In a surprising move, Chinese censors have for the first time allowed the banned Tibetan “snow lion” flag — a symbol for the Tibet independence movement — to be displayed when the Imtiaz Ali film “Rockstar” was screened, uncut, in Beijing on Tuesday on the first day of the Beijing International Film Festival.

Considering China’s sensitivities on the Tibet issue — monks have even been jailed for possessing and displaying the flag — the decision to allow the screening of “Rockstar” with scenes uncut is likely to be more the result of an oversight by usually vigilant censors rather than a relaxing of policy.

The 2011 film, ironically, was released in India under a shroud of controversy after the Censor Board had asked the producers to remove shots of the Tibetan flag, which appear during a song sequence set at a “freedom” concert. The song was shot in a monastery in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, residence of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

The Censor Board’s decision led to protests by exiled Tibetan groups in India.

The close to five minute-long song was, however, shown in its entirety at the screening at a major Beijing cinema hall on Tuesday evening, when the third edition of the week-long international film festival opened.

The Ranbir Kapoor-starring film was released in India after producers agreed to blur the word “Tibet” from “Free Tibet” banners prominently displayed at the concert scene. The banner was similarly blurred in the version screened here.

Censorship

China’s General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television usually strictly censors films screened in government-backed festivals. The Beijing International Film Festival is co-sponsored by the General Administration itself, along with the Beijing municipal government.

The issue of censorship has been at the centre of a debate in the days leading up to the festival, when the film “Django Unchained” was withdrawn from theatres last week, at the last minute, with the authorities ordering some scenes to be removed for violence and nudity.

That a far more sensitive issue for the Chinese government — Tibet — managed to slip under the radar of the censors at such a prominent event is a surprise.

There was, however, a far from full turnout for the screening of “Rockstar”, and none among those present whom The Hindu spoke to were even aware of the sensitivity of the scene. While the “snow lion” flag would be recognisable to most Tibetans in China — its display is banned in monasteries and usually results in heavy punishments — few Han Chinese are aware about the flag.

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