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Before it was released (and before probably anybody from the authority viewed it to deem its contents controversial), Aarakshan was banned in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. Although Punjab and Andhra Pradesh lifted the ban after editing the, what they considered, provocative scenes, Uttar Pradesh extended the ban for another two months citing law and order problems the movie might create. On director Prakash Jha’s petition challenging the state government’s decision, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Central and UP governments seeking response in this regard.

We are not new to intolerance paving way to crude censorship, intruding artistic freedom. There is no dearth of movies that suffered the fate of Aarakshan in the recent past. Parzania, Fanaa, Jodha Akbar, Singham and Love Sex Aur Dhoka are recent examples. The issue with Aarakshan, as we all know by now, is that it reportedly challenges the reservation policy. Does it? That is a different story altogether. But people at the top obviously thought it did and wasted no time in banning the screening. Not to mention, few incidents of violence were reported in places the movie was released.

So is Jha’s Aarakshan so explosive that you have to ban it from creating public unrest? It’s actually ludicrous to even think so. Because there is nothing, even remotely, explosive about Aarakshan. Aarakshan, although starts off on the note of reservation, swiftly tumbles down into the depths of commercial cinema and ends like a potboiler. It dutifully follows the regular framework of a commercial movie and portrays the life of a protagonist, who believes strongly in reservation and gets ostracized for the same from the private college he is a Principal of. On that count, yes. It does deal with reservation. But doesn’t it also mean the movie speaks for reservation? So why should it be banned? Because the movie features a few dialogues against reservation. So although the movie is for reservation, just a scene is featured in it that challenges reservation. Hence it should be banned!

We are a nation filled with prude, self-imposed moral policemen. We don’t think even once before imposing anything less than a ban. I am thinking; when was the last time a movie evoked huge protests because it hurt sentiments of movie goers? If you do not consider the asinine protests backed up political parties, the answer is mostly no. The censor board, thankfully considered to be coming of age, issued U/A to the movie without rising too many questions. Besides, the Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni voiced her support for showing Aarakshan without cuts.

Sharmila Tagore, who led the Indian Film Censor Board from October 2004 till March 2011, in a recent column states that banning films is a ‘very disturbing signal to send out to ensure there is no violence.’ She was referring to the ‘extreme step’ of banning films by state governments fearing there will be unrest. The strange thing here is that it’s not enough the Censor Board, considered to be the apex body to certify films in India, passes a movie. The movie should also placate the senses of every state in India. Isn’t it also the part of the Censor Board to look into such details before granting a movie’s certification? 

Will these protests, at the whims and fancies of our politicians make our producers / directors go back to making banal movies in the future? Not that we have a dearth of such movies now. Will it preclude them from trying themes that are socially relevant?

At one level, all this controversy has provided enormous publicity for the movie. After all, isn’t any publicity good publicity? Whether Aarakshan makes good business or not will be known in a couple of weeks from now. But it can’t be denied that Aarakshan opened up new debates on the subject of censorship, by the state as well as by the uptight political elements that look to make hay.

And may Prakash Jha succeed in making movies stronger and more compulsive than Aarakshan.

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