The idea of a nanny State dishing out morality lessons to people is anathema to mature and evolved democracies. The puritanical authority being exercised by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) in deciding what people should or should not watch is quite anachronistic in a country that celebrates artistic freedom and diversity of ideas. Its latest decision to refuse certification for the movie ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ is yet another instance of repression of freedom of creativity in the garb of preserving morality. Censor board’s controversial chairman Pahlaj Nihalani has been wielding the scissors liberally, apportioning to himself the role of a moral guardian. With an alarming regularity, he has been imposing cuts in order to make movies adhere to a perceived Indian’ standard of morality. Ironically, Nihalani is a filmmaker of dubious repute, having made some eminently forgettable movies in the past. His statement that the censor board is accountable for preserving the country’s culture and traditions makes a mockery of the liberal values of the world of art. If it was ‘Udta Punjab’ – a searing commentary on the menace of drugs in the border State – that faced the wrath of the censor board last year, it is the turn of ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ this year to face rejection, ostensibly for its “sexual references, use of abusive words and being lady-oriented.” In fact, the movie, written and directed by women and starring Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkana Sen Sharma, is a bold take on women’s fantasies, desires and their search for freedom.
Incidentally, the movie is getting rave reviews at film festivals, having already won the Spirit of Asia Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Oxfam Award for Best Film on Gender Equality at the Mumbai Film Festival. Film’s director Alankrita Shrivastava has rightly termed the censor board’s decision as an assault on women’s rights. It is time to question the very concept of censoring. The job of CBFC is to certify the movies and not to censor them. The tyrannical writ of the censor board must stop as it has been stifling creativity and imposing unreasonable cuts in the name public decency and culture. A committee, headed by veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal, has recommended comprehensive reforms in film certification. This includes restricting the role of CBFC to categorising suitability of films to audience groups on the basis of age. In a free democracy where all adult citizens have the power to choose their government, why should any institution usurp their right to decide which film to watch? It is a bizarre logic to continue with censorship laws in this age of internet, 24×7 television, GIFs and smartphone videos.