October 22, 2001
Issue

 

COVER
    Destination Kabul
The Northern Alliance plays a pivotal role in US plans to overthrow the Taliban, but it is Pakistan that holds the key to the stability of any future regime in Kabul. An exclusive despatch by the INDIA TODAY team from the battle zone.


 
PAKISTAN
   

General In Command
As the US attack on Afghanistan continues, the divergent pulls of pro-Taliban Islamists and pro-West "pragmatists" heighten tensions in Pakistan, forcing President Pervez Musharraf to sack some of his most powerful deputies.

 

 
FOREIGN POLICY
 

Gains And Losses
The war in Afghanistan changed all the regional equations. The Taliban and the jehadis were abandoned by Pakistan and India got a chance to regain a foothold in Afghanistan. A report on the diplomatic balance sheet.

 

 
LITERATURE
 

A Prize For Sir Vidia
The new Nobel laureate in literature is a civilisational man who travels in great style.

 

 
OTHER STORIES
     
 



 
 
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CINEMA: CENSORSHIP

Total Recall

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

 

EXAMINING COMMITTEE
(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," he says.

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 sent.

One of Bollywood's time-tested homilies is that the Friday audience decides the fate of films. If only the censors would let them.


 
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