Udta Punjab is currently eighth highest grossing Bollywood film of the year. But a month ago, the makers of the film were worried if it would ever release due to the censorship issues. BBC Asia’s Haroon Rashid speaks to Bollywood actors and writers about creative freedom and censorship in India.
The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) had asked the Udta Punjab filmmakers to make 94 cuts, including removal of explicit references to cities of Punjab and any shots of drugs being consumed, ironically in a film is about drug abuse. But Anurag Kashyup and other producers have decided to challenge the CBFC’s order in a Mumbai court, which eventually allowed the film’s release with just one cut – a shot of lead actor Shahid Kapoor’s character urinating on the crowd. He said that “I must confess that I was aware that it was not going to be easy to get the film out there. But I didn’t anticipate the amount of conflict we would have to go through”. At the same time he also added that “the controversy helped the film” because many Indians used social media outlets to show their support for creative freedom in India. It was also estimated that the film got leaked two days before it was set for release but we still had people going into the theatres, which is amazing.
Many universities were also gripped with this dispute, professors also reacted on this issue. Some business schools are now using Udta Punjab as an example of how a public row can help drive interest in a film and raise awareness about a social issue. But the major question which comes is will one film’s victory be enough to prevent heavy-handed censorship in the future?
Actress Alia Bhatt said more steps were needed to ensure complete creative freedom. She added that the “interpretation of the 1952 cinematography law” creates problems because “it’s a bit vague and can be interpreted in any way”. She also argued that there should be some amendments made in the law. So that in near future if any flim like that comes on the screen there should be freedom provided to them. Talking about ‘Erratic censorship’ many have concerns even about the single cut ordered by the Bombay high court. Aalia Bhatt, who is one of the most promising actresses in the latest generation of Bollywood stars, wants to see censorship disappear completely. Media captions Actress Alia Bhatt: “Censoring makes no sense”. “As an adult, you’re allowed to vote, you’re allowed to drink, you’re allowed to get married, then how can you not be allowed to view cuss words, or abusive words, or a kissing scene, or bloodshed or any of that on screen?” she asked. Javed Akhtar, co-writer of cult films like Sholay, said we shouldn’t view Udta Punjab “as a one off case, Censorship in India has always been quite erratic and quite irrational and ad hoc,” he said. Another mosty important thing is ‘Internet freedom’. Udta Punjab’s successful court battle has encouraged others to fight for their creative freedom. Actor and producer Anil Kapoor has bought the rights to adapt American TV sitcom Modern Family for India. Some consider it a risky move because a gay couple play a central part in the series and homosexuality is currently illegal in the country.
Anil Kapoor told the BBC that he was not going to compromise with the characters. He said “Things are changing. I’m under no pressure, I’m going to have the track as it is,”. The actor added that he had faith in India’s legal system. Image caption Anil Kapoor says public opinion has become very important. “Today, we have the biggest advantage of social media and the public opinion is the most important thing anywhere in the world. So I’m ready to fight if there’s anything like censorship”.