Lights, Camera, Conversation… “Innocent until proved guilty?”

It’s easy to blame cinema as the reason we behave this way and that, but doesn’t some of the responsibility lie with us?

A few days ago, in panel discussion about the objectification of women, I found myself in the somewhat unenviable position of having to defend our cinema against charges like… well, you all know what the charges are. One of the panellists trotted out the point that item numbers are used to objectify women, and worse, they are a spangle-studded gun held against the heads of aspiring starlets, with the warning that if they don’t do these numbers then the trigger will be pulled on their career. And I said that while the objectification part may be true, most item numbers these days feature top-rung heroines who already have the careers most people can only dream of. And if they’re doing these numbers, it’s for money (acting is a profession, after all), extra visibility between releases, and perhaps even as an expression of their sexuality. These girls work hard on their bodies, and they starve themselves to size-zero figures – and who’s to deny them the opportunity to flaunt the, um, fruits of their penances?

Everything needs to be looked at in context – whether an item number or something worse, like the depiction of rape. There’s a difference between the gang rape in Bandit Queen and the rape of Shilpa Shirodkar’s character in Bhrashtachar. The former drives home the nature of the crimes that turned a fairly unremarkable woman into a dreaded dacoit, and the point isn’t carnality so much as brutality. The landscape is harsh and ugly, and the lighting is merciless, and Shekhar Kapur, the director, makes us feel many emotions here – rage, helplessness, awkwardness (which may cause some of us to look away from the screen) – but we are never turned on. We are never asked to leer at the act, which is what (shockingly) Ramesh Sippy seemed to be doing in the latter film, with its lush lighting and snaking camerawork, which seemed to be performing its own act of rape. There was a sickening element of voyeurism here. You may argue that here too we are being asked to witness the helplessness of a woman, but it doesn’t feel right. It feels gratuitous.

Then there’s the contention that the songs in our films are all about the hero forcing the reluctant heroine into his arms, and the two offenders routinely cited are the Jumma chumma number from Hum (which a sociologist called a “gang rape”), and Koi haseena jab rooth jaati hai from Sholay. In the former, Amitabh Bachchan and a horde of lusty drunks beseech Kimi Katkar for a kiss, and in the latter, Dharmendra badgers an irate Hema Malini until her anger evaporates. There are countless other songs that cross the border into the troublesome territory of eve teasing, but these numbers – again – must be seen in context. In Jumma chumma, Kimi Katkar is a willing participant in the revelry. She even asks what she’ll get in return for her kiss. Now where all this falls on the taste barometer is a different issue, and the song is a cacophonous assault on the ears – but the content has to do with mutual teasing between lovers, nothing less, nothing more.

Do sexually provocative films encourage unacceptable behaviour on the streets? I don’t have an answer, other than to wonder if the geysers of blood in a Quentin Tarantino movie inspire copycat criminal acts. (The director lost his cool recently when asked, by Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy, about the violent content he unabashedly purveys. His subsequent rant is as entertaining a monologue as you’ll find in his films.) And why is it that everyone is happy to blame cinema but not the people who are influenced in disturbing ways? I refer to the mothers on television, who allow their little girls to participate in dance-themed reality shows, executing dance numbers like Jumma chumma. It’s horrible seeing prepubescent girls baring their midriffs and thrusting their barely bloomed bodies into cameras, beyond which the mothers stand applauding. Forget the objectification of women, this is the objectification of children. One can only hope that these parents are a minority.

The objectification of women, the viewing of women as “sex objects,” has been a part of society long before cinema came into existence. This is not to defend crude content – far from it! – but simply to make the case that the ways in which we behave are a result of a complex set of variables, of which the movies we watch and the music we hear and the books we read are just a few. So many millions watch movies, and yet, we are stumped by the actions of a few. If films opt for a blanket ban on sex scenes, what’s to stop people from seeking pornographic content available so freely on the web? Can we not trust audiences to make the distinction between aggressive flirtation and outright harassment? How does something on screen insinuate itself in a viewer’s mind at a behavioural level? In other words, what we need to determine the effects of cinema on society aren’t speculations but studies.

Lights, Camera, Conversation… is a weekly dose of cud-chewing over what Satyajit Ray called Our Films Their Films. An edited version of this piece can be found here.

Copyright ©2013 The Hindu. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety without permission. A link to this URL, instead, would be appreciated.

79 thoughts on “Lights, Camera, Conversation… “Innocent until proved guilty?”

  1. I agree..It is so disturbing to see how fundamentalist we are becoming and things are taken out of its context and viewed under intense theoritical scruntinies.Yes, item songs objectify the woman,but it is clear that there is no exploitation here.Everyone in the game is aware of what they are doing and in the sanitised atmosphere we live in, a little show of skin(depending on your perspective!) is a healthy outlet for both the women and men folk!
    Often Padams and ashtapadis are said to be irrelevant in the modern context.The point is that they show a certain frame of reference, a certain period and damn who says the piningfor a lover is a relic of the past!!
    we have lost our sense of fun..and truly when I see mothers of my students training their kids to gyrate to chameli and the likes, thatmakeds my blood curdle.
    If that issnt crass pornography, what is?
    and let me watch my fevicol in peace!

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  2. loved that clip with tarantino…wish some of our directors and artists would take a similar stance and when they are interrogated like they are in court by the media, would throw their hands up and say ” I am going to shut your butt down”!!

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  3. Rangan,

    It’s surprising that you haven’t considered the effect on people in their “impressionable” period. While it’s very tough to define what it is, I am sure all of us go through it and it needs to be acknowledged. It requires a certain age to form an informed opinion on why certain things are definitely inappropriate. So, can cinema influence the thinking on these issues till then? Maybe it can. How do we address it? I don’t know. I think that’s the only(grey) area that needs discussion here. Rest all is irrelevant as you rightly put – leave it to one’s own judgement.

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  4. There’s a voyeur in all of us, a part that wants to be exploited. Exploitation films feed it while violent films feed the aggressor in all of us. And since civilization has reached a point where we’re unable to find outlets for these untended parts in us, we’re likely to implode.

    Disturbing acts that occur on the street must’ve probably occurred from leaving the animal within unfed, from some kind of repression or/and lack of empathy, which often stems from either feeling oppressed by Society or a hatred towards humanity.

    I think Cinema does the opposite, it feeds the animal within and keeps us stable. It doesn’t fuel it. I think Capitalism and corruption are more responsible for such acts than Cinema.

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  5. You nailed it on the head BR!

    I’ve often been irritated by these so-called kid reality shows. I don’t have a problem with parents making their kids chase their dreams but I do have a problem with them wearing outfits clearly not of their age. That alone wouldn’t be the problem if these same parents then didn’t get offended at a heroine doing the same in films. That is hypocrisy.

    My father was recently telling me that cinema and advertisements (Think those Deo ads) are also to blame for the increase in rapes. I told him that we all see the same thing, why don’t we commit these heinous acts. Of course, we didn’t debate on that topic any further. But that is the same argument I use always. When people blame violent video games for those US shootings, I wonder why the entire population is not doing similar things.

    People will blame everything besides their own society. In the US, for instance, I read a wonderful article which pointed to the increasing narcissism as the primary reason for increasing gun violence. You can point to something similar in India. There was a recent discussion on NDTV regarding the Justice Verma Commission reports and quite a number of women were telling that everywhere they went, be it police, lawyers or other public servants, they were considered to be inferior. This sense that men are superior has always been in our society to a large extent.

    There was another brilliant article I read last month in The Hindu where the writer, a lady, argued that 50 years ago men probably knew that women were their inferior, but in today’s independent society where we see women in all walks of life, some of them find it hard to accept that women are becoming so independent. That is what drives them to commit such acts of brutality as the Delhi case.

    Anyways, I’ve digressed way off-topic here. But I agree that the last thing we should be blaming is cinema or any other form of art or entertainment.

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  6. Heard it’s Ka(dull)!! I will be seeing the film this weekend…and so will post my thoughts.

    Hopefully my gag order on Viswaroopam will be released soon as well!! :-)

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  7. oneWithTheH: I guess, like Balaji says, a lot of us see a lot of films at “impressionable” ages, but how many of us turn out to be sociopaths? The things people pick up on are things like style and lingo, but murder and rape and stuff? But I agree that this is a grey area, and till we have more studies that link cinema with such behaviour (and not just in the “I want to impress Jodie Foster and so I’ll shoot a President” type of fashion), we won’t really know. I’ve said as much at the end.

    Shankar/Kiruba: Not seen yet. Had to watch “Midnight’s Children” today for review. Hopefully some time this weekend. But someone randomly sighed that it’s yet another “Neethane En Ponvasantham” — and though I didn’t ask in what sense exactly, it instantly sounded promising :-)

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  8. When I am completely against censoring stuff like eve-teasing in the name of political correctness, I have to say that there is no doubt that people do get influenced by certain stuff on movies.

    This is especially true of “eve-teasing” songs. A porukki does not need movies to teach him porukkithanam you say but I beg to differ. “Nee pathuttu ponalum pakama ponalum pathukuttu thaan iruppean” is the kind of song which makes a sort of impression with these guys. They make it a point to sing the song to every woman they can manage. They also think that they are in the hero’s shoes.

    And the movies/songs that treat stalking as equivalent to wooing also add fuel to fire. It doesn’t matter whether the woman who is stalked in “The way you make me feel” liked MJ or not. It only matters to us that being stalked is a huge nightmare. It doesn’t matter whether Kimi Katkar enjoyed it or not. The scenario is the stuff that nightmares are made of. That is one song that was surely not conceived by a woman.

