The return of consent

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You can finally watch the long-banned Satyajit Ray film on Sikkim, says Bodhisattwa Maity

Blue Ray The auteur during a shoot
Blue Ray The auteur during a shoot

INDIA MIGHT finally be able to watch the late Satyajit Ray’s documentary Sikkim(1971) in May 2011. Reports indicate the government’s ban on the film has been finally lifted and it might be released countrywide on Ray’s birth anniversary next year. The documentary was commissioned in 1970 by Hope Cooke, the American-born wife of the erstwhile Chogyal (king) of Sikkim, Palden Thondup Namgyal. The story goes that Cooke managed to convince Ray to come over to shoot a tourism documentary on Sikkim straight from Darjeeling, where he was shooting a scene for Pratidwandi.

On completion, a private screening of Sikkim was held in Kolkata. The Chogyal, who hoped the film would stave off the lustful gazes of neighbours India and China, was disappointed even though it poetically captured the beauty and history of the tiny, beleaguered nation. Much to Ray’s dismay, the Chogyal wanted a scene cut, where his hungry subjects were foraging for morsels from a dump behind the royal palace, even as a party inside indulged in wasteful excesses. It was the only screening held in India. Soon, India banned it and destroyed the negative and prints as it laid its plans to appropriate Sikkim as its 22nd state. The Indian government was afraid that Ray’s film depicted the Chogyal in a good light. If only they knew, that the Chogyal was himself too disappointed with the end product to bother with it.

If only the Indian government had known that Sikkim’s king was too disappointed with Ray’s film to bother with it

Sikkim is another victim of the establishment’s thin skin for criticism. The trouble is, ‘the repressed’ have a funny way of ‘returning’, whether ‘as a tragedy or as a farce’. In 2004, Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers (1963), banned in France for decades, made an unlikely comeback as a ‘prep’ video for US soldiers in Iraq. Once distributed across the Middle East as a training video for would-be militants in the art of planting bombs against European colonisers, in its restored Criterion edition, it is, ironically, used as an introduction to the Arab streets for 16-year-old redneck Americans on their journey of self-discovery in ‘Eyeraq’.

The (il)logic of bureaucracy has resulted in Sikkim being removed from the censor list at last. One wonders what it will engender now. Will we, Indians, use it as an introduction to Northeast culture for the Rajputana Rifles in Nagaland?

Photo: Corbis


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