Now in a new role
Film-maker and actor Vijay Anand, who has recently been appointed chairman of the Censor Board, discusses his job and various related issues with V. GANGADHAR
Making a mark with sensitive portrayals... Vijay, the actor, in ``Joru ka Bhai''.
THE CENSOR Board office in Mumbai functions from two floors of the `White House' building in Walkeshwar. There is a lot of activity going on, typists and clerks bustling around, telephones ringing, the xerox machine operating. It looks like any other government office. The new chairman of the Censor Board, Viyay Anand, is a well known film-maker and director ("Guide", "Teesri Manzil", "Nau do Gyarah") who excelled in handling light romances and thrillers which were embellished with outstanding music. Anand also acted in sensitive films ("Kora Kagaz"). In an interview, which stretched over 90 minutes, Vijay Anand talked about his new role, his concept of film-making and the changing values in life which have left a mark in film-making.
From what I see in your office, there appears to be a lot of paper work ...
Yes, there is. We have records of film scripts, cassettes and so on. There is so much of old stuff which we are unable to get rid of.
Have you settled down in the job? What exactly is the nature of your job?
I don't have to watch each and every film, thank God. In case of disputes over certain scenes or lines of dialogue, we work towards a compromise with the producers. If the disagreement persists, I watch the film and give the verdict. But the final decision lies with the Film Censor Tribunal in Delhi. Even its verdict can be challenged in the Court of Law.
How old are the guidelines to the Board of Censors?
We go by the 1952 Act on the subject. But this Act has been amended number of times. Even at present there is a review going on. It is quite likely that the government will come out with a new Act in 2001.
The problem is that producers tend to overlook so many of these guidelines and then complain about our interference.
From 1991 to the present time, the Chiefs of the Censor Board had been from the film industry (Shakti Samanta, Asha Parekh and Vijay Anand). Since the film industry is one of the parties in the issue, won't this lead to some kind of bias?
Had anyone detected any bias, the process would not have been repeated by the government. This job needs to be handled by someone who knows what film-making is all about, not any bureaucrat. The U.S. has no censorship but Hollywood goes by self-regulations though it often sought the opinions of senior judges. Mind you, these were the same producers who fought and got rid of the Censor Board.
Life is full of violence and sex, cinema only reflects them...
It works both ways. In my films, I picked up topics from life. During my college days, I saw so much of black market sale of tickets outside the theatres and incorporated these when I made "Kala Bazar". There is too much fuss about the corrupting influence of cinema. But I am not for films which deal with the planning and perpetration of evil acts.
Which is more objectionable, crude dialogue or scenes showing sex and violence?
I would go by the theme of a film and how it was handled. Quite often even good themes end up as bad films. I am not in favour of excessive bad language on screen.
Do you believe that films can lead people astray?
I doubt it. But films can have an impact on children and that is why we should keep them away from bad films. Unfortunately in India, theatres freely allow children to watch adult films. This is an unhealthy trend. Films should make us think, agitate our minds, particularly when they deal with issues like harassment of women.
We make any number of bad commercial films. Who is responsible?
I would say, the government. Mind you, there is no tax on entertainment from sports, cricket, dance shows or theatre. But the film industry is made to cough up huge amounts. The government considers the film industry a milch cow. So producers had to resort to techniques and gimmicks which would appeal to the masses. In the process, the industry gets corrupted.
As the Chief of the Censor Board, you must be aware of the sensitivity of our audiences. When I watched "Bandit Queen" at the prestigious Metro theatre in Mumbai, the audience even from the balcony, hissed and made cat calls during the scene where Phoolan Devi was paraded naked ...
That happened because our audiences were not accustomed to such scenes. We have to teach them. Now, there are no cat calls or lewd comments during the showing of "Chandni Bar" which deals with the sensitive theme of the life of Mumbai's bar girls. Our audiences did not know that films are capable of reflecting real life, including its unsavoury aspects. But they are learning.
Does this mean, we can make films dealing with issues like homosexuality, incest and so on?
There is nothing in the Censor Board regulations against such themes. It all depends how the themes are handled. Censors in Europe, pass films without recommending it for all age groups. It is left to the people to judge these films. That is a mature approach.
Dev Anand and Waheeda Rehman in ``Guide''... the film that won accolades for its maker Vijay Anand.
How do we compare films of an earlier era with the present one?
This is a difficult job. Earlier, films did not have to compete with video or television . Today's audiences are exposed to so much more. Let me tell you that today's audiences do not take cinema seriously as they used to do. Since films were the only entertainment in the past, they attracted judges, military personnel, professors and intellectuals. Their views on cinema were useful and enlightening.
India is a huge country of different cultures. Can there be a uniform censorship policy under such circumstances?
These divisions are artificially created and we tend to jump to conclusions. A film which is okay for Mumbai audiences should also be okay for the border regions. But don't think our rural and tribal people need a moral code. The `Bhils' do not wear clothes, and the `Toda' women in the South freely practise polygamy. Our moral guidelines cannot apply to them. Knowing the cultural diversity of India, I have asked the government for extra funds to do research on how audiences throughout the country react to films. Such research will yield valuable results.
Courts, colleges, hospitals ... the working of all these institutions are vulgarised in our cinema. Who is responsible?
Not the Censors. It is the job of the writers and directors. I laugh when Film Institute- trained directors cast 40 plus actors as college students. Aamir Khan played a student in his first film, in his last one he is still a student, but the audiences accepted him! But we are extra careful in the portrayal of police officers and politicians.
In the recent film, "Indian", an honest police inspector, played by Sunny Deol, was shown beating up politicians from U.P. and Bihar who had landed up in Mumbai to create trouble. These two States were clearly mentioned by name. What if the people from Bihar and UP objected?
Well, they can object. Can you deny that politicians from these two states had acquired such a reputation? We read about them daily in newspapers, watch their antics on TV. Personally, I did not see anything wrong in that scene, but it was passed before my time.
What is your message to film producers?
Well, I have been meeting them in small groups. I told them, "You won't have any problems from me, so long as you don't create any problems" Read the guidelines carefully and follow them. The film fraternity should be more responsible and not gang up against the Censors. Films are commercial, but there is an element of art. They can have as much artistic freedom but not misuse it.
How do you react to the media's nitpicking on the Censor Board decisions?
Why not? We are the visible mouthpiece of a moralistic society. Why should there be moral codes only for films? This view was not shared by some of the former bureaucrats who sat on this chair. They were not familiar with art and literature.
Do you have the right to appoint the members of the Censor Board?
Unfortunately no, it is the prerogative of the government. We have certain `types' as members (doctors, lawyers, social workers) but they are not the right choice We have political activists with their own agenda. We need people who can understand the value and need for films.
How do you get along with Ms. Sushma Swaraj, the I&B Minister?
No problems, so far. She is quite accommodative and reasonable and accepted my proposal for more members for the Censor Board, nearly 100 more.. We have 110 in Mumbai and around 250 in the country. There are hardly any suitable members to view English films, I mean, those who know their culture and history well.
Did you have censor problems with your own films?
Oh, everyone of them had problems. The English version of "Guide" was banned because it dealt with the theme of adultery. I did not like the story at all, but writer Pearl Buck was all for it.
Do you miss making films?
I do. In fact I have completed a film, "Jaana Na Dil Se Door" but I find it difficult to get it released. This is the age of big budget films. I have not handled many such films. Only "Ram Balaram" and "Rajput". I don't have the resources to shoot a film showing a traditional `gurukul', shot in England. This happened in a recent box office hit. What do our audiences know about `gurukuls'?
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