinematograph Act, 1952.
In the international scene also, we know that the banning of films occurred many times. ‘Benhur’ (1959) was never screened because it contained propaganda of superstitious beliefs. ‘Farewell, My Concubine’, a Chinese film that won the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or was banned in a period due to homosexual themes and negative portrayal of communism. ‘Battleship of Potemkin’ was banned due to fears that it could inspire revolution.
Even last year 'Valley of the Wolves: Palestine' was banned in Germany, because of initial concerns over the film's perceived anti-Israeli and anti-American overtones. ‘Long Road to Heaven’, an Indonesian film about the 2002 Bali bombings was also banned on the island of Bali, as local politicians worried that the film might promote hatred and intolerance. ‘Hitler the Last Ten Days’ was banned in a unanimous decision by the censorship board that Alec Guinness’s Hitler was represented in too human a light.
Creative artists should be given freedom to express their ideas (words, pictures, music and films). However, the way the government interferes directly or indirectly as it happens in West Bengal in recent times is deplorable. No real change has taken place. There are many film directors who show their creativity by means of movies in which they try to present their thoughts and make audience feel as to where these thoughts fit in society or in their life.
The halting of shows of 3 Kanya at Star theatre has not been done directly by the state government. But some of the ministers of the Mamata Banerjee government have made it clear that they will play some role in ensuring that the film doesn't reach the Star theatre. However, publicly, Mamata Banerjee says that any attempt to muzzle film directors, actors and actresses sends wrong signals.
The Artage manager of the Star Theatre says that the length of the film stood in the way of screening the film in the theatre. But this is a filmsy ground. Long ago when cinema halls were not that modern, the screening of ‘Sangam’ in many cinema halls faced such a problem but still ‘Sangam’ went houseful. Nobody argued for halting the shows. No comment was made on the resemblances between the Park Street rape incident and the story of the film. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee could not forget the incident even today which she initially described with her usual fervor as ‘Sajano Ghatona’(fabricated incident). But by stalling shows, such incidents cannot be so easily erased from public memory although Madam CM does not involve herself directly in the sponsorship.