    Though the “impressionable” part is not age specific at all. It is entirely dependent on personality. And movies or no movies, objectification of women always existed and never will go away. And totally agree on “opportunity to flaunt the fruits of their penances” having a tiny waist is basically a total waste if not smugly flaunted.

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  9. Rangan, the problem I have is that the stuff does make an impression – when you watch films where the hero continues to eve-tease-under-the-guise-of-wooing the heroine, and she gives in finally, that is the sort of scenario that leads to the horrible ‘Your lips say ‘no’ but your eyes say ‘yes’. Do all men who watch these scenes react that way? No. But enough of them do to make it an issue.

    I would also argue that item songs do objectify women. But since the women involved are consenting adults and have no objection to being objectified, I do not see why anyone else should have an issue with it. I will agree with you about Jumma chumma de de because in context, it is a battle of the sexes than eve teasing.

    And I do have a problem with watching little children dressed in clothes and makeup far too old for their age, doing all the jhatak mataks with fond parents looking on. To me, that is obscene, though folks here would say that the obscenity is all in my gaze, I do not think I’m a hypocrite that I’m willing to watch an item song in a film but cannot watch the reality shows that feature children – the former have adults who presumably know what they are doing. The latter has children who are being exploited in the name of ratings, and the very people who are supposed to protect them from being exploited are the ones who are pushing them onto five minutes of fame.

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  10. Refusing to effectively characterize female characters and refraining from providing any sort of depth to their personalities, thereby, making them little more than accessories to the male leads is the subtlest form of objectification. Tamil Cinema swears by it.

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  11. 1. Any movie that shows rape scene also shows its consequences. Either the rapists get killed or get imprisoned. So, the message of the movie ‘to be good’ gets registered in viewer’s subconscious mind. It asks viewer not to be a rapist.

    2. In most movies, when a girl keeps on saying no to a guy but finally agrees that’s because the guy has really impressed upon the girl, he has shown his soft side, he has showered genuine praise on girl. So these cases shouldn’t amount to harassment.

    3. If objectifying women is the cause of rapes then why do 5 year olds get raped. It’s because the criminals think they can get away with it. What we need is stricter laws and tighter patrolling.

    Street rape is nothing but a criminal act much like murder or dacoity. If we’re to censor movies further, for any objectification or rape, we would also need to censor other criminal acts. But wait a minute, what would be left in a movie then? Only positivity? But again, what is positive, if there is no negative?

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  12. My thoughts about cinema influencing behaviour are not anything concrete, but well, this is akin to saying most of us who smoke don’t get cancer, isn’t it? – the same argument that the smoking lobby still clings dearly to. And I think this is illogical. when an outcome is of multifactorial origin (as every damn outcome in real life is), can any possible factor be talked about in absolute terms or at an individual level?

    Again, talking of smoking, there are some studies linking smoking in films and initiation. However, I doubt it will be possible to study the effects of cinema on human behaviour in any real sense and produce the ‘evidence’ for action, that you guys seem to demand.:-) Oh,you may prove sociopaths blink significantly less or their accumbent nucleus glows brightly on PET while watching rape, but that’s how far you’ll get. All you’re left with thence is epidemiology and I do believe all statistics are lies.

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  13. Agree wholly with Rahini David above. Every woman growing up in India would have had roadside creeps singing various such songs at her, as she walked past. It may never go beyond leering and crude comments, but it’s still part of the reason the streets felt/feel unsafe. I’d wager that every woman who reads your blog will feel this way too.

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  14. The temper tantrum is so comical…it’s beyond belief. We might have just stumbled upon McEnroe’s less likeable twin… :)

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  15. Rahini David / Anu Warrier / M: I was talking about these specific songs and how I view them. Obviously, others (especially women) are going to see them a different way, and I do agree that there are a lot of songs that openly eve-tease (and a few that also adam-tease), where the victim is being harassed. I referred to these two songs specifically because they kept coming up in essays around the rape.

    Kiruba: There are no conclusions in this article. A few questions maybe.

    ramitbajaj01: “Had to” in the sense that I review English films for the paper and that becomes a priority, as the reviews are due Saturday.

    omfgitsrohit” “Refusing to effectively characterize female characters and refraining from providing any sort of depth to their personalities, thereby, making them little more than accessories to the male leads is the subtlest form of objectification.” Excellent point.

    rameshram: And the tasteless comments don’t stop. Every time I think maybe I was too harsh in stopping your participation on this blog, you remind me why I was right. Thank you.

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  16. Wow.. Quite a serious topic. There are some issues that you highlight namely kid shows, depiction of rape, objectifying women etc. Is’nt it ironic that all these issues stem from cinema ? I certainly don’t say that cinema is the only reason but I cant’t bring myself to believe it to be completely innocent either.
    As you rightly pointed out, the director’s aesthetics and taste make all the difference. For eg: In Ayan(not that I would classify it to be a great movie), we see the villain slipping some ketamine(a date rape drug) into a girls glass. Now here we see a director who has cleverly avoided showing rape on scene and on the other hand introduced masses to a date rape drug.
    Now to rape, the term has been generalized to such an extent that it bothers me. A rape is a violation of a woman’s private space and as such is an abominable act. However between date rapes and violent gang rapes in Delhi, I see a world of difference in the way the crime goes. While yes, I could accept under duress that date rapes are a cascading effect of objectifying women in cinema, by no means could I concede to similar arguments for the latter , more violent crimes. Cinemas does not create a sick mind; A sick mind however is influenced by cinema more than it should be.
    We are all influenced by cinema, from our dressing styles to the way we say ” Yedha Yedha laan panniton, idha panna matton ma!!!” almost matching the tone and lingo to perfection. We like to ape our heroes, be like them , dress like them , dance like them, sing like them so on and so forth. For a healthy mind, however there is a distinct line between fantasy and reality.
    In a way Cinemas is an extension of ourselves, cinemas changes as society changes and like it or not- We represent Cinema as much as Cinema represent us!!

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  17. If you’re against films that “introduce the date rape drug to the masses,” then you must also be against news reports on the same? Plus, the date rape drug isn’t readily available at every other store.

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  18. However strict the punishment for rape is, it won’t make a difference. Rape is committed in the moment of feeling a sense of power and a need to violate a weaker being. The thought of getting caught, or even the victim filing a complaint, won’t even occur. A rapist must either be absolutely detached from his fellow being, or have a lot of pent up aggression, while lacking in empathy. The source of aggression/ oppression/ repression is what needs to be examined to prevent normal beings from becoming rapists. But if you need to prevent rape altogether, the weaker being needs to be empowered. Guns, I guess.

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  19. Can we agree that there is something called “rape culture”? And that each and every one of us, even me and you, participate in it? No, we aren’t going out there and raping or murdering, but we are definitely contributing to a culture that allows–even encourages–these things to happen. And media–yes, cinema!–plays a huge HUGE part in this, considering the sheer number of people who watch it and are influenced by it. Tamil cinema–and I talk about Tamil here because that’s what I watch the most–have extremely pretty, buxom ciphers in place of female characters, to cater to the male gaze.

    “In Jumma chumma, Kimi Katkar is a willing participant in the revelry. She even asks what she’ll get in return for her kiss.”

    That sounds uncomfortably like, “well she was asking for it; she WANTED it”. No. I don’t care if it’s a mutual thing between lovers–public revelry with a whole bunch of guys harrassing a woman sexually is still wrong.

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  20. rajeevsid: “Cinemas does not create a sick mind; A sick mind however is influenced by cinema more than it should be.”. Way to go man. Couldn’t have put it better myself.

    But Ayan doesn’t belong to the “look there is a date drug around, beware” category. In my opinion it falls squarely into the “Look at this girl. So young. So darn cute. The guy gives a drug and she is all compliant. Well the villain is doing it, not the hero. Enna yaarum thappu solla mudiyaathu. ha. ha” category. Of course it can be seen as the “Anga ellam pogatheenga ponnungala” tutorial.

    brangan: I am also talking of specific songs and how we view them.

    “Jumma Chumma” is “Look boys there is a toy for all of us to play with”.
    “Koi haseena jab” is “ponnunga appadi thaan machaan pudikaatha maadhiri bigupannuvaalunga. tighta kattipudi da. Madangiduva”

    I have no objection to “April Mayilea” from Idhayam or “take is easy oorvasi”. They are eve-teasing songs too but of the variety that we don’t feel horror and see it as good fun.

    Also I’m not at all suggesting that horrific rapes are caused by “Chinna mull kaadhali allo Periya mull kadhalan allo” Only that road side leering is caused by these songs.

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  21. Rangan, I agree with you about the two specific songs you mentioned. I was talking about the ‘item song’ in general, though.

    2. In most movies, when a girl keeps on saying no to a guy but finally agrees that’s because the guy has really impressed upon the girl, he has shown his soft side, he has showered genuine praise on girl. So these cases shouldn’t amount to harassment.

    And so the lesson is, if you keep on stalking a girl and showing her your ‘soft side’ (which is what, exactly?) she will melt into your arms? If I have said ‘No’ to a man’s ‘persuasion’, then I’m really sorry, but I do NOT want him to continue to come after me to show me any side! It is harassment, whether you think it is, or not.

    But thank you for proving my point. It is no wonder that boys/men think that girls/women are only playing games when they say ‘No’ and that they only have to show them their ‘soft’ side to persuade them to return their affection/love/lust/whatever.

