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Chopping our art
Why is great art so troublesome? Can it not stay on a clear middle ground, instead of on the edge? Why does any honestly creative work have to be so unsettling? How come originality is so misbehaved? Perhaps this may have something to do with the destabilising nature of freedom itself. When we are truly free we can make a choice from options of our own making — and not options provided by others. To do so this requires a great deal of confidence in our own freedom.
But if the artist is unsure of the future of his freedom, then he loses confidence in being free today as well. In fact, his choices would be determined by the anticipation of the curtailment of his freedom. In his technique there will be fear. In his creation there will be falsity. He will tread on the safe path, that many before him also have, often for the same reasons, creating the same product. He will not be creative because his creativity needs at least an assumption of freedomnow and in the future.
I remember watching a few years ago a documentary about around 40 films made in Germany during the Nazi era that were banned there, and remain so to this day. This documentary by Felix Moeller, showed a revealing collection of clips from these films in question. I recollect trying to gauge if the makers of each of those films would have created exactly the same film if they knew that their film would be banned? Perhaps some of those filmmakers knew, but still took the chance. I also marvelled at how the fact that they were banned make them so important today. Their censorship has become their identity, such that decades later an entire documentary is being made about them. What is not is more important than what is?
The censor board in India has the sharpest scissors in the country, that is chopping off our heads. For example, one of the most critically acclaimed films of the past year, Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, is about three different stages in the life of a young black man grappling with his sexuality. While it has received enormous viewership worldwide as well as three Oscars — including that of best picture — last month, it has been deemed inappropriate to be watched in its entirety in India. Amounting to 53 seconds in total, the cuts made by the Central Board of Film Certification in India have removed profanities. Also two sex scenes that are crucial to the plot of the film have been edited out.
Meanwhile, the additions made by the board to this film last more than two minutes. They are described as “Added Anti-Smoking Disclaimer & Health Spot in the beginning and middle of the movie and static message with scroll wherever smoking scene appears in the film.” I have preferred not to watch this crippled version of art.
In the US, films are provided a movie rating that indicate a suggested audience, not chopped off as they are in India for reasons that are any less than lame. Recently the Censor Board banned a theatrical screening of the film Lipstick Under My Burkha, and to convey this message the Board’s letter to the producer of this film read thus: “The story is lady-oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contanious [sic] sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography, and a bit [sic] sensitive touch about one particular section of society, hence film refused under guidelines.” The grammatical errors in the letter would have been amusing if the message conveyed would not have been such.
I think that when censorship trespasses on art, then it takes over art in its entirety. In our heads we are watching a film that has been deemed immoral or controversial or censured for whatever else reason. We cease to perceive the work of the filmmaker in the way that we would have had the censorship not interrupted our imagination of it. Appreciation of art requires as much freedom as that which is needed to create it. We cannot truly let our minds explore the characters and story of a film when we know that our freedom to watch — what we have indeed paid for — has been curtailed. In India the Censor Board seems to believe that Indian adults do not use swear words, none of us have sexual desires, and that we really do not know what homosexuality is. Every film censored is a disrespect to our — the audience’s — intelligence, and a curtailment to the audience’s freedom.
And so, if a film is censored, then some will prefer to watch the uncut version online, and this is precisely what leads to online piracy. Some like me would refuse to watch the film altogether. And many would go watch art being humiliated, the effect of which is far more sinister for the audience than for anyone else. Censorship of art means chopping off our own sensibilities.
The writer is Chief Sustainability Officer for the group of companies, Jindal Steel and Power Ltd. She is a Global Leadership Alumna of the World Economic Forum. firstname.lastname@example.org
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