The Truth Shall Set You Free

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Trigger happy Sukhdeep Sukh (left) and Raj Kakra star in Kaum de Heere
Trigger happy Sukhdeep Sukh (left) and Raj Kakra star in Kaum de Heere

Words like ‘civil war’, ‘struggle for independence’ and ‘assassination’ may sound like those that belong to history textbooks, but these are omnipresent in Indian arts and visual culture. Whenever a filmmaker delves deep into chronicles that once shook the nation, he is bound to invite trouble. Ravinder Ravi’s Kaum de Heere is no exception. Based on the assassins of former prime minister Indira Gandhi, the Punjabi film ran into rough waters a day before its release in India. (The movie hit the global circuit in March and did reasonably well.)

The film went through two rounds of revision before getting the censor certificate. When Central Board of Film Certification (CFBC) chairperson Leela Samson was deconstructing it for the third time, the filmmakers were surprised. The marketers had been paid a hefty amount for promotion; the distributors were on board. Making his debut in the film, singer- turned-actor Raj Kakra had used his clout in social media to spread the word about the film’s subject. Suddenly, there was pandemonium.

A few hours before Kaum de Heere was supposed to be released, when tickets had already been sold out in many theatres in Chandigarh, Samson announced its withdrawal. “I received two written objections from the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, which pushed me to watch the film and come to this decision,” Samson said.

According to officials from the ministries and the CFBC, the film’s content could lead to a law-and-order situation as it glorifies Indira Gandhi’s two Sikh bodyguards — Beant Singh and Satwant Singh — who pumped 33 bullets into her in 1984.

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The Unkindest Cuts Of All

In the past 10 years alone, 260 films have faced the wrath of the censor board in India. By Pradyot Lal

Licence to thrill Anurag Kashyap faced resistance from the CBFC for the depiction of violence in Gangs of Wasseypur
Licence to thrill Anurag Kashyap faced resistance from the CBFC for the depiction of violence in Gangs of Wasseypur

It may astound a lot of people, especially those who swear by that all-time classic, but even Garm Hawa’s release was held up by the censors for eight months in 1973, what with the Indira Gandhi-led political establishment and its cronies in the censor board finding the heart-rending narrative about a Muslim family during the Partition a shade too real for comfort.

What happened with MS Sathyu’s classic has happened with a lot many other films, which may not have scaled the cinematic heights of Garm Hawa. The short point is that whichever film seeks to stay clear from the dominant, mainstream narrative is almost immediately pounced upon by those who have the last word on the content of films Indian viewers can see. That seems to be the actual truth behind all the posturing and verbiage that surrounds film censorship in all its myriad complications.

In the event, it is difficult to decide which one is a greater scandal: Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) CEO Rakesh Kumar being hauled up by the CBI for accepting huge sums of money to speedily schedule the certification of big-budget films, or the manner in which he has handled his job, which has seen several controversies crop up, including the latest one regarding Ravinder Ravi’s Kaum de Heere, which allegedly glorifies the assassins of Indira Gandhi. Kumar’s tenure typifies the rot that permeates the organisation that is supposed to decide on the content that is suitable for Indian audiences.

Over the past decade, some 260 films have run into serious problems with the censor board, out of which 65 have faced bans, from outright ones to those lasting for various lengths of time, a nugget that reflects poorly on the censoring process, which, in the absence of any cogent and fixed guidelines, is highly arbitrary in nature.

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