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  22. I was just telling somebody the other day that depicting item songs as exploitative, as even some of our filmmakers have done, only reinforces the idea that we, should, as a society further repress our collective idea of sexuality. The heroines in these songs, have worked hard on their bodies. And I believe, that if you have worked hard on something and have the results to show for it, exhibitionism, to some extent, comes naturally to you. I think it stems from confidence in having done a job well.
    And freedom of expression needs to be protected in a democratic country.
    I am not for censoring item songs, but better classification as U/A or A. And better enforcement of the law in movie theatres, which again hardly happens in India. Also parents have a big role to play in this. At the ‘impressionable’ age, it is ultimately, the family and school or college environment that dictates what sort of values you grow up with.
    Shirking that responsibility and blaming filmmakers or literature or music or ‘Western’ culture
    for the twisted values you inculcate in your children is called ‘passing the buck’. To put it mildly.

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  23. I don;t get a lot of the commenters on this page.

    A few songs, a rape scene, eve/adam-teasing and it leads to “makes an impression on them”, leads to crime, gives them fuel. What rot.

    Comments like :

    “This is especially true of “eve-teasing” songs. A porukki does not need movies to teach him porukkithanam you say but I beg to differ. “Nee pathuttu ponalum pakama ponalum pathukuttu thaan iruppean” is the kind of song which makes a sort of impression with these guys.” . So its the fault of the song ? Really ?

    “Refusing to effectively characterize female characters and refraining from providing any sort of depth to their personalities, thereby, making them little more than accessories to the male leads is the subtlest form of objectification.” –

    Tamil cinema swears by this because Tamil Nadu swears by it. For an alternate view look further north to multiplex cinema or to English Cinema.

    This whole idea that cinema some how accentuates the fault lines in society is wrong. It only reflects what is already present. Art of any form doesn’t have any moral or ethical duty to “reform” society.

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  24. BR: “It’s horrible seeing prepubescent girls baring their midriffs and thrusting their barely bloomed bodies into cameras, beyond which the mothers stand applauding.” –

    Most of these mothers are failed “artistes”. Ask them and they say : “We are only channeling our daughters burning desire to perform”. Bull Fucking Shit. Its the mothers overweight, over powdered ass that wants to have its 15 minutes of fame. I hate those people.

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  25. Precisely.

    The sole argument you keep hearing in favor of Vishwaroopam is that the artist is not responsible for how his work of art affects the sentiments of a minority. We don’t want the film to be cut in any format because we know that that would be pandering to this minority. We are pissed off when we know that VR is getting cut by 7 scenes. It irritates us.

    I think the same argument is applicable for people asking filmmakers to be more responsible about what they put on screen. Can people be influenced by art? Yes. Is a sick and twisted mind more susceptible to influence than others? Yes. Can any form of art be responsible for one person’s acts? Absolutely Not.

    When you clean your society of these despicable people, then come and tell me that filmmakers have to be more responsible. Until then, it is the society who should be more responsible when it comes to building people. If kids are in their impressionable age, then it is the responsibility of parents to tell them what is and isn’t applicable in society. That is what our parents did to us and that is what we will do to our children. (And how come these arguments are always talked about only when discussing some of the negatives shown in cinema. What about the countless filmmakers who show us the positive side of it.)

    I will never buy these arguments that any form of art can be blamed even for an instant.

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  26. venkatesh: I am not saying that the poruki is not at fault. But they do feel that cinema and hence society validates them and views them kindly for these acts. Chumma timepass. The release of these songs increase the persuasiveness and aggression of porukis.

    I am not telling that this the reason 6 men decide to gang rape. i am saying that this is why they think their horrible vulgar songs are being enjoyed secretly by the girls.

    When a girl says “I feel threatened”. She does not mean rape alone. Being a eveteasing/ groping victim is not a piece of cake and is not totally dismissable

    ramitbajaj01: “Any movie that shows rape scene also shows its consequences”. Rangan’s “with its lush lighting and snaking camerawork, which seemed to be performing its own act of rape” sums it awesomely. consequences of violence or rape or torture be damned. It is meant for voyeuristic pleasure for sure.

    and “guy has really impressed upon the girl” This girl puts it better than I can. Please do read. She wrote it before the delhi rape happened. So this is something we strongly believe in, Rape or no rape.

    http://www.chutneycase.com/2012/10/oh-those-jerks-they-call-heroes_13.html

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  27. Thank you for a good read. I agree with the examples you use to make your case on the subject of rape. However, on the issue of song picturization, the problem might well be the ‘response’ of the woman. The vamp role was also commodification; yet the protests seem to be louder with the vamp-isation of the heroine. The participation of the woman is in essence a liberated sexuality that we shouldn’t have a problem with. Yet, it is this very response that is the cause of worry. Worry, that this is interpreted as female acceptance/ tolerance/acquiescence of bad behaviour and also that young minds mimic these actions and expect the same response from the women they harass on the street. But yes, any corrective attempt will amount to censorship and is not an answer at all and a solution can only be achieved by the evolution of the medium to a more aesthetic portrayal of the courting ritual.

    I wrote recently on this subject (the evolution of female sexuality on screen and the hypocrisies concealed in the nuanced distinctions of liberation and commodification). The article is titled: “The cricket of our entertainment: Bollywood”. For anyone who might be interested in reading; here is the link: http://wp.me/p1iyBC-c1

    Would be delighted to hear your thoughts/ comments too. Thanks again for a good read.

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  28. Film doesn’t have a moral or ethical duty to reform society but you have a social responsibility as a film-maker. Tamilians are like a flock of sheep. They’ll follow the herd blindly just to feel a sense of social belongingness. This is where the role of a critic comes into play. A critic must expose the motives of a film-maker and then shoot him down if he’s dishonest. But sadly, critique is not of much value considering that the majority of the audience don’t read reviews. And most critics want to co-exist with film-makers. That’s what lets film-makers get away with the shit they get away with.

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  29. Our cinema objectifies women because what you see onscreen reflects the stupid fantasies of some of the stupid men who make these movies. And for some reason i feel the complete lack of “permissiveness” in the society and hence our cinema caters to this. But I have no clue why people dole out such sententious imprecations only over *this* aspect of films when most of the ideas(if at all) expressed in our cinema is generally fucked up.

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  30. This is such a weird article. I’ve always thought the entire thing is quite simple, to be honest.

    There is a birth lottery. The world isn’t fair. Some of us are born with magnificent brains capable of immense reasoning and grasping complex concepts. Some of us are not. Some of us are born in societies that encourage rational thought and socially responsible behavior. Others are born in societies that push through dogma under the guise of justifiable behavior.

    Ultimately, cinemas make an impression on impressionable people. We’re all influenced by art (including cinema) – entire aesthetic ideals, historical notions and so on are shaped by what we peruse on screen and on the page.

    Which isn’t to say that cinema HAS a responsibility – social responsibility doesn’t exactly entail blanket governmental bans; on the other hand, it does involve a significant amount of self-regulation and control.

    Violent movies are enjoyable and even beautiful because we’re genetically inclined to embrace violence (at a VERY basic level) – blood hormone levels fluctuate (specifically in males, where there’s a surge in testosterone production) and therefore, we enjoy it. Which isn’t to say human beings embrace violence… just that blood sports are so popular because of it.

    As a society we’ve simply decided that enjoying glorious shows of violence (not all violent scenes are gratuitous) are worth the occasional gun-toting maniac. Period. We’ve conducted a cost-benefit analysis and say that the cost of a few human lives lost because of some impressionable moron (rare as that is) being influence by cinema is worth the benefit of enjoying cinema.

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  31. Maitreyi: Tamil cinema–and I talk about Tamil here because that’s what I watch the most–have extremely pretty, buxom ciphers in place of female characters, to cater to the male gaze.

    And what precisely is wrong with it. I want to gaze at buxom ciphers in place of female characters and i pay with my hard-earned money to do that, You don;t like it you say – well good for you , don’t watch it.

    “No. I don’t care if it’s a mutual thing between lovers–public revelry with a whole bunch of guys harrassing a woman sexually is still wrong.” Oh really, how cute. Here is my take on it : I see a fit confident young woman flaunting what is admittedly a fantastic body in front of 100 men – its the height of feminism and it shows men having to beg in front of women. I though like begging, More power to her i say.

    Rahini David: “Jumma Chumma” is “Look boys there is a toy for all of us to play with”.

    “Koi haseena jab” is “ponnunga appadi thaan machaan pudikaatha maadhiri bigupannuvaalunga. tighta kattipudi da. Madangiduva”
    I have no objection to “April Mayilea” from Idhayam or “take is easy oorvasi”. They are eve-teasing songs too but of the variety that we don’t feel horror and see it as good fun.”

    What are you smoking ? You madam are indulging in what is called as Projecting. You bring meaning to the song and its picturisation and then you say “WE”. Who made you the arbiter of female taste ? This is exactly the sort of thinking that taken to its logical conclusion leads to Mullahs, Fathers and Priests shouting from the roof top about their special brand of religion. Give it a rest.

    “Also I’m not at all suggesting that horrific rapes are caused by “Chinna mull kaadhali allo Periya mull kadhalan allo” Only that road side leering is caused by these songs.” No road side leering is caused by a whole host of other factors. Here is a fact , these movies are very popular in certain parts of Singapore and Malaysia. Now, pray tell me why these leering men are not found there. Oh, law and order you say , fear of punishment, jail time , canes in public – riiiiiiiight .

