The censor board's refusal to clear Paanch, a gritty
urban thriller, ignites a debate over artistic freedom
INFAMOUS FIVE: Kashyap's film has
been condemned for its dark contents
In Dil Chahta Hai, the hip troika of Aamir Khan,
Akshay Khanna and Saif Khan wear designer clothes, live in homes painted
in pastel shades and drive Merc convertibles; basically, they lead a good
life. In Anurag Kashyap's Paanch, five youths-struggling grunge musicians
trapped in an alcohol and hashish haze-wish they were like that. And in
their desperation, they steal and kill. Trouble is, you are unlikely to
see Paanch soon. The Central Board of Film Certification, armed with the
antiquated charter of shielding the public from "psychologically
damaging material", has struck the film down.
Paanch is loosely based on the Joshi-Abhyankar
murders in Pune 25 years ago where nine people were strangulated by five
perfectly ordinary college youths, but the similarities end at the number
of assailants. Here, fatigues and jackboot-clad Luke (Kay Kay) steers
the destinies of his four flatmates-the introverted Murgi (Aditya Shrivastava),
the bumbling Joy (Joy Fernandes), the confused Pondy (Vijay Maurya) and
the crafty Shiuli (Tejasvini Kolhapure).
THREE-STEP SCREEN TEST
(Four members): First to see a film and suggest cuts.
REVISING COMMITTEE (Eight members): It
hears appeals by filmmakers against the cuts.
APPELLATE TRIBUNAL: Headed by retired judge,
it has the final say. A producer can then move a court of law.
They form a rock band called the Parasites, lead
a nocturnal existence in a claustrophobic Mumbai flat, and jam in a godown
before the quest for cash to fund a demo tape leads to murder. Surrealistically
filmed using hand-held cameras, the violence in this superbly rendered
film is muted and suggestive.
The scriptwriter of gritty thrillers like Satya
and Kaun, 29-year-old Kashyap had his first taste of controversy when
Deepa Mehta's Water, which he was translating into Hindi, wasn't allowed
to be shot. Paanch, he says, is a film on the psychology of violence,
an idea which occurred to him seven years ago. Now, he's fighting to protect
the vision, which was made for under Rs 2 crore a year ago. "Noir
genre (dark films with cynical characters) can't be attempted in India,"
The industry-censor board wrangle is old hat.
But with Paanch, it is not just a scene or a song-the entire film has
been deemed objectionable. Vijay Anand, the board's new chairperson, hasn't
seen the film, but the examining and revising committees saw it twice
before denouncing it as one that "glorifies crime, uses double-meaning
language, depicts the cold-blooded killing of policemen and people and
contains no healthy positive message". "The film was totally
disturbing," says Vinod Sharma, head of the revising committee. "This
is certainly not entertainment. We have to think about the interests of
society." But ad filmmaker Prahlad Kakkar says, "It's the way
half the world is. If the censors ban it, it's going to be the biggest
Indian underground cult film."
A major sore point with the officials is that
the film lacks any social message and at no point do the murderers repent
for their actions. "Audiences are sick of being lectured and spoonfed.
They want to think for a change and here is a film that actually disturbs
you into thinking about the consequences of crime," says Kashyap.
Twenty-five years ago, the censors forced Ramesh
Sippy to reshoot the climax of the industry watershed, Sholay. Gabbar
Singh is led away by the police instead of being crushed to death by the
Thakur. A similar formula is being proferred for Paanch: "Kashyap
has to reshoot and re-edit the entire film," says Anand. Argues director
Govind Nihalani: "The board's job is to see whether a film violates
guidelines, whether it is anti-national or affects the sensibilities of
a particular group -not advise that a film should be full of hope and
optimism." Kashyap is agreeable to cuts which don't disrupt the film's
narrative, but the production house is flat broke and can't afford a reshoot.
The drama now shifts to the appellate tribunal where the film is now being
One of Bollywood's time-tested homilies is that
the Friday audience decides the fate of films. If only the censors would