Why are films like “Dam 999” always easy targets, asks film-maker K. Hariharan highlighting the fundamentalism about cinema as the bane of the nation.
A few weeks ago I was happily informed that the best result that emerged out of the “Aarakshan” fiasco that threatened the film's release was a government ruling which assured that the Central Board of Film Certification's decision would be final and to be respected “in toto” by all governmental agencies. And last week, the Tamil Nadu government officially banned the screening of a genuinely certified film called “DAM 999” in all theatres.
We have all heard of Indian popular cinema becoming soft targets for politicians and vandals alike in order to seek publicity “freely” through the press and TV media. But the promulgation of a ban on screening “DAM 999” by the Tamil Nadu Theatres association and the State government reflects the lowest point that such “soft” targeting can ever reach.
This low budget English film which would have hardly touched 20 screens in the State suddenly becomes a target and the director is pushed into the league of people like Aruna Roy and Medha Patkar for making a “serious” environmental statement! We have heard of vandals targeting biggies like “Jodha Akbar” in the north or a Khushboo in the south to make their presence felt and ideology heard. With this incident we realise that they are so desperate to be heard that they will stoop to lash even non-entities now!
Surely this is symptomatic of a larger malaise and demands that we try to diagnose the core of this disease. These “political” vandals want attention but whom are they trying to reach out to? Have they not succeeded by hitting the headlines of the prominent dailies for a few days in succession? If they have succeeded then the problems starts with the fact that the intelligentsia in India still believes that cinema is a very “influential” medium and therefore give such acts “publicity” and a certain kind of advocacy. Should we not even enquire as to why we are even reporting this incident when we could give that valuable space for dozens of other vital issues that plague this nation?
Like any “committed” media-person, Sohan Roy, the director of “DAM 999” had made a 22-minute documentary two years ago highlighting the condition of the Mullaperiyar dam with quotes from environmentalists. And this documentary has done its rounds at various forums without any interference, quite in the same way that hundreds of articles on the Mullaperiyar dam issue have also found their way to arouse awareness. So why were the media agents in the press and TV not attacked and why is this film attempt being targeted?
What makes anyone believe that, in the plethora of media avenues available to the populace today, this film is going to make the definitive impact which will tilt the balance of a 70-year-old controversial issue in one way or the other?
The “corporatised” print and TV media supposedly constitutes of “intellectuals” and members of a high class who are fair and objective and therefore not prone to provoke the common masses. Unfortunately, both, the intellectuals and vandals continue to believe that cinema can corrupt the “innocent” minds of a nation despite knowing that these very “innocent” minds reject 85 per cent of the films released. Strangely, the news media also reported all of Sohan Roy's opinions, rather convincingly, about the precarious condition of the Mullaperiyar and many other dams in India and also downplayed the opinions of the vandals and the Tamil political parties behind the disruption. And there was no vandalism against such print or TV media.
This means that the myth of cinema's “seditious” influence continues to sway the minds of the learned and the illiterate alike. And this happens due to a combination of two reasons.
First, we as a nation seem to have lost all faith in the availability of a commonly acceptable scientific temperament. For example, even after printing an extremely scientific analysis on the Kudankulam Nuclear Project by our foremost “scientific” thinker, Abdul Kalam, the protests continue and I have even met some well meaning people expressing their apprehensions of Kalam's capability of actually making a proper scientific evaluation. Have we become a nation of intellectuals turned cynics?
Choosing to differ
Secondly we view cinema as some kind of fundamental position, a sort of religious location where fanatics choose to celebrate icons and desecrate those which challenge their comfort zones of prejudices and bigotry. So while some bigots do not want their opinions about the Mullaperiyar dam to be disturbed by filmmakers, some others do not want cinema to disturb their opinions about sexuality, gender, caste or nationalism. Sadly this fundamentalism about cinema has been a bane of our country ever since independence clearly reflecting our sick state-of-mind.
The solution has to come from the so-called “objective” media. The day the press and TV media choose to ignore these incidents, these vandals will start doing a serious re-think on their strategies. Editors and reporters have to learn to differentiate between vandals who indulge in violence only to get some free publicity and the genuine voices expressing the anguish of the deprived and exploited. Is this difficult to ask for?
The writer is director, LV Prasad Film and TV Academy, Chennai.