Of creative liberty and censorship

Some of the greatest Hindi films that depicted societal rage in some form or the other rarely showed the protagonist abusing

Published: 14th March 2021 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th March 2021 02:49 PM   |  A+A-

Image used for representational purpose only

Although the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting brought all OTT platforms and digital news websites under its ambit in November 2020, the content streamed on these platforms remained out of its regulatory purview. This would now change with the news of the ministry working on a specific legislation, which reportedly would follow a three-tier mechanism the first two being self-regulation on the part of the platform and the third rumoured to be an inter-departmental committee established by the ministry for hearing grievances.

Most content generators, expectedly, believe that the backlash that followed the political drama series Tandav where Amazon Prime Video made ‘voluntary’ cuts and apologised for “unintentionally hurting anybody’s sentiments” had already blurred the line between self-regulation and censorship. In the absence of any regulation governing the OTT industry, this move by the makers of Tandav joins the thwarting-freedom-of-expression-and-creative-liberty list.

While there is a good reason for producers and artists to complain, but just how much does creative brilliance to depict reality, or latent rage amongst the masses, genuinely depend on, for want of a better term, shock value?  To show real characters also means showing how they exist in reality. However, at times, this need transforms into something else as filmmakers argue that unless characters abuse or do something shocking, the narrative won’t seem organic.

Many years ago, Dr Rahi Masoom Reza was criticised for repeatedly resorting to cuss words in his seminal Aadha Gaon (Half a Village), set around India’s Partition. It is believed that Reza lost out on popular awards because of the abusive text, but the author felt that people swore on the streets, and he drew his characters from real life. 

Some of the greatest Hindi films that depicted societal rage in some form or the other such as Satyakam (1969), Namak Haram (1973), Garam Hava (1973), and Zanjeer (1973), rarely showed the protagonist abusing. It’s ironic that Salim-Javed’s Angry Young Man (AYM) character that set a new benchmark when showing onscreen rage never ‘let go’ completely. Zanjeer is considered a precursor to not only the AYM seen in 1980s’ films like Arjun, remade in Tamil as Sathyaa (1988) or Meri Jung (1985), which was also remade in both Telugu and Tamil, but also art-house films like Ardh Satya (1983).

Unlike today, some of the greatest romantic or erotic moments on the silver screen rarely showed skin Nargis and Raj Kapoor in Awaara (1951) or Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa (1985). Forget the past, the success of Scam 1992 on the OTT platform has spun the entire argument surrounding the two significant tenets of the freedom of expression debate on OTT shown that abusive language or showing skin on its head.  

Gautam Chintamani
Film historian and bestselling author



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