The ban culture goes back a long way. From Kissa Kursi Ka to Aarakshan, there have been many instances of Central and various State governments having bowed down to the demands of a religious, political or social group and banned a film for a few weeks.
In the mid 1970s, Kissa Kursi Ka, the first political spoof which lampooned the Emergency imposed on the country between 1975 and 1977, was banned by the Congress government, and its reels were said to have been burnt. Later, it was remade, but by then it had lost its punch.
Similarly Gulzar’s Aandhi could not get a proper release because it was supposedly based on the life of the then Prime minister, Indira Gandhi. The film was later premiered on television when the Janata Party and a group of parties opposed to Emergency, came to power.
Some years ago, the release of The Da Vinci Code was stalled by the protest from certain Christian organisations. Before that, Bombay faced trouble in the city where it was set because Shiv Sainiks found it pro-Muslim, and there was a character that looked like their supremo Bal Thackeray. Parzania, showing the disappearance of a boy after the February 28, 2002 Gulbarg Society massacre, was not released in Gujarat because some right wing organisations claimed that it had a pro-Muslim slant on the post-Godhara riots.
Jodha Akbar was banned when some Rajput organisations questioned the historicity of Jodha Bai. Fire also faced a similar fate. Deepa Mehta recently told this journalist that Fire was passed by the Centre Board of Film Certification (CBFC), but after the release it was targeted by rogue elements. “I still remember Sanjeevani Kutty was the CEO of the CBFC then, and she praised the film,” recalled Mehta, adding bans did not make any sense.
Sometimes, the cause is not even related to the film, as in the case of Fanaa, a typical Bollywood pot-boiler, which was banned in Gujarat ostensibly because Aamir Khan, the lead actor, supported Narmada Bachao Andolan.
At times, it takes ridiculous proportions. The word ‘barber’ had to be taken out from Billoo Barber because the barber community felt hurt before the film was released. The teli community objected to the use of the word ‘teli’ in a song of Kaminey, and the word had to be bleeped out.
Girish Johar of Balaji Telefilms, which is releasing the Hindi version of Vishwaroopam, says the ban is uncalled for. “In the case of Arakashan, the Supreme Court has made clear that once a film is cleared by the CBFC, the government has no business to stall its release and it is bound to provide security.”
Prakash Jha, who directed Aarakshan, told this journalist earlier this year the ban wiped around 20 per cent business off the film.
Johar questions the intentions of the groups that organise the protests close to the release of Vishwaroopam. “I believe they do it for media publicity. They haven’t watched the film, and Kamal Haasan has said on oath that he respects the sentiments of the Muslim community, and there is nothing in the film that shows the community in a bad light. I believe they should respect the word of an artist of his stature.”
He says the films that are banned lose heavily in terms of business. “This being a holiday weekend, the film was expected to do well. We hope things sort out quickly.”