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  32. We’re a race of voyeurs. Why else do you think Facebook gets more traffic than every other website? The sooner we accept that we’re all voyeurs at a fundamental level, the less we have to fight ourselves and the lesser we are at risk of being overpowered by the voyeur. If you’re going to keep discounting the existence of a voyeur in you, it will result in enantiodromia and your voyeuristic side will take absolute control of your Self. Then, you will execute all your twisted fantasies.

    It all boils down to the harshly judgemental nature of our Society and the fact that it brings about psychological repression.

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  33. Rohit Ramachandran : “Film doesn’t have a moral or ethical duty to reform society but you have a social responsibility as a film-maker. ” – No he doesn’t have any social responsibility. He can be in that business to make money or to make art , or even more precisely what he deems as art.

    What he most certainly doesn;t have is Social Responsibility . He is not an elected official or a Constitutional authority , he is an artist. He can do whatever he pleases. You don’t like it, don;t watch it. End of.

    Freedom of speech by definition is absolute, there are no ifs no buts and no nuances to it. Someone is either free to say what they want or they are not. You don’t add a rider to it.

    “A critic must expose the motives of a film-maker and then shoot him down if he’s dishonest. ” – Thats upto the critic. A critic can be like BR attempting to meta-understand a movie or he can be like Taran Adarsh and give the box office numbers. Thats upto the critic. He doesn’t have to expose any motive of the film-maker.

    You sir are wrong.

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  34. Rahini David: “But they do feel that cinema and hence society validates them and views them kindly for these acts. Chumma timepass. The release of these songs increase the persuasiveness and aggression of porukis.”.

    Persuasiveness and aggression of porukis – are you for real ?

    “i am saying that this is why they think their horrible vulgar songs are being enjoyed secretly by the girls. When a girl says “I feel threatened”. She does not mean rape alone. Being a eveteasing/ groping victim is not a piece of cake and is not totally dismissable”

    Wow – this is a huge reach – eve teasing, groping, agression, threatening. You are talking about criminal activities and linking it to ribald, rude, funny, erotic , asinine, marvellous, briiliant (take your pick) songs. Does it not strike you that the song, movie, film, drama, art (whatever) is not an enabling factor ?

    Thought experiment : Lets say we create a list of songs that you deem to be “pro-porukis” and we ban all of them. Blanket ban no exception across India. What happens now ? Do you think this mythical poruki will cease to exist ?

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  35. That someone was spot on! :-) I loved the film…had minor quibbles, but thought the other things compensated well enough. I am amazed that the film is getting pilloried…it’s surely far better than that. I was really satisfied with the film.

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  36. Man, was it lushly shot?! What I loved was that it didn’t seem like picture postcards, it was so well integrated. The sea is such a beautiful backdrop…

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  37. Shankar: Caught it yesterday. The film’s become another “Raavan(an),” no? :-)

    BTW, I don’t know I’d used the word “lush” for the cinematography. It wasn’t overpowering like in “Raavan(an),” and felt very much one of the piece with the goings on. And oh, the use of light on faces…

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  38. That’s right, it did become another Raavanan. As I said, the cinematography did feel integrated. One minor(est) quibble I had was with the title track. I felt it played much better when it played again, in the second situation. The first time, it felt too jarring, almost destroying the setup of the seashore life. Overall, the songs were good on screen and the BGM was adequate. I actually liked the unconventional Adiye and how it was shot. The scene was shot like how Mani might shoot for say Satrangi Re but ARR had this song…I liked it in retrospective.

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  39. Baddy, we should get the phone number of Arvind Swamy’s weaver…just in case! It looked so seamless! :-)

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  40. Venkatesh, I was stating my opinion. How I think things should be. What you are doing is telling me that “No, things are not the way you think it should be. Things are like…so and so.” I’m aware of that, son. Of course, I know that both the critic and the film-maker have the right to freedom of speech and neither have to abide by ‘my’ rules. If you disagree with my opinion, then that’s a different thing and I’d like to hear why. But that’s not what you’re doing here.

    And I do believe everyone IS free to say what they want and DO what they want. I’m all for freedom of speech but I think the need to co-exist and feed off financial security is what defeats the purpose of democracy.

    If have to look at things after I push aside what I believe in and erase any kind of ‘should’, from a purely realistic point of view, then I’d agree with you that no one owes anyone anything. And that certainly includes rapists, murderers, the dirty capitalists and the corrupt politicians.

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  41. venkatesh and some others: Censoring won’t help as I’ve already acknowledged it.
    There seems to hardly anything else but porukkis making movies for other porukkis to enjoy. That is sad. That is all I’m saying. I’m not placing the whole blame on cinema but cinema is the cheerleader for this behavior.

    brangan: I have often noticed that you avoid gender issues like the plaque. So maybe it is time for me to shut up. I agree with your post for the most part except the bowdlerized gangbang song. Cheers.

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  42. Rahini David: I do try not to say too much with such topics, because it’s tough trying to explain these things in a medium as one-sided as a comments section. It’s easier to have a debate or a conversation about it.

    Besides, these weekly columns (like my reviews) are hardly the last word on any subject. I try to bring something up that will hopefully foster a discussion.

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  43. omfgitsrohit , Rohit Ramachandran : I am assuming both of you are the same , (at least from the above it looks like it) . I am not really sure what you are saying – in terms of how things are or how things should be – in all circumstances , a film maker or a critic does not owe society a responsibility.

    Rahini David: ” I’m not placing the whole blame on cinema but cinema is the cheerleader for this behavior.” – No its not . Today it is cinema and tomorrow it will be the art sculpted on temples. There is no end to this. Lets agree to disagree.

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  44. “I’m not placing the whole blame on cinema but cinema is the cheerleader for this behavior.”

    Ummm, no, it isn’t. No film is meant to encourage nasty behaviour and criminal acts. The fault lies, ENTIRELY, with the people who behave badly. Saying things like, “He watched so and so film and learned to leer at and harass women” is ridiculous, for thousands of others have watched the same film and not felt any urge to turn into loafers. So, really, stop targeting cinema. It just won’t help.

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  45. Per se, I am against any form of censorship on artistic expression because no words, sounds or images constitute anything as serious as actual violence or crime to me. With that said, I don’t think the answer is so obvious as it seems. The Indian Constitution does put a restriction on free speech, that it should not offend the public. This is where films alleged to offend religious or linguistic communities get into trouble. I am not getting into which of those films should or shouldn’t be censored. But I have heard some suggestions that Kamal Haasan was unwise not to ‘learn’ from the Thupaaki example when he made Vishwaroopam. Which implies that a filmmaker ought to be careful what he says about religious practices. That such is not even suggested w.r.t eve teasing or obscene remarks suggests, I am afraid, that males find it perfectly acceptable to speak and, in extreme cases, do horrible things about/to women. If we agree that it is vulgar, it begs the question why does it succeed in the box office. And it’s not just cattle class tickets that make them hits, no sir.

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  46. By the way, on an unrelated note, I watched Vishwaroop, the Hindi version, and struggled to locate the offending scenes. I am at a loss as to what Kamal was supposed to have learnt from the Thupaaki example.

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  47. Venkatesh, yes, same person. Don’t know why this keeps happening.

    Anyway, I hope this makes it more clear. In a realist sense, no one owes anyone anything. In an idealist sense, I believe both, film-makers and critics, have a social responsibility. Film is a huge, aggressive medium and has the power to influence people. The average(and impressionable) Tamilian gets his exposure from here and tends to swallow anything the film-maker preaches without questioning it. For a film that doesn’t take itself seriously, I say, we have no real problem. Regarding the ones that take themselves seriously (Vaanam, Yudham Sei, Mugamoodi), we certainly have a problem. The fact that the others buy into it, adds more credibility to the what the film-maker says. This is attributed to the herd mentality of the average Tamilian.

    Someone has to protect the sheep from chewing on poisonous fodder. This someone, I believe, ought to be the critic.

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  48. ” That such is not even suggested w.r.t eve teasing or obscene remarks suggests, I am afraid, that males find it perfectly acceptable to speak and, in extreme cases, do horrible things about/to women.”

    It is not “suggested” because, maybe, most people are still sensible enough to know an item song or an “eve-teasing song” is not really responsible for the actual rapes and eve-teasing cases. Rape and harassment of women existed, as Mr. Rangan has pointed out, long before there was such a thing as cinema, and if, today, every ‘Chikni Chameli’ kind of song is banned and every ‘Koi hasina jab rooth jati hain’ song is edited out from the films, violence/discrimination against women won’t disappear or even decrease significantly. Besides, as, once again, Mr. Rangan has mentioned, many of these songs are far from offensive if seen in context, and it is only a knee-jerk reaction to anything that seems even remotely disagreeable to one’s sensibilities that result in the “cinema is responsible for the crimes against women” diatribes.

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  49. While it is extreme to imply that cinema is responsible for rape and ill treatment of women, but it is safe to say that movies have a certain impact on our culture. For example – eve teasing which happens when boys try to woo the girls the way the heroes do it in the movies.
    I think movies can be seen as a reflection of cultural mindset , so the depiction of women in movies is just a reflection of society’s mindset. Movies do influence culture and vice versa.

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  50. Boys would try to “woo” women even if there were no heroes and no films to emulate. And, as I said, for every lad who chooses to take a leaf out of a wooing hero’s book, there are many, many others who don’t. So, the problem lies with those individuals, not with the films.

