This morning there was a call from the Hauz Khas Police Station, from Station House Officer Kukreti, asking if there was a screening of the film planned for later in the day at a college in their jurisdiction. (There was one planned, as part of the ongoing film-club run within this undergraduate institution by the media students. And this was the second call: last evening Sub Inspector Rajiv Kumar from the same Police Station had called.)
Once again, like in Mumbai, the anxieties of the police were fuelled by a specific “tip-off”: they had received a two-page written complaint informing them that the film was being screened without a censor certificate, and invoked a past history of provocation– starting from a ‘noisy’ screening at the Habitat Center Film Club, and all the way up to the ‘dvd seizure’ by the Mumbai Police only three weeks ago. The complaint (by one Sunil Tikoo) was comprehensive, and included images of the Mumbai ‘seizure’ (probably downloaded from this very blog!) and helpfully accompanied by my cell phone number.
So instead of previewing the film with the students, I have an afternoon off to write this. And contemplate how you can disrupt screenings, then make those disruptions the grounds to create further disruptions. Must make sense to someone!
What I also still fail to understand is the sheer energy with which a group of people have been tracking the film around, filing written complaints about it, following the complaints up with the police, scanning the net for news of more “illegal” screenings… I mean what are they afraid of? If this film doesn’t meet the standards that people have set for documentary films, surely viewers will just dismiss it and move on? The largest screening we’ve done recently was at the Osian Cine-fan festival last month in New Delhi: from the evidence of the screening and the Q&A, people were moved – and disturbed – by the film. And the evidence from previews in 10 cities doesn’t seem to suggest that viewers – or indeed the press – have been driven into paroxysms of rage, or discontent, nothing.
So what’s up? Why try to come in the way of the film and it’s audience? Surely if the arguments that the film is making are incomplete, flawed, one-sided, whatever, surely people will be able to figure that out? Or is the argument about Kashmir in the Indian mind so fragile, so constructed, and so hollow, that even one film that refuses to buy into that brittle construct is seen as a mortal threat?
Many of us have spent years talking about State censorship and how we must fight it – here the state, in the form of the Mumbai and Delhi Police, seems to be doing no more than fulfilling the censorial impulses of a section of people. (Which is why I sometimes wonder: is this still the State apparatus, but working through the benign cover of a section of people? Not easy to figure out.)
I know the argument has been made that the film represents only ‘one-side’ of the argument. But if this alone were to be grounds for stopping films, I can think of a few that would qualify strongly. We’ve seen other ‘one-sided’ masala films on Kashmir failing to pull in even a weeks crowd into a cinema theatre (can’t remember the title, but could it be Barf?). There are other equally one-dimensional non-fiction compilations that have to be shoved down people’s throats – and still have no takers. So why not let Mother Nature take her course – let the strong arguments survive, and the fluff fly away. But let the audiences decide. Not the Police. And not the invocation of the Censor Board.
We welcome responses. (Abuse will have to trickle away elsewhere!)