THE STATE AND CINEMA
During the first week of July as the people of USA marked their day of independence and freedom from colonial rule, a venerated old gentleman of cinema across the Atlantic died. He had moved out of his own country because his State did not permit him the freedom of expression and speech.
That gentleman, Abbas Kariostami, hailed from Iran and had placed his country on the map of international cinema with a set of films espousing the cause of individual freedom. This was forbidden activity in his homeland and Karlostami had to move out to Paris(France) to have the freedom to make films the way he desired.
Despite the fact we Indians tom-tom the idea of freedom of expression, journalists and documentary film makers find their personal liberty and rights stifled by the Indian State which balks from its constitutional declarations. Stringent laws are dusted out from the Imperial days and clamped down to stop the spread of inconvenient information. Sadly enough, the feature film makers also get a taste of the Censor’s wrath though not for any expression of individual rights but for excessive show of sex, violence and bad language, totally unfit for human consumption.
India is therefore not a natural choice for asylum by those who want to live breathe the fresh air of freedom. India is untested territory for seekers of freedom by men of cinema and Abbas Kariostami would not have survived here. One can ask Anand Patwardhan about his views on the air of freedom in India. He is a star maker of feature documentaries about the causes he espouses but always finds himself in assured trouble over his latest production.
The late Khwaja Ahmad Abbas also had to plead his case before the highest court in the land to assert his right for freedom to exhibit his unbiased documentary films denied clearance by the State.
Despite the State’s effort to veer from its existing position towards more freedom of expression. The laws of film censorship have not provided assurance of a better futurefor the film makers and scribes.
The enlarged draft of the Cinematograph Act of 2013 and the latest shenanigans attached to the Shyam Benegal Committee to review the functioning of the Board of Film Certifications show that the State has not been able to come to grips with the need of the national film industry to fare better.
The entertainment industry in India is arguably the only industry to have grown without state assistance from the very beginning. If anything at all has been done, the ‘traders’ in this industry find themselves out of favour with the State more often than not. They have had to seek outside support. The State has continued to use the industry for its own vested interest in moulding the psyche of the viewing masses.
Sergei Eisenstein and Charles Chaplin shared the dubious distinction of being damned and banned in India during the first half of the 20th century of the Imperial era during which they were considered a threat to the Indian State. Even free India did not allow freedom fighters to use cinema to present their case before India’s intelligentsia and were kept out at sea. For an alien to be accepted from the world of cinema and feel free, one has to be a Pakistani or an Afghani to stand the test. Salma Agha and Adnam Sami found success using the law of Indian inheritance to their benefit. We are happy for them that have returned to the land of their ancestors.
Half a century ago, the American press ran a clever promotion: ‘Time is for those to can read and Life is for those who can see’. That partly explained the power of both print and pictures. Life magazine sold more copies during the period of the Second World War as its staff covered the war front eloquently with daring pictures. Time took over the minds of its readers when it was necessary to explain at length what the War was actually being fought for. A whole world was struck dumb when a holocaust was perpetuated in Europe.
The State fears cinema for its instant impact. It takes time for words of free expression to move from the printer to the hands of the reader. Cinema is comprehensible even to the illiterate. All States with devious intentions of dictatorship rule either under the cover of democracy or just plain truth by usurping the authority to control the media – first the cinema, and the press with its hacks there after. An alternate litmus test exists in the public domain, for finding out how that particular State governs the land in context of its people and their right to information via its cinema, provided there is a strong film industry in the region.
There is a sad irony in the turn of events. It was an Indian, in India, who created the Iranian film industry. Ardeshir Irani made the first eleven films in the Persian language while he lived in India but created an ethnic audience in Iran to enjoy their own language cinema. He was a genius, knowledgeable in Hindi, Urdu, Persian, English, German, Gujarati, Marathi and Sinhalese. The fact that that he was the father of Iranian Cinema is least asserted in Iran and India.
Iranian film makers should have found India as a convenient country to move their base and continue to ply their trade. The fact is that we do not yet welcome films from Iran into our theatres despite the fact that many films made in Iran or by Iranians elsewhere are high quality entertainment, even if not on an epic scale.
Presently there is no strong contact in both trade and culture between the two nations. We humour Iran for its petroleum and not because our Hindustani culture has roots from the area called Faras, Persia or Iran. The people of present day Iran gave our subcontinent its first identity 4000 years ago and call its people Hindus. They had in mind the Hindukush mountains and the river Sindhu. Even if we Indians dislike that association, the Indian State is helpless. 80% of Indians are dark skinned and knavery is in our DNA.
*Contributed by a veteran National awardee on Cinema, and film jurist