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  51. omfgitsrohit : “Someone has to protect the sheep from chewing on poisonous fodder. This someone, I believe, ought to be the critic.” – Underestimating people much ???

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  52. Well said. What most eve teasing videos imply is that the heroine is subconsciously attracted to the hero and that he must be persuasive to get her in touch with it and become aggressive for her to come to terms with it.

    I couldn’t say that it’s an improbable scenario but the ‘porikkis’ do get carried away and assume that this is always the case, lol. But I don’t see any real harm coming from something like this.

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  53. “It is not “suggested” because, maybe, most people are still sensible enough to know an item song or an “eve-teasing song” is not really responsible for the actual rapes and eve-teasing cases.” – And in just the same way, I think most of us are sensible enough to know that a film cannot, logically speaking, incite communal violence however offensive it may be. There is no direct correlation between art and the actions of its audience in either event so I am not really interested in that argument…as to whether eve teasing incites rape (that is, I don’t think so).

    I think I did not phrase the import of my question properly in the previous comment. Why is it that we accept, even if grudgingly, that religion is a hot potato while we do not really believe there is anything wrong in depicting even the ‘hero’ as saying obscene things about women? Why…because it’s the norm. That is, while we allow for the possibility that some material might offend religious sentiments, we have absolutely no regard for the sentiments of women, even though they are also equal (I wonder?) citizens. That is indeed an apt reflection of the state of society.

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  54. Check out V S Naipaul’s observations about how he can apparently decipher from the first para or so when it’s a female author. While his comments were roundly bashed at that time, it reflects the way in which the male norm is imposed on most artistic discourse and this kind of thinking has many closet-adherents who just don’t speak up about it as he was vain enough to. The question of whether objectification of women might be offensive to women….is determined through the prism of the male norm….very funny.

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  55. “Why is it that we accept, even if grudgingly, that religion is a hot potato while we do not really believe there is anything wrong in depicting even the ‘hero’ as saying obscene things about women?”

    Well, a lot of us don’t accept that a film can incite, or should be held responsible for religious riots either. It’s only a bunch of pandits/mullahs/priests/mahants and their minions who say thus. Kamal Hassan’s ‘Vishwaroopam’ was targeted by some specific Muslim groups. Others, including many Muslims–ranging from Bollywood stars like Aamir Khan and Salman Khan to my own friends from the community–have watched and defended the film. Similarly, it’s only a group of ultra-politically correct people who cry “misogyny” at the drop of a hat while watching the depiction of women on screen. The others, the more sensible people like Mr. Rangan, think logically and see things in context (to use his words). And when you do that, you realize that blaming cinema, even tangentially, for rapes and eve-teasing is a lazy and erroneous thing to do. The real causes behind those barbaric acts DO NOT lie in cinema.

    “The question of whether objectification of women might be offensive to women….is determined through the prism of the male norm….very funny.”

    Why do you say that? Women always participate in this debate. On this thread itself, women have voiced their opinion on the subject. And sure, there are women who find item songs and such offensive, and they are fully entitled to their opinion and the right to voice it strongly. God knows, though, that there are also women who do not find item songs problematic at all, for reasons that Mr. Rangan has pointed out in the first and the third paragraphs of this article. A lot of women I know enjoyed listening to ‘Beedi jalai le’ from ‘Omkara’ and ‘Munni badnam hui’ from ‘Dabangg’, just as many women from yesteryears enjoyed listening to ‘Yeh mera dil pyaar ka diwana’ from ‘Don’ and ‘Mehbooba mehbooba’ from ‘Sholay’ (both of which qualify as item songs, I think). Surely we won’t accuse them of being insensitive to the plight of their own brethren or anything like that?

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  56. Abhirup, I have clearly said that there is no direct correlation between art and the acts of its audience so I don’t understand why you re-iterated that “The real causes behind those barbaric acts DO NOT lie in cinema. ” I have clearly also stated that I am personally also against censorship of any kind on art (with that said, I also do not personally decide on behalf of the nation what should or shouldn’t be censored). My question is much broader than just who’s to ‘blame’. Your response does not really address it. No matter that some women have answered on this topic, the point nevertheless stands that several men do choose to answer this question on their behalf, not just here but on several forums, even though they are clearly not at the receiving end. Um, which is a bit like Harby deciding whether or not it is offensive to call Symonds a monkey.

    Item songs are the tip of the iceberg. We are talking of centuries of deep rooted sexist prejudices here which really don’t need much encouragement in any case. If you don’t believe me then check out cricket fans on the net blindly writing off women’s cricket as inferior without considering that Jhulan Goswami bowled the entire first spell of hers in the off side full length corridor unwaveringly (a basic discipline that her male counterparts haven’t shown in months together). Man decides on behalf of woman that he has the right to consider her inferior and say so and woman has no right to protest this. Case dismissed.

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  57. Pre-empting a possible question here, as to why I brought this up….because whether or not item songs do incite rape is not in my view a satisfactory argument to resolve the question of whether or not they could be offensive. To bring back Symonds here, calling him a monkey would not amount to physical abuse of him but fails to give him the bare minimum respect he deserves as an equal citizen of the world. To build further on this, racism too was a part of civilization long before cinema and sadly still is. That is not adequate justification to depict it in a light that makes it appear acceptable behaviour. There is a thin line between depicting reality in cinema and glorifying or condoning condemnable behaviours or actions…and filmmakers have the responsibility to walk this line carefully, if they want to mass release the film for the sake of commercial viability. Garden tea party discrimination is at least less malignant even if it cannot be condoned either.

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  58. “Abhirup, I have clearly said that there is no direct correlation between art and the acts of its audience”

    Yeah, you say that, but then you go on to add something like “There is a thin line between depicting reality in cinema and glorifying or condoning condemnable behaviours or actions…and filmmakers have the responsibility to walk this line carefully, if they want to mass release the film for the sake of commercial viability”, which implies that you do consider cinema to be ‘responsible’, in some way, for the manner in which the viewers behave. And I strongly disagree there. Personally, I dislike item songs (most of them, anyway), but that’s on cinematic/aesthetic grounds: when the story is brought to a crashing halt and the screen time is devoted to a booty-shaking song that really doesn’t advance or enrich the story in any manner, it’s irritating. What I do not agree with is the blaming of item songs, or anything of its kind, on moral grounds, and wagging a finger at the director for failing to live up to his “social responsibility.” A director doesn’t have any social responsibility. Is the ‘Chikni Chameli’ song from the ‘agneepath’ remake, with a semi-clad woman dancing in the midst of a large number of lusty, boorish men a very tasteful song? No. But should it be condemned on moral terms? No, no, no and no, in my opinion, because at no point does the film goad the viewers to go out on the streets and lech at women. And if somebody chooses to do so, the film is not at fault (yeah, yeah, I “re-iterated” my point again). The film is simply showing a circumstance, not encouraging its replication. If a filmmaker wants to have an item song in his film, he should have the freedom to include it, and while one may criticize it for a lot of things, “it’s because of such songs that women are harassed on the roads” is not a valid charge.

    As for men deciding to speak up on the behalf of women (though I shall repeat that women take part in these debates in large numbers and have their opinions stated with wonderful eloquence; I say this on the basis of my experiences of participating in panel discussions on these issues, and watching/reading about them), well, there are two things I would like to say here:

    1) You yourself are doing the same. You are assuming that ALL women find item songs and such offensive, when I have pointed out in my previous comment that this is not the case. Plenty of women actually like these songs, have them as ringtones on their mobiles and listen to them frequently on their laptops and iPods. And as Mr. Rangan has said in the first paragraph of this article, the women who perform in these songs do so willingly, even eagerly, so it’s obvious that they don’t find it offensive either. So, if you think that men shouldn’t be the self-ordained spokespersons for women, well, heed thyself, and stop doing it.

    2) Yeah, I know there are fools who think that the female cricketers are inferior to their male counterparts, and that things much worse and degrading than that have also been said about women. Misogyny exists in this world (and racism does too)–that’s not news to anybody. I still think, though, that holding a film at gunpoint because of that is not acceptable. For one, what’s misogynistic and what isn’t is subjective. A particular song or scene may seem anti-feminist to one person, and inoffensive to another, and a dialogue that one construes as racist may be interpreted as fostering tolerance by somebody else. So, the view of no one person, or one group, should be the deciding factor in such things. To cite examples from Mr. Rangan’s article, ‘Jumma chumma’ from ‘Hum’ and ‘Koi hasina jab rooth jati hain’ from ‘Sholay’ are deemed as “gang-rape” and “eve-teasing” by some, but Mr. Rangan doesn’t consider them so, and nor do a lot of others, including women (in fact, a female friend of mine once said that ‘Koi hasina jab rooth jati hain’ is the “cutest” song ever). The moment we start curbing an artist’s freedom under the guise of doing good/fighting prejudice, there would be no end to it, and before we know it, we shall be living under Goebbels-raj. As somebody else has very correctly said in an earlier comment, today it is cinema, tomorrow it shall be the nude carvings on the walls of Khajuraho that shall be held responsible. That’s a nightmare.

