I'm an artiste first and last, says Leela Samson, newly appointed Chairperson of the Central Board for Film Certification in an interview to Baradwaj Rangan
The tremor heard around the country, recently, especially in the parts that follow film, was the sound of a few thousand jaws collectively hitting the floor upon hearing who was going to head the Central Board for Film Certification (CBFC). Leela Samson needs no introduction as an artiste. But what does she bring to the table in terms of cinema? She answers, as always, with grace and brevity.
Director of Kalakshetra. Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi. These are appointments one expects for an artiste of your stature. But, the appointment as CBFC chairperson is somewhat unexpected. Were you as surprised as everyone else seems to be?
Yes, I was. More shocked than surprised.
What is your relationship with the movies? Are you (or were you) an enthusiastic follower of Indian cinema?
I am a healthy follower of Indian cinema, and watch films, like all Indians. I do better than that, because [apart from Hindi] I also watch Malayalam, Tamil and Bengali cinema. However, I am usually looking for a recommendation before I go to see a film. I do not watch every film that hits the market.
What is your opinion about the state of Indian cinema today, which ranges from mass-oriented potboilers to ultra-niche multiplex films?
I do not need to express an opinion on the range of cinema that is churned out in our country. My understanding is that it will continue to exist in every shade and type, satisfying the different needs of our society. To each his own. My policy is “live and let live”. Can a committee of persons change tastes?
What are your views on censoring films, as opposed to establishing an age-appropriate ratings system that does not mutilate adult content but merely disallows non-adults from the theatre?
I support the age-appropriate system, naturally. The government is in the process of amending the Act. But, before we do so and before something is implemented, I intend to have a healthy interaction with the various stakeholders.
The liberal view on censorship is that there is an internal censor inside each one of us. The conservative stand is that we do not know good from bad, and we need moral guardians to guide us. Where, along this continuum, do you stand?
I too believe that the switch should remain in the hands of every individual. However, this is reflective of the growth of a people and their maturity. In India, we have all types, and some care is necessary so as to not hurt one or another person.
But having said that, I believe that we [Indians] are not open to ridicule and criticism, and certainly do not understand humour. So, the sensitivity levels have been allowed to grow, and this makes it difficult for any artiste to express himself or herself. We have to be less hypocritical and touchy about ourselves. This will allow for some healthy self-critiquing.
How has film censorship been handled in the country so far? Have you any initial thoughts about things you plan to implement or change?
I think documentary filmmakers must be allowed to show their work — perhaps to restricted audiences, but show it nevertheless. They must be allowed to remain honest, and we must see their work, although one could redefine what ‘public space' that may be allowed in.
Do you think the State chapters are in sync with the central body? There are several films that are hauled up by the regional censors for containing, say, profanity that mature Bollywood films routinely get away with.
The regional committees may be reconstituted, with representative members — women, educators, stakeholders, animal welfare people, intellectuals, cinema buffs, and so on. More mature regional committees will certainly help.
Finally, a large number of people from the industry, mainly from Bollywood, have expressed scepticism about your appointment and your capabilities. What do you wish to say to them?
I agree with them! However, they are probably viewing me as a government representative. I am an artiste, first and last, and I wish to assure them that I am and will always be on their side.