Our too-easily offended public

Kaththi is only the latest in a series of films that have been greeted by bans in Tamil Nadu. Mohan V. Raman looks back

Updated - November 01, 2014 06:22 pm IST

Published - November 01, 2014 05:26 pm IST

Banning is not exactly a new phenomenon.

Banning is not exactly a new phenomenon.

The controversy surrounding Vijay-starrer Kaththi is something we need to think about. Usually, there are two causes that lead to a ban or stay a film — content or commerce.

The commercial aspect is adjudicated by courts or film trade bodies, and it’s clearly working. It is when objections on content are raised that problems crop up resolved in court.

Films can be monitored by the Censor Board, the courts, or the state or central government but of late, private groups are taking on this role, a totally unconstitutional act that usually indicates the reluctance or inability of the state police to take control of the situation.

When India started to make its own films, the British passed an Act to regulate content. Subsequently, the Indian Cinematograph Act was passed in 1918 and 1952. According to director Mani Ratnam, who has handled many sensitive subjects in films such as Roja , Bombay , Nayakan , Guru or Iruvar , the fundamental reason for the illegal bans we see today is the fact that the law has not changed to suit today’s needs. Ratnam recalls how Bombay was sent to the censor office in Mumbai, with the Chennai censor office unable to explain its inability to certify. And how different groups of people were asked to view the film, both these actions not standard procedure.

The film was ultimately cleared after elections in Maharashtra. Ratnam’s solution to this increasing creative interference by various private groups is simple: “If political pressure and influence is curtailed, social interference will also stop. The Censor Board is fully authorised and competent to do its job.”

Banning is not exactly a new phenomenon. The earliest case of a Tamil film being banned was K. Subramanyam’s Thyagabhoomi in 1939, with its many scenes advocating independence, khadi, and the Swadeshi movement. The distributor S.S. Vasan, on learning of the proposed ban, threw open theatre doors and allowed everyone to watch the film for free. This led to huge crowds outside Gaiety Theatre and also caused a lathi charge and police firing that resulted in the death of one fan. The ban was lifted only after independence.

Thyagabhoomi also had social messages like widow remarriage and Harijan temple entry, which led to the film’s director K. Subramanyam, a Brahmin, being excommunicated.

Later, Annadurai’s Velaikaari (1949) and Parasakthi (1952) were threatened with bans for their strong social content — they were seen to be promoting the ‘rationalist’ thoughts of the Dravidian parties, then in the Opposition. The ‘atheistic, anti-Hindu’ dialogues penned by M. Karunanidhi were the chief irritants, who ironically when Chief Minister in 2006, tried to ban the English film The Da Vinci Code on the grounds that it may hurt religious sentiments.

Other notable examples include Agraharathil Kazhuthai (1977), and Orey Oru Gramathile (1989), the latter was released only after producer S. Rangarajan, agreed to change the climactic scene.

In 1973, K. Balachander’s Arangetram was considered offensive to Brahmins. Another film, based on Komal Swaminathan’s much-censored play Thanneer Thanneer, saw both DMK and AIADMK members seeking a ban. The state government even tried to amend the TN Cinemas (Regulation) Act 1955 in order to ban films that are critical of MLAs and Ministers. Kamal’s Hey Ram faced problems, and Virumaandi had to change its original title Sandiyar ,as one political party thought it could be seen as insulting to a group of people.

Another recent example is the John Abraham-starrer Madras Café that could not be released in Tamil Nadu since some groups believed it portrayed the Sri Lankan Tamil cause inaccurately.

Justice K. Chandru, who struck down the law on play censorship, introduced mainly to curb the work of M.R. Radha, recently remarked that censorship in India is not merely created by the State but also by personal, fundamentalist groups, who are pandered to by the government, as they are vote banks. We must perhaps bear in mind the thoughts of Rajaji on the film Parasakthi : ‘The course of freedom cannot be damned.Things will go on until people learn what is worthless’.

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