For me, there are two parts to this debate on sanitising the item number for television. Personally, as a filmmaker, I am openly and absolutely relaxed with the idea of scanning film item songs for objectification and objectionable portrayal of women. I don’t care much about what kind of a song or dance gets the axe (or not) when promoting a film. It’s simply because the kind of films I make cannot be promoted by item numbers alone. In fact, I have problems on how to fit the songs into my narratives. So it’s something that does not affect me personally. And I also do hope that such a measure would set limits to the inanity and banality of using a woman’s body to sell a film, for the lack of any better idea. But that is only half the response.
The other side of the argument is more serious. Why did the home ministry instruct the Central Board of Film Certification CBFC to scan the item songs? To check what? If they seriously think that this would lessen the objectification and abuse of women in society, then they need to get their heads examined. Or it has to be recognised for what it is: the most deplorable kind of tokenism.
There is rampant feudalism and patriarchy (two drivers behind almost all socially ingrained and tacitly tolerated abuse of women) all around us. What about the soaps? Will dinner scenes with the bahu simpering and serving dinner to ten patriarchs while herself on a fast be scanned? Will macho songs about winning the woman’s heart by terrorising her in a public place be scanned? Will reality shows blatantly portraying women as cretins, dressed in bikinis after sundown, be scanned? And what about the advertising that supports all patriarchy and feudalism? Who will scan them? Who will scan the hoardings, the textbooks? Who will scan the abusive police procedures that are supposed to investigate abuse? Who will scan and censor the dinosaurs in our national executive, judiciary and other administrative bodies, who routinely mouth the most regressive and chauvinistic bilge as public statements? Flogging the same old dead horse will achieve nothing. Real change can only emerge by curing at its root the schizophrenia within us that wants a submissive woman with the vital statistics of Angelina Jolie wearing a High Street branded tube top, denim shorts and sindoor, cooking breakfast for the Man of the House after pooja in the morning with Bollywood trash about everlasting love playing on the MP3 player. Real change takes time, real work and commitment (read political will). Scanning item numbers just leads to a good headline. It will mean filmmakers will now look for new means to sell their wares. The censor will do what it has to according to its directives. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that this will help a woman feel more safe and secure in the real world.
(Dibakar Banerjee is the director of Khosla Ka Ghosla, Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye, Love Sex Aur Dhoka and Shanghai)