Censorship and Public Access_100 Years of Documentary Films in India

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  Censorship and Public Access: 100 years of Documentary Films in IndiaMadhusree Dutta  There has been an easy equation in popular perception between public morality, state control and censorship. The prevalent argument follows a simple linear line that responding to the periodic outbursts of public morality the government as a populist measure steps in with censorship clauses to curb the freedom of expression of the progressive section of the population – writers, lmmakers, artists and so on. There is also this notion that censorship is the major, if not only, way of curbing freedom of expressions. This means, if censorship is abolished opinions andexpressions would oat easily and freely in the public domain. !hen it comes to documentary lm it gets even more erroneous with the thinking that documentariesdo not reach the people because it is censored by the state fearing its political potential. ut the actual story is far more complex where censorship is just a generic name formyriad ways of controlling the information and entertainment sector# morality and political opinion play only a small part in that. $ll control on lm exhibition is not related to the censorship laws. $s % write this text a message ash in my inbox – a festival of documentaries on &ashmir is vandali'ed in (yderabad by some goons wearing T shirts inscribed I am a Kashmiri Pundit  . )n *eptember +, the group had stormed into the rasad -ab preview theatre, broke the equipments and assaulted the lmmakers present there. The scheduled lms were an assorted lot – some of the lms are produced by ovt. agencies such as /012, * T31oordarshan, 0ilms 1ivision# some have received awards and acclaims in prestigious lm festivals# out of the 4+ lms 45 are made by &ashmiri lmmakers, both undit and 6uslim. The vandals did not even enquire whether the lms are certied by the board of lm certication or not. %t was they who did not want these lms to be exhibited and that was good enough reason for them to disrupt the screening. 6ost likely, it will be ushed in international media in coming days as Films on Kashmir is   Banned in India . 6y discomfort stems from this   –   the blanket use of the terms ban and censorship. The   2entral oard of 0ilm 2ertication only certies a lm as t for public, read commercial – ticketed, exhibition. ut it cannot ever dictate term on thecontent of any lms that is not intended to be exhibited commercially. ut as this case of lms on &ashmir shows, even a non3commercial exhibition of lms in possession of censor certicate can still be stopped by unauthori'ed people. This is a law and order issue where a group of people attack others7 fundamental rights and not a constitutional issue as the term 8ban7 suggests. The state is responsible tothe extent that it failed to protect the basic rights of its citi'ens, the lmmakers in this case. 9et the state has not banned these lms. %n my opinion, this is not a simple case of nomenclature and has deep political consequence.6ost documentaries never make it to the commercial exhibition circuit. )neobvious reason is that the compulsory exhibition of state produced news reels and  propaganda documentaries in theatres before each feature lms since 4:5;s tillearly 4::;s have killed the audience7s appetite for this genre.1ocumentaries in %ndia have forever become a form of blatant and non3entertainingpropaganda in the mind of cine goers. (ence the cine exhibitors shun documentaries like plague. ut a more important reason is the business structure of lm exhibitions. 6ost of the inuential exhibition houses have investment stake in lm production and their main interest is in getting the return from the star studded  expensive lms. $dditionally, despite the phenomenal popularity of cinema %ndia records one of the lowest ratios of screen to population 3 4< screens per one millionpeople as against <; screens in =& and 44> screens in the =* i . This makes the booking of the screen highly competitive and renders the exhibitors most powerful in the eld. 0or the interest of the small circle of exhibitors the exhibition outlets have been stopped from expanding. )bviously, sharing the precious screen time with documentary lms is far from these exhibitors7 business scheme and in this context it becomes completely irrelevant whether the documentary has been certied by the censor board or whether it is capable of attracting ticket purchasingaudience. ut it was not always like that. %n the silent era and till the beginning of !!%% all major lm studios in ombay also produced documentary lms and screened them commercially. ii 1920 e!sreels of al#an#adhar $ila%&s funeral procession from Cra!ford Mar%et to Cho!patty in ombay !ere shot by 'ohinoor (tudio)(uchet (in#h&s *riental Film Manufacturin# Co+ and (  Patan%ar+1921 $he ,isit of Prince of -ales to ombay !as .lmed by some Indian studios !ho edited out the hu#e public protest led by the nationalist leaders+ ut an American cameraman shot /andhi) (aroini aidu) Maulana(hau%at Ali and others leadin# a lar#e number of protesters at Cho!patty and burnin# forei#n clothes at ambau# maidan near lphinston Mill+ $he feature3len#th documentary) Great    Bonfre o Foreign Clothes ran at -est nd and /lobe $heatre for t!o !ee%s+1940 /andhi&s Dandi March !as shot by leadin# studios 3 (harda Films) anit Mo,ietone and 'rishna Films+ $he police commissioner banned the .lms !ithout e,en referrin# them to the Censor oard+ $he entire .lm industry) supported by many theatre o!ners across the country) shut do!nfor t!o days in protest+1945 -adia Mo,ietone) more %no!n for it e6tremely successful female stunt .lms) launched ne!sreel ma#a7ine 3 the Indian Screen Gazette + P 8 Pathy .lmed the aripura Con#ress for the /a7ette) but durin# the uit India mo,ement in 19;2 the ritish #o,ernment sei7ed and destroyed all .lms in the possession of the Indian ational Con#ress+19;; At 8ictoria Doc% in ombay an anchored ritish3American car#o ship carryin# cotton bales) ammunition and #old bars cau#ht .re and e6ploded) destroyin# 2< ships) %illin# around 500 people and rainin# #old in the surroundin# households+ Military o=cers con.scated the foota#e shot by independent cameraman (udhish /hata% >brother of le#endary !iti% /hata%? and the o=cial co,era#e by the state o!ned Indian e!s Parade !as !idely distributed instead+19;@: In the !ee%s follo!in# 1 Au#ust 19;<) three documentaries on the Independence Day !ere made from assorted foota#e shot by pri,ate initiati,es and released in theatres in Delhi) ombay) Madras and Calcutta+19;5: Independent /o,t+ of India founded Films Di,ision >FD? to produce ne!sreels and documentaries on the a#enda of nation ma%in#+ It !as  made compulsory for the e6hibitors to screen FD .lms at the be#innin# of e,ery sho!+ (ence it can be said that till the time of independence the relationship between lm producers, documentary lmmakers and exhibitors were not so antagonistic.  Though the ritish ovt. often exed its muscles against the political content of some lms the exhibition end of the business was not as guarded against documentaries as it is now.
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