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  59. A director doesn’t have any social responsibility. – Er, in that case, no more do the aggrieved parties then, to address their objections only in the most agreeable of terms and ‘protect’ the ‘freedom’ of ‘art’. Please, if we are to accept that there are no moral considerations involved in artistic expression, we have to also agree that society has no responsibility to morally safeguard the freedom of art and all it is required to do is ensure protection of the legal rights of the artist to market and promote his work freely. I do not want a film to be censored but I also do no want objections on its content to be censored either. If a filmmaker can depict and encourage racism, I cannot be stopped from expressing my objection to it. If the objection takes the form of mass protests and representations that exert pressure on political parties, so be it. That can’t be helped, if we go along with your logic. After all, just because an interest group says so, doesn’t mean the govt has to go with it (just as Chikni Chameli does not by itself incite rape). It is the weak govt that gives in to their demands but they cannot be prevented from merely demanding it. Their demands may look outrageous from our liberal perspective but they may be reasonable to them. Freedom cannot be a one way, anti-conservative street, that’s not sustainable either and that’s not freedom either except from the liberal’s personal point of view. So, yes, I do not support censorship but I am entitled by the same constitution that grants freedom of expression to the artist to also condemn a work of art for projecting something that is immoral in my view. You can disagree there, of course, you are fully entitled to. Note that I have not actually yet condemned any specific work of art on these grounds in this conversation so I am simply stating my position and no more. Don’t put words in my mouth.

    I have also not assumed what is and what is not objectionable from a woman’s point of view. I have only said that the question is one that has to be answered by them in the first place. We are not in a position to judge accurately just how offensive it may be because empathy has its limits. And at the same time, to use your own argument, that some women find nothing offensive about it or even actively participate in the making of it does not necessarily imply that all women have no objection to it. Are we at all interested in the answer to that question, I wonder.

    On misogyny and racism, I am sorry but subjective notions of the same may be very pleasing semantically but are wholly unsatisfactory in practice. And usually defence on the ground of subjectivity is not accepted in practice as what is offensive is determined by the offended party, not the offender. These are not my words, these are the words you’d find in the code of conduct of many large organisations. Come on, subjectivity….a white can call a black a monkey and say he meant no offence, the man simply looked like one and he couldn’t help it. That simply isn’t just. I don’t think mutual respect is necessarily an impediment on freedom and if it is, then just how desirable is such freedom has to be pondered over. To quote a Supreme Court judge’s rebuke in a recent judgment on a similar subject, “if you didn’t intend to say it, you shouldn’t have said it”. And really, it’s not so hard.

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  60. As somebody else has very correctly said in an earlier comment, today it is cinema, tomorrow it shall be the nude carvings on the walls of Khajuraho that shall be held responsible. That’s a nightmare. – I am not sure if it’d be necessarily perceived as a nightmare if it comes to pass in the distant future (yes, I am not alarmist enough to believe it’s going to happen tomorrow). It’s a constant tussle between conservative and liberal attitudes in society and society as a whole determines what is acceptable from time to time. These liberties are not permanent, rather, they are concurrent and are adapted to the prevailing conditions. Which is one of the reasons I advocate the responsible use of freedom so that unreasonable barriers are not imposed on it by conservative elements. As an example of the concurrent nature of social mores, A Clockwork Orange could not be viewed in Britain for several years after its release and yet when I viewed it, I did not find it offensive and instead it resonated on many levels with me.

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  61. “Please, if we are to accept that there are no moral considerations involved in artistic expression, we have to also agree that society has no responsibility to morally safeguard the freedom of art and all it is required to do is ensure protection of the legal rights of the artist to market and promote his work freely.”

    “Moral considerations” and “social responsibility” are not the same. A director has his own code of morality, which may not (and often does not) tally with what the ‘society’ deems as moral and responsible. The ‘Vishwaroopam’ case is an example. Kamal Hassan, in my opinion, has not done anything ‘immoral’ in making this film and in depicting the various characters the way he has, and I happen to know many others who are in agreement with me. But some groups, who are “offended” by it, have gone around putting a ban on the film, threatening to vandalize any theatre that plays it, and demanding that Kamal edit out the scenes that THEY find objectionable. In other words, the director and his vision are at the mercy of a mob, and it’s all being done in the name of “social responsibility”, of course. So, the society, as it is, has thrown out of the window the respect for an artist’s autonomy. This is simply unacceptable, because, as I have said, the director has no obligation to please and mollify every single person who makes up what we call ‘society’. That’s both impossible and utterly unnecessary. The only thing a director needs to be true to is his own vision, and not worry about what the ‘society’ is going to find “offensive” about it. As Mr. Rangan has said in another recent article of his, “Everything has the potential to offend someone, therefore our films are about nothing.” That is what happens when “social responsibility” is dangled over a director’s head.

    “I do not want a film to be censored but I also do no want objections on its content to be censored either.”

    The objections shouldn’t be censored either, as long as they come in the form of articles, panel discussions, cartoons, and a film made in response to the film one deems offensive. Such objections are welcome, because they foster debate and exchanges, and regardless of the disagreements between the parties involved, the experience can be one of learning. Violent mob protests and dragging in political parties to ban the film are, as I have said, unacceptable. And a director must have the security and freedom to ignore his naysayers and do his work, otherwise it’s a medieval society we are living in.

    “If the objection takes the form of mass protests and representations that exert pressure on political parties, so be it. That can’t be helped, if we go along with your logic. After all, just because an interest group says so, doesn’t mean the govt has to go with it (just as Chikni Chameli does not by itself incite rape). It is the weak govt that gives in to their demands but they cannot be prevented from merely demanding it.”

    There I disagree. To repeat what I have said earlier, if you find a film objectionable, you can criticize it in a newspaper article or on your blog, you can hold discussions where you put forward your views on what aspects of the film you don’t like, you can draw cartoons lambasting it, and you can make your own film offering a counter point-of-view/argument. What one should never, ever do is let loose the hounds that are the political parties on a filmmaker in order to prevent him from making and/or releasing his film. No matter how much you dislike a film, you must allow it to see the light of day. That’s civilization. The interest groups, I believe, SHOULD “be prevented from merely demanding it.” No political party or government should EVER entertain any interest group, no matter who they are, to impediment a director. Period. That doesn’t mean they can’t protest: I have already listed the alternative ways to do so, and one can think of many others. But banning a film or harassing its makers should always be discouraged.

    “Their demands may look outrageous from our liberal perspective but they may be reasonable to them.”

    Any “demands” of censoring a work just because one person/group finds it objectionable must be ignored, no matter how “reasonable” it looks to those demanding it.

    “So, yes, I do not support censorship but I am entitled by the same constitution that grants freedom of expression to the artist to also condemn a work of art for projecting something that is immoral in my view.”

    The key phrase here is “in my view.” Your personal opinions are your own and nobody can, or should, stop you from feeling the way you do about a work of art. The problem arises when somebody decides to speak up on behalf of the ‘society’ or even an entire racial/religious community, projecting his personal opinion on a large number of people, saying that the way he feels is supposedly the way others feel as well, and therefore, the work of art in question must be censored because, yeah, the director has the “social responsibility” of listening to these people. Not acceptable. Criticizing something at an individual level is fine; turning it into an appeal for banning it on grounds of “social responsibility” is not.

    “I have also not assumed what is and what is not objectionable from a woman’s point of view. I have only said that the question is one that has to be answered by them in the first place.”

    And I have never said that women shouldn’t be answering that question, and that their answers shouldn’t be heeded with utmost attention and respect. But you did imply that all women find item songs and suchlike offensive, and there I don’t agree.

    “We are not in a position to judge accurately just how offensive it may be because empathy has its limits.

    Disagreed. Just because somebody–say, Mr. X–is not a woman, doesn’t mean his opinion on the subject is not ‘accurate’. That’s like saying only a black man’s opinion of Spike Lee’s films is really valid, and what white film critics and viewers say about them is of secondary importance and not very ‘accurate’. I concur that women’s views of depiction of women in films is very important, but a man’s view of it, when it’s as well-written and eloquently argued as Mr. Rangan’s, for example, is important as well. Ascribing more importance to one’s opinion solely on the basis of that person’s gender is not the right thing to do, in my opinion.

    “And at the same time, to use your own argument, that some women find nothing offensive about it or even actively participate in the making of it does not necessarily imply that all women have no objection to it.”

    And when, exactly, did I say that “all women have no objection to it?” Of course there are women who object to it; that is why the debate arose in the first place. What I am saying is this: the views of the women who have no problems with item songs (and there are many such women, and your use of the word “some” in this context is thus erroneous) and those of the actresses who perform is these songs need to be taken into consideration as much as the views of the women who object to these songs. Highlighting the views of any one group and ignoring the other would give an incomplete picture.

    “On misogyny and racism, I am sorry but subjective notions of the same may be very pleasing semantically but are wholly unsatisfactory in practice.”

    In other words, what you are saying is that subjectivity must remain on the paper, and must never be practiced in real life. I disagree completely. Subjectivity is of utmost importance when studying or evaluating a work of art, and there must never be a single, monolithic guideline on what’s offensive and what’s not. Differences of opinion on whether a work of art is misogynist or racist must be allowed to exist, and no single opinion, no matter who holds it or how agreeable one finds it, should be permitted to tower over the other opinions. That’s freedom. One is completely entitled to saying, “This is offensive.” Nobody has the right to say, “This is offensive, because I say so. Ban it.”

    “And usually defence on the ground of subjectivity is not accepted in practice as what is offensive is determined by the offended party, not the offender.”

    And that’s very unfortunate. Letting only one side (“the offended party”) do the talking, and denying the other side (the supposed “offender”) the chance to put forward his point-of-view and his defence…that’s what I call unfair. The fact that this is how things are usually done doesn’t make it right.

