Shyam Benegal On Censorship: "As A ‘Censor’ You Don’t Remain Audience Anymore, That’s The Biggest Contradiction We Need To Fix!"

By Aditi Patwardhan. Posted on January 16, 2016

Film festivals hold a special place in our hearts for various reasons. They bring to us excellent cinema from all over the world. They offer a platform for interaction between the audience & filmmakers from across the world. Also, for someone like me in India, festivals are the only places where I can still see films in their entirety. That is, without any cuts or beeps sprinkled into the narrative here and there.

While censorship in India has been a debated issue for a long while now, we now have a ray of hope in noted filmmaker Shyam Benegal, who has recently been appointed as the head of a committee appointed by the government to suggest measures to help Censor board members understand the nuances of film certification. Of course there have been many such committees formed in India before, and nothing much might come out of this anyways, but at least there's some hope.

Shyam Benegal, who inaugurated PIFF Bazaar at the Pune International Film Festival today, took to stage along with ad man Bharat Dabholkar to discuss the topic of film censorship and certification. In a candid discussion session moderated by Ravi Gupta, the CEO of Mukta Arts, both of them voiced their opinions about various aspects of film censorship.

The discussion started with the obvious question that the audience had for Mr. Benegal, what changes does he intend to bring about.

He emphasized that the Board is there to certify films and not to ‘censor’ them. He also pointed out that there’s been unhappiness about the way the Film Certification Board (previously the Censor Board) functions. However, it is not that the issue has never been approached before. He assured that the committee, keeping in mind the objective, will see to it that nobody’s work of art is tampered with in the certification process. Saying that, he also pointed out that the Board has an important job, cinema being a very influential medium.

“There’s a play called ‘Rhinoceros’. Drawing example from that, I’d like to point out that you lose the human touch after becoming a part of the system. You become a ‘censor’, you become a ‘rhino’ and you don’t remain a part of the audience, that’s the biggest contradiction,” he said.

benegal dabholkar

Ravi Gupta, Shyam Benegal and Bharat Dabholkar at PIFF

Soon a comparison between the censorship models of different mediums of advertising, television and cinema was drawn. While Benegal said that eventually self-regulation like in television should be ideal for cinema as well, the only obstacle to that is that the commercial parameters for these two mediums are entirely different.

Bharat Dabholkar, a media expert with experience in both advertising and theater, explained the reason why there’s proper self-regulation in advertising. “When an ad goes on TV, it reaches the metro cities as well as the smallest of the villages. Naturally, we have to find a middle way, where the ad shouldn’t offend the small town consumer and shouldn’t bore the metro citizen at the same time.”

In theater, one needs to get the script certified beforehand, being a spontaneous medium, changes are bound to happen and nobody can really do anything about it.

While talking about cinema, he reflected on the fact that cinema is a big influence on our society, and therefore, censorship has to be carefully balanced. “Being a lawyer, I’d only say that your fundamental right of swinging your hand stops at where the other person’s cheek begins.”

Soon enough, 'freedom of expression' entered the debate and Benegal, too, said that there’s a limit to every freedom. “In a filmmaker’s case, the limit is the parameters of the constitution, one cannot go beyond that.”

While the discussion turned to the phenomenon of trolling on social media, Benegal pointed out clearly that social media and cinema cannot be compared. While social media reaches you individually, cinema is consumed as a community. “At best it can be called a community and at worst a mob. When a film is showcased in a cinema hall, mob can react as an individual.”

Cinema affects us deeply. Psychologically speaking, cinema is one medium that affects us on all three levels: conscious, subconscious and unconscious. "We have control on our conscious and subconscious, to some extent. However, there's simply no way to control the unconscious. That is where the problem lies. You can resist certain influence on the conscious level, but influence on the unconscious is much worrying. And that has to be kept in mind," he said.


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