If rushes were horses

Posted on June 18, 2016


The ‘Udta Punjab’ verdict fills me with enough hope to draw up a laundry list of wishes for our cinema.
The next time a demand for a ban comes up, I wish we’d remember the Udta Punjab verdict. I wish we’d stop being blackmailed by cultural policemen about the content in cinema. Most of us are fully capable of making the distinction that this is fiction, and while it may be based on life, it’s not real. And what about the others? That is not the film’s problem. You cannot ban a film because one madman could potentially pick up a gun after watching an assassination scene.

I wish we’d populate our Censor Boards with people who know and love cinema.

For the thousandth time, I wish we’d make subtitles mandatory, so that movies can cut loose from the “region” they are made in. It’s not just a question of more tickets sold, more profits. This is also a form of national integration. If a Sairat is telling us something important about caste in Maharashtra, if an Udta Punjab is telling us something about drug use in Punjab, if a Visaaranai is telling us something about the System in Tamil Nadu, then there’s no reason people in other states should be denied this information. Newspapers and TV transcend their base of operation and go “national.” Why not cinema?

And while on subtitles, I wish we’d make them a must even for ultra-mainstream films. When we go to specialised restaurants to sample cuisine that’s different from our own, why not be able to check out a Telugu masala pot-boiler, or a Punjabi musical?

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I wish we’d grow up about sex and nudity. The things the censors don’t want us to see, they’re just body parts. Everyone has them. I wish they’d just slap an ‘A’ certificate and get on with it.

And I wish theatres enforce these ratings so that adults can truly see adult films – with more adult language, more adult situations, more graphic violence (if the story demands it). Part of the reason for the state of our mainstream cinema is that we’ve always infantilised audiences, deeming sex okay in item numbers that simulate sex, but shrinking back the minute the camera entered a couple’s bedroom. How strange that the latter situation, the more “normal” one, is the one we’re afraid will cause our morality to crumble, while audiences of all ages are allowed to watch Govinda and Karisma Kapoor executing steps that could be titled “How to Make a Baby.”

Not everyone across the nation, however, is going to watch adult films, grown-up films, so I wish we find a way to make these films viable. I wish we’d find a way around capping ticket prices, the way it happens in Tamil Nadu. These films are only going to play in urban multiplexes, and the more they earn from these venues, the better the chances of more such films being made. Bollywood has shown that it is possible to make niche films that are also profitable, even if released in only a few urban centres across India.

I wish we’d get rid of the “smoking/drinking is harmful” text. It’s a disgrace to art. If we are so concerned that people shouldn’t smoke, then we should ban cigarettes instead of mutilating a creator’s carefully composed frames.

I wish we’d figure a way to get serious cinema back into people’s daily lives. By “serious cinema,” I refer not just to grimly arty tales of drought-stricken farmers but also mainstream films that strive to offer more than entertainment and escape. Back in the Doordarshan days, we watched these films simply because there was no other channel, and thus we developed a taste for them. But what do we do in these ADD days?

So I wish we’d introduce cinema in our classrooms. I wish we’d tell students that cinema isn’t just entertainment, that it’s also art, that lyrics are similar to the poetry they study, that the screenplay is like the plays they enact on Parents’ Day. This could change the face of the audience, the face of our cinema.

I wish we’d be more careful about how we recognise our cinema. I wish we’d have serious standards for awards – both in terms of the films that get nominated as well as the judges called upon to make decisions.

I wish we’d invoke CSR and ask for specialised, dedicated theatres for non-mainstream cinema. Because multiplexes are always going to play films that make them the most money. There should be a way someone can watch an arty Kannada film in Chennai without having to book tickets for a “special” 10 a.m. show on weekends.

I wish, finally, that the State looks at funding cinema. In February this year, the Italian government increased cinema funding by 60 per cent, with a majority of the money going to new filmmakers. We have perfected the art of making entertaining films that make money. We should now see how we can make art, consistently and in a commercially viable way.

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