    “Come on, subjectivity….a white can call a black a monkey and say he meant no offence, the man simply looked like one and he couldn’t help it. That simply isn’t just.”

    A white man calling a black man a monkey is a case of a direct insult (though, of course, one must also take into consideration whether the black man did anything to provoke the white man into uttering that insult. That still wouldn’t justify the use of the word, but it would at least put things in perspective. A friend of mine, who is certainly no racist or Muslim-hater, once said a rather offensive thing to a Muslim co-worker, but that co-worker had been saying very unpleasant things about him behind his back and when he said those things to the boss as well and my friend was pulled up for something he didn’t do, he lost his temper and said those words. I still think he shouldn’t have said them, but I understand that he was driven by anger and not by prejudice; he even apologized later. Putting things in context–quoting Mr. Rangan again, here–is necessary in these cases). The black man would be justified in feeling angry and offended. This is not really an analogy that negates what I said about subjectivity. Let’s consider ‘Django Unchained’. There’s a character called Stephen in the film, played by Samuel L. Jackson, who is a fiercely loyal house slave of Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), a vicious, racist plantation owner. Stephen knows just how sadistic Candie is, but he still remains faithful to the latter, and even helps Candie in running the plantation by keeping an eye on the other slaves and punishing them brutally for any ‘lapse’. He is, in other words, a black man who assists a villainous white man in subjugating and torturing other black men, and feels no remorse whatsoever for it. Now, a lot of people, blacks and whites, have been offended by this. They find it racist. They have a right to feel that way. A lot of others, blacks and whites, have no problem with it, for, they say, there were indeed black slaves who oversaw and subjugated other slaves for their white masters, and that Stephen’s character is a not presented in a positive light anyway, so it’s not as though Quentin Tarantino is condoning Stephen’s behaviour or the circumstances that produce a man like him. Now, which of the two groups is right is a different question. What’s important here is, yeah, you guessed it, the subjectivity of opinions. Some dislike the film, the others defend it, but there are no calls to censor or ban the film a la ‘Vishwaroopam’, and nobody is saying that the subjectivity of opinions is “wholly unsatisfactory in practice” and hence must be rejected in favour of a single manifesto of what’s offensive and what’s not. Subjectivity, thus, is being practiced and respected. That’s how it ought to be.

    “I don’t think mutual respect is necessarily an impediment on freedom and if it is, then just how desirable is such freedom has to be pondered over.”

    Mutual respect means listening to all sides in a debate with equal respect, to pay attention to somebody who says item songs are offensive as well as to somebody who finds them enjoyable and okay, to somebody who hates ‘Django Unchained’ as well as to somebody who thinks it’s one of the best films from last year. In other words, mutual respect means honouring the notion of subjectivity.

    “I am not sure if it’d be necessarily perceived as a nightmare if it comes to pass in the distant future (yes, I am not alarmist enough to believe it’s going to happen tomorrow).”

    It would be a nightmare, in my opinion, even if happens a thousand years from now. Clamping down the freedom of expression is always terrifying. It was terrifying in Hitler’s Germany, it is terrifying when a filmmaker, an author or a painter in today’s India has to cancel his film’s release/attending a book fair/exhibition and even leave the country due to the hooliganism of a bunch of people (and note, I am objecting to the hooliganism–the ransacking of cinema halls and exhibition venues, the death threats–and not to the people’s right to protest against what they deem objectionable. As I said, protests can be civilized too.), and it shall be terrifying if, in the “distant future”, the carvings on the Khajuraho temple are deemed as encouraging debauchery and are hence demolished.

    And when I wrote “tomorrow”, I didn’t mean it in a literal sense. Surely that’s obvious?

    “These liberties are not permanent, rather, they are concurrent and are adapted to the prevailing conditions.”

    However, the liberty of an artist should be permanent. That it is not, and is not likely to become so in the near future at least in our country, is very unfortunate.

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  62. A director has his own code of morality, which may not (and often does not) tally with what the ‘society’ deems as moral and responsible. – If he has his own moral code and his own thoughts, surely he can also watch his own film on his own TV set? The fact is that once art enters the public domain, it ceases to be an entirely personal creation and the response of the public to art also assumes importance. Without making a detailed response to all of your arguments, let me just say that as long as the reaction of the public is restricted to legal means, I have no objection. You don’t realise it, but you are casting obligations on the public to treat art in a certain way in the same breath that you say an artist has no responsibility to society on account of his art. If some members of the public get together and wield power, so what? So long as they don’t force cinema halls shut under gunpoint or some such, I have no objection. They are absolutely entitled to make mass representations to the govt and carry out protests. I only stipulate that if they vandalise property in the midst of such protests, they should be forced to compensate for the losses of applicable victims. These things happen, it IS a power struggle. If liberals resent conservative restrictions on art, it is up to them to protest this and fight it out. But it is society at large that determines the norm, not an individual.

    Subjectivity is of utmost importance when studying or evaluating a work of art – Subjectivity is restricted to the enjoyment derived from a work of art which is governed by our cultural orientation. But whether a work of art encourages racism or misogyny is not so subjective. I am not against the portrayal of either in a film but not in favour of the promotion of it. This is like, anybody who cannot abuse a race of people in the workplace simply makes a film about it full of the most racist stuff thinkable…and because it is subjective, he can get away with it. No, that is not remotely acceptable to me.

    I have disagreements on several other points too but there can be no end to that on an internet debate so I will restrict myself to these.

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  63. “The fact is that once art enters the public domain, it ceases to be an entirely personal creation and the response of the public to art also assumes importance.”

    I never said that public’s response to art isn’t important. I said that: (a) the response shouldn’t entail calls to ban or censor a film on the basis of the demands of any one interest group, which is what often happens; (b) that interest group, no matter how offended they feel by a film, have absolutely no right to threaten the director or the actors with physical violence or to threaten to ransack the cinema halls if they play the film. I have already stated the various other, civilized means by which people can criticize a film they don’t approve of, so the (a) and the (b) kind of behaviour is totally unacceptable.

    “You don’t realise it, but you are casting obligations on the public to treat art in a certain way in the same breath that you say an artist has no responsibility to society on account of his art.”

    Firstly, don’t make these condescending remarks on what I “realise”. I realize perfectly well what I am writing and thinking, and since you know less than nothing about me as a person, do not make those assumptions.

    Now, to come back to what you said, yeah, I do think that an artist neither can, nor has any obligation to the “society.” This is because: (a) the society is comprised of countless people, each with opinions and mindsets of his/her own. Hence, the response to a work of art also varies, accordingly, from person to person. So, unless a director is blessed with some kind of supernatural power, he cannot possibly please every member of this “society” with his film. In particular, any film that deals with thorny, sensitive issues can offend somebody or the other. So do we stop making films on those issues, lest “society” be pissed off? To quote Mr. Rangan once again, “Everything has the potential to offend someone, therefore our films are about nothing.” I don’t want, ever, to see cinema reduced to that state; (b) a director’s own vision is of primary importance while making a film (or for that matter, an author’s when he is writing a book, a painter’s when is painting something, a composer’s when he composing a score, an architect’s when he constructing a building or a tower). If one has to work under the perpetual fear of “Are people gonna like this?”, or worse still, “Are people gonna be angry with me for this?”, then no remarkable work of art can ever come into existence. And yeah, I also believe that the public has the right to dislike a work of art, and also to voice that dislike, but not call for bans on it, or send death threats to the artist.

    “They are absolutely entitled to make mass representations to the govt and carry out protests.”

    Involving political powers to suppress a work of art is the worst sort of censorship there is, and cannot be supported under any circumstances.

    “If liberals resent conservative restrictions on art, it is up to them to protest this and fight it out. But it is society at large that determines the norm, not an individual.”

    Yeah, but when the “norm” determined by that “society” is “We don’t like this book/film/painting/song so let’s go and ban and it make life hell for the artist”, it’s the duty of every sensible, educated person to oppose and criticize this society fiercely. Just because something is prevalent (the “norm”), doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good.

    “Subjectivity is restricted to the enjoyment derived from a work of art which is governed by our cultural orientation.”

    No, it is by no means “restricted” only to that. Restricting subjectivity is restricting freedom.

    “But whether a work of art encourages racism or misogyny is not so subjective.”

    Disagreed. That, too, is subjective, as I have already shown with the ‘Django Unchained’ example. I can cite many others. One person’s or group’s opinion that a film is racist/misogynist is not good enough to actually brand it as racist/misogynist. There are always people who think otherwise, and the essential and the civilized thing to do is to listen to what they have got to say as well.

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  64. Firstly, don’t make these condescending remarks on what I “realise”. – No condescension implied, I am simply pointing out the contradiction in your logic. There is no obligation on society to colour its mode of protest beyond restraining it to legal means (obviously) if there is to be none on the artist. Your arguments are too pro-artist, that is what I am trying to say. I certainly do not support the use of violence or threats and I am also in favour of stronger civil legislation in India to help both the artists and the public, as applicable. That would, as in the Vishwaroopam case, protect the artist from being pulled down by vested interests. But I cannot agree with a scenario where no remedy barring ranting on a blog or writing an indignant letter to some newspaper is available to the offended party. That may suffice in the case of say a vulgar item song but what about situations where offense has genuinely been given. There has to be some legal recourse in a case where art is used as little more than a propaganda machine to spread hate or create divisions. It is actually in the interest of ordinary citizens that such valves are provided by the judicial system lest politicians completely hijack ‘art’ for their needs and crowd out real artists. The means used in the Vishwaroopam case amounted to coercion and were condemnable to say the least but we cannot therefore do away with the remedy for good. Absolute freedom may be a worthy ideal but it is not practicable.

