“It is forbidden to forbid,” Rajkumar Hirani, one of India’s most successful filmmakers, made the case against censorship of cinema in unequivocal terms by borrowing a slogan from the May 1968 French protests led by students and workers.
He was speaking at a public forum organized by the Advertising Standard Council of India (ASCI) in Mumbai recently on the importance and the relevance of self-regulation today.
Making a strong case for film certification over censorship he said “We, as filmmakers, have proposed that there should be certification of films and not censoring of films. In the West, they certify a film, depending upon what audience it is appropriate for. You don’t play with the content of the film, which is what happens in India. You are told that unless you chop this off, your film won’t pass. We are living in a country where literacy levels are very different. If we keep censoring things, there will be no exchange of ideas or growth of the human mind.”
He also spoke of the need of state protection for films after they had received a censor certificate from the CBFC. This was based on his own experience with the protests against PK as well as the experience of other filmmakers who had been violently targeted and victimized by political parties and other social groups. “After ten days of the release of PK, it was hell for us. There were protests, theatres were being broken down, and shows were being stopped across the country. Eventually, I did get a lot of support from the Chief Ministers of these states. But, we need a system that says once a film has been passed by the Censor Board, there should be no authority or organisation that can stop the film. There should be complete protection for the film from the state,” he asserted.
He added that,“Filmmakers are soft targets in this country. It’s very easy for people to get free publicity when they sue us. Films cannot be the only thing responsible for anything and everything immoral.”
But Hirani also pointed out the responsibility that filmmakers and creative people, in turn, have towards their audience. “While making PK, I knew I had to find a path that is non-offensive to people. We try and make the film for ourselves, and not an audience. But at the same time, we need to ensure that we are not offending the people who will come to watch it,” he said.
He drew various examples from his own films to demonstrate that vulgarity and obscenity are not required to make a film successful if creative ideas are explored to the maximum.Hirani elaborated, “We have tremendous tools in this medium of film-making to create drama, to create magic. The whole belief that you need sex or violence to make your films work is not true.”
“We do sometimes check ourselves, creatively, to try and not hurt people’s sentiments. But if we truly believe in our idea, we always find another way of doing the same thing. You might have to strive harder but you will find a second way,” he said.
Reacting to the attempts made by the newly appointed CBFC Chairman Pehlaj Nihlani to clamp down on what filmmakers could or couldn’t do, he acknowledged that the worst outcome of the current environment of bans and censorship would be if creative people started self censorship. But he also expressed optimism that the current government would keep its promise of creating a system of film certification.
See excerpts of his conversation with Anuradha SenGupta at ASCI’s forum on ‘Creativity, For Goodness’ Sake!’ in the video.