When I met him in Mumbai, Bollywood director Anurag Kashyap had a lot on his mind. His eyes were red-rimmed from lack of sleep and he looked worried. I can’t really blame the man—if it wasn’t bad enough that Udta Punjab, the film he co-produced, was faced with a threat of almost 90 cuts from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), courtesy its chairperson Pahlaj Nihalani, it was also leaked online. While there have been murmurs that it was the CBFC that leaked the film with hopes of affecting its running at theatres, the film’s `10 crore success endorses the belief in the film and declares loud and clear to the CBFC that its job was to ‘certify, not censor’.
The film, directed by Abhishek Chaubey, brought into focus the disturbing fact that drugs have infiltrated deep into Punjab’s veins. Such a film was required to rouse people into taking cognisance of how grave the issue is, one that has been compared with the terror that rocked the state in the 1980s.
While filmmakers like Kashyap and Chaubey have the ghostly scissors hacking away at their films in the name of not showing anyone ‘in bad light’, the piracy monster raises its ugly head, leaving an auteur like Kashyap more than a little disgruntled, given that it almost jeopardised the film’s earnings. No doubt, ‘Copy Left’ is a movement that has thrown a spanner in the works when it comes to protecting copyright. It is geared to topple capitalistic ventures rather than hinder the release of independent films, made by production houses and filmmakers who are willing to stick their necks out.
Piracy is plain robbery, especially when it leaks films and music videos, and even books (J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series was a case in point) before their release. The piracy bug is perhaps more surreptitious when it regularly invades our computer screens, tempting us to download these films—even if the quality is grainy and the audio unclear. While it may be a boon for those who do not want to spend money at a multiplex, leaking a film is unethical and the nemesis of every filmmaker.
Kashyap explained that it was not just about the money, but also about cinematic integrity. Given that a film like Udta Punjab is an atmospheric thriller, with a social message tucked into the folds, watching a downloading version is just a travesty.
The copyright law in India is extremely lax, and while it is one thing that several of our well-known filmmakers are ‘inspired’ by films in the West, it is quite another to leak a film online. According to the copyright law of 1957, “Except in relation to infringement of copyright, a work shall not be deemed to be published or performed in public, if published, or performed in public, without the license of the owner of the copyright.” Despite drafting a good law on paper, its enforcement is half- hearted. This gives the pirating of CDs and the downloading torrents a free playground.
With this attitude, the creative industry cannot grow and is tantamount to a hobbled horse, burned by the dual oppression of censorship and piracy.
As Chaubey puts it, filmmakers like him never know why the CBFC would censor an entire film (like Deepa Mehta’s Fire) or object to a part of it. “We don’t know where, how and when the certificate will be given to us or the idea that has gone behind its approval or rejection,” he said. Kashyap faced a series of censorship travails, from his 2003 film Paanch, which was based on Joshi-Abhyankar serial murders in 1997 and hence banned, to Black Friday, which faced a stay order from the Bombay High Court and remained slated-to-release until the trial in the 1993 Bombay blasts case got over.
One could go as far as to say that any film that has Gujarat, Kashmir or gay in it can be reassured of some kind of ban or cut. That does not speak for one of the world’s most populous democracies.
Archana Dalmia is Chairperson of Grievance Cell, All India Congress Committee