    So that more or less addresses your next para. As long as the Indian Constitution contains riders on the freedom of expression, there’s nothing wrong in a certain section of people choosing to use these to demand a film that allegedly causes offence should be banned. They are within their rights to do so. We don’t have the American Constitution and therefore our situation is not comparable to theirs. We also have way more freedom than many countries, including the States, to do as we please, including blatantly ignoring lane discipline, jumping signals, refusing to segregate garbage, littering the streets, so on and so forth. It is not surprising that priorities get confused in a nation where chaos reigns supreme and the intellectual maturity required for art to be freely distributed in this country is still a long way off (if ever). The outcry against misogyny in films was simply a reaction to the horrible events in Delhi and other cities. It does not seem very appropriate to market films via the sex formula alone at such times and even if it is mere symbolism and will most certainly not solve the problem by itself, I can sympathise with the thought.

    As far as Django Unchained, I have no objection to the portrayal of racism, only against the promotion of it. I still don’t find that a subjective distinction, I am afraid. Now if people get offended by the mere portrayal of it, that can’t be helped. If they choose to protest it, again, it’s their right. It’s the Govt that has to decide judiciously in such cases and take a stand instead of pandering like lame ducks to interest groups. I believe you resent more the power of these interest groups and their worrying ability to influence govts and even the courts rather than the very provision of a remedy to citizens in such cases, which was quite wisely enshrined in the Constitution. Though it is a several centuries old civilization, India is still a fairly young and immature country and people will misuse the artistic medium if they are given full licence to. Presently, we are seeing the flipside….misusing riders to indiscriminately restrict artists where it is not called for.

    One last point, sorry but everything in art is not subjective. That is not a restriction on freedom. The techniques used in the creation of art are easily identified and distinguished by artists. As a singer, albeit a non professional singer, I know which notes are being played and whether a singer is singing legato or staccato. There is nothing very subjective about it, though I give that the ability to make these distinctions is not acquired in a day and takes some measure of observation.

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  65. “Your arguments are too pro-artist, that is what I am trying to say.”

    If they are, I don’t find anything wrong with that.

    “But I cannot agree with a scenario where no remedy barring ranting on a blog or writing an indignant letter to some newspaper is available to the offended party.”

    Oh sure, we can think of many other means of protesting, except calls to ban a film and/or to harass the makers. That is not acceptable, at all. No one group has the right to decide whether everybody else can or cannot watch a film. That is censorship of a most dubious and oppressive variety.

    “That may suffice in the case of say a vulgar item song but what about situations where offense has genuinely been given. There has to be some legal recourse in a case where art is used as little more than a propaganda machine to spread hate or create divisions.”

    Firstly, who decides whether “offense has genuinely been given?” (or for that matter, whether a song is “vulgar”?). An individual or a group may feel so, but why should their views alone be good enough to put a ban on the film or to censor it? What about those who do not find the film offensive? As I have stated many times before, ‘Vishwaroopam’ was NOT deemed offensive by a lot of people, but the demands of only a few interest groups led to it banned at first, and then heavily censored. This is what I am trying to say again and again–that the anger or disapproval of any one section of the society should not determine whether a film is offensive or not, and if it should be allowed to release. As for art being used for propaganda purposes, well, even in that case, I think it should be allowed to release, so that people can watch it, and criticize it on the right grounds. Even something like ‘Mein Kampf’ or ‘Triumph of the Will’, I think, should not be banned, for even these works need to be read and seen, if only to understand evil. Banning something is never a solution. Allowing people to watch a film and allowing discussions to be held on it, no matter how much that film has offended one or more viewers, is far more advisable. It ensures freedom, and it allows all parties to put forward their opinions, and that alone is civilization.

    “Absolute freedom may be a worthy ideal but it is not practicable.”

    That’s a matter of opinion and debate. And in any case, asking that an artist be free of the fear of the mob is not too utopian a demand.

    “As long as the Indian Constitution contains riders on the freedom of expression, there’s nothing wrong in a certain section of people choosing to use these to demand a film that allegedly causes offence should be banned. They are within their rights to do so.”

    Oh, they are within their rights, but the question is whether that is a worthy “right” to exercise. Till recently, it was well within the rights of people to harass gay men and women on basis on Section 377. Doesn’t mean, though, that it was the right thing to do. The issue is not what’s written in the Constitution, but whether that should be used to stifle freedom and an artist’s autonomy. Even if the constitution allows that, I remain against it, just as I was against homophobia even when the constitution said homosexuality is unnatural and punishable.

    “We also have way more freedom than many countries, including the States, to do as we please, including blatantly ignoring lane discipline, jumping signals, refusing to segregate garbage, littering the streets, so on and so forth.”

    And therein lies the tragedy–that people go scott free even when they do all that, but making a film is considered a reason good enough to make life hell for a person.

    “The outcry against misogyny in films was simply a reaction to the horrible events in Delhi and other cities. It does not seem very appropriate to market films via the sex formula alone at such times and even if it is mere symbolism and will most certainly not solve the problem by itself, I can sympathise with the thought.”

    While the rage and protests against the rape in Delhi and in other cities was a most desirable thing, choosing cinema as a target was a misguided thing to do in my opinion. As I have pointed out again and again, films are not responsible in any way for what loafers do to the women on the streets. Yeah, they may whistle tunes from the film, but that doesn’t put the blame on the film. After all, to repeat myself again, a lot of others had seen the same film and heard the same songs, but they didn’t go out and molest women. So, the fault always lies with the individuals, not with cinema. As for the “sex formula”, well, the sex appeal of the film stars has always been used to promote and market films. Nothing wrong with that, as such (though I do wish that the actors’ thespic skills received more attention than their physical attractiveness or lack thereof. But that’s my personal opinion, and it’s a different topic altogether).

    “As far as Django Unchained, I have no objection to the portrayal of racism, only against the promotion of it. I still don’t find that a subjective distinction, I am afraid.”

    Well, I am afraid that whether a film is a “portrayal” of racism or a “promotion” of it IS a subjective thing. ‘Django Unchained’ is itself an example: some find it racist, others don’t. Subjectivity is always present in the response to a film, including, yeah, in the issue of whether or not it’s racist or misogynist. There’s simply no denying this as far as I am concerned.

    “Now if people get offended by the mere portrayal of it, that can’t be helped. If they choose to protest it, again, it’s their right.”

    Oh, of course protesting is their right. I am NOT saying that people’s right to protest against a film they find objectionable be taken away. I am saying that these protests should not take the form of calls for ban, demands for massive censoring of the content, or threats to the director or to anybody involved in the making, marketing, distribution and exhibition of the film.

    “One last point, sorry but everything in art is not subjective.”

    Whether a work of art is good, enjoyable and tasteful or not, whether the director/author/painter/musician has succeeded in conveying what he had set out to convey or not, the very question of what it is exactly that he had set out to convey, what effect the work is likely to have on viewers and on the society, and, yeah, whether it is offensive/racist/misogynist/biased against a religious community ARE subjective issues, as are a lot of other things as well. That’s how I see it, and I happen to know that lots of others do too. So, gotta disagree there.

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  66. Well, not much to add because most of it is ground we have already covered. We agree anyway that an artist should not be victimised by a mob; the disagreement is on the remedy to that. Stronger civil ways are the way to go for me (and it would be necessary even if the Constitution did guarantee complete freedom of expression).

    Only one thing I want to respond to:

    “And therein lies the tragedy–that people go scott free even when they do all that, but making a film is considered a reason good enough to make life hell for a person.”

    Well, who are these people, these ‘they’? I suppose it’s really we, the people of this country. How many of us can honestly claim to be completely in compliance with the laws of the land and responsible citizens of it? I know full well how difficult it is in practical terms, but that doesn’t change this reality, nor that many of us on migrating to foreign shores do comply with laws without fuss. We do not take the onus for anything, that’s at the heart of the problem. Moderate Muslims won’t raise their voice, at least not sufficiently loud, to support an artist under attack even when he appeals to them because they dread facing the backlash. When it comes down to it, we are all perpetually scared of action or in love of inaction, whichever way of putting it is more preferable. It stands to reason that in a country where people have a huge problem with complying with the most basic regulations that are only meant to facilitate their existence, artistic freedom is little more than a pipe dream and perpetually under threat. Those who cannot understand why you ought not to jump the signal cannot also understand why a film is just a film. In order to appreciate and create the space for artistic freedom, it is necessary first to ‘give up’ the ‘freedom’ to use every opportunity to flout laws when the cop’s not watching, much like schoolkids trying to fool the teacher. I doubt we are about to do that anytime soon.

    You might argue that this is not related at all, but it is. The widespread indiscipline, the exaggerated outrage to films and so on are all reflections of the same malaise.

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  67. Viswaroopam 2013: Banned for scenes allegedly offensive to the Muslim community
    Viswaroopam 1980: Not banned in spite of scenes offensive…mainly to the human eye when forced to watch a bloated Sivaji romancing 3 decades (at least) younger Sri Devi on screen

    What gives?

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  68. Largely agree with most of things said in this comment. However, as difficult as it may be to safeguard artistic freedom under the existing circumstances, I am not prepared to throw up my arms and say it’s a “pipe dream.” A lot of things once considered pipe dreams–the abolition of slavery and voting rights for women, to name just two–are realities now. So, the fight must never cease.

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