Should cinema be politically correct?

By Vatsala Vedantam Jan 5 2018, 00:13 IST
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In 1941, an Oscar-winning film called Citizen Kane, nominated in a record nine categories, shook the world, with filmmakers, critics and the public acclaiming it as the best film ever made for its sheer cinematographic skills. Today, it is listed among the 10 greatest movies of the 20th century. And, what is it all about?

The film depicts the life and career of a newspaper mogul who launches into the world of publishing with great idealism, but slowly changes into a ruthless business magnate pursuing the rich and the influential to better his own life and prospects. Journalism is pushed onto the backburner in his coldblooded quest for power. Citizen Kane exposed the ugly underbelly of the newspaper business in 1940s America.

What followed, however, was a remarkable reaction. Far from seething with rage and mortification at this frank portrayal of the newspaper industry, all the major newspapers and media houses in America hailed the film for its brutal frankness, its powerful script and its sheer brilliance as a cinematic production. Not one of them moved courts to ban the film or to change its script. They celebrated it as a talented work of art and nothing more.

Cut to 2017. The location is Karnataka, India. A film called Anjaniputra, which was released earlier this month across the state, has been mired in controversies ever since. Lawyers in Karnataka sought and obtained a judicial stay order against the screening of the film on the grounds that it offended the legal fraternity.

They have even petitioned that certain portions of the dialogue be removed from the film and the filmmakers, including the cast, director and producer, offer an unconditional apology to the legal practitioners in the state before the film is released.

Reason? Anjaniputra contains certain derogatory remarks about lawyers who are caught up in a fracas with the police. In the course of arguments between them, police officers are said to pass offensive remarks about lawyers.

Why this should hurt the image of the legal profession is beyond comprehension. On the other hand, it should reflect on the uncivility of the police who made the remarks. In any case, objecting to a film on such flimsy grounds makes no sense. Is the lawyer community so insecure as to feel threatened by a mere film dialogue?

"There is a cold war between police officers and advocates and in such a situation, the films dialogues support the police, degrading the image of advocates in society," stated the absurd petition filed before the court.

Unconvincing objections

This is not the first time that unconvincing objections have been touted to make sure a film does not hit the screens. How can an artiste, writer or a filmmaker portray societys ills candidly without revealing the transgressions and weaknesses of people inhabiting that society? Artists can never be politically correct. Their works have always provoked objections on spiritual, moral, historical or social grounds.

Now, here is a movie that has raised hackles on professional grounds! It would be near-impossible in this scenario to produce any work of art, including cinema, without provoking hostile reactions.

Such objections seem to be common only in this country. Take the popular 1954 British comedy, Doctor in the House. It was a hilarious film caricaturing medical students who, nonetheless, did not move the courts to have it banned. Similarly, Victor Banerjees Foreign Body, which mimics fake doctors who fool rich patients, did not provoke the medical fraternity to raise a hue and cry.

Again, think of a movie like The Thorn Birds, where a tormented priest is torn between his love for a woman and his duties to the church. His heartrending "I love you, but I love God more..." is a harsh criticism of forced celibacy in the Roman Catholic church. I dont remember any revolt among the clergy when this movie was released.

Nearer home, has not TP Kailasam drawn hilarious pictures of lawyers, judges and even his own father, who was chief justice in Mysore state? His plays have been staged a million times with no reaction from the legal fraternity.

Again, RK Narayans side-splitting caricatures of teachers, headmasters and "adjournment lawyers" has provoked only laughter, not riots. AN Moorthy Rao openly ridiculed language fanatics when he described their slogan "Speak in Kannada only", boldly written in English!

It is time that the reading/viewing public learned to appreciate humour and satire, without which we cannot have great literature or cinema, both of which hold a mirror to society, which cannot be truthfully described without depicting its weaknesses and absurdities. Far better to view them with a touch of humour than with malice.

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