Our worst fears have come true. We had suspected that the Censor Board's delay in appointing an examining committee to officially view our video War and Peace and the extraordinary measures taken to ban even officially sanctioned non-commercial screenings in the interim, were an ominous sign.
We felt that contrary to norms, there was no level playing field and far from being in the hands of objective government officials, we were up against a very interested party with a strong political agenda. War and Peace had won the Best Film/Video of the Festival at the Mumbai International Film Festival, and the Films Division of India (which comes under the Ministry for Information and Broadcasting) attempted to show it along with other award winning films at their festival in Kolkata.
The Regional Officer of the Censor Board in Mumbai boasted to us that he would stop the Kolkata screening. The next day while other films which had no censor clearance were shown, the inaugural film War and Peace was withdrawn. The Kolkata press was duly told that the "film had not arrived" despite the fact that we had a receipt to prove the contrary.
The examining committee of the Censor Board finally saw the film on 6 June. After the screening though I was present, I was informed that contrary to norms, the committee members would not discuss anything with me as they could not reach consensus.
The following week the final outcome was given to me in writing. It makes remarkable reading. The cuts demanded
are unprecedented and the methodical, single-minded approach is inconsistent with that of a group that could not reach
Cut No.1 sounds reasonable. It is: "Delete the visuals of burning Indian flag". This scene depicting Pakistani jingoism balances sequences of Indian jingoism. But obviously the Censor Board has no objection to scenes showing the burning Pakistani flag. War and Peace consistently exposes war-mongers and applauds peace lovers on both sides of the border. This is clearly not something the Censor appreciates.
Cut No. 2 "Delete the entire sequence with visuals and dialogues spoken by the Dalit leader" refers to a sequence in which a Dalit neo-Buddhist argues that it is a travesty that nuclear tests were carried out on Buddha's birthday and that the Buddha's name was used as a military code to mark the tests despite the fact that the Buddha has always been unarmed.
Cut No. 3 is a demand to cut a Dalit song which describes the killing of Mahatma Gandhi by a Brahmin. So now the Censor feels bold enough to muzzle the voices of those whom our caste system oppressed for centuries, even when they merely make factual statements !
Cut No.4 is an order to cut a sentence by a leading scientist that "China is our next possible enemy". This common justification for our nuclear weapons was endlessly repeated in the media by our politicians including most famously, by our Defense Minister.
Cut No.5 is a predictable though thoroughly unjustifiable demand: "Delete the visuals and dialogues of entire Tehelka episode wherever it occurs in the film. " Over 4 hours of these Tehelka tapes showing hidden camera footage of corrupt arms deals were broadcast nationally at prime time. The tiny extracts I used are a mere reference to what the public saw at length on almost every channel. Again, the Censor Board's bias is clear. Tehelka is not allowable because it depicts members of the ruling coalition, but my reference to the Bofors arms scandal is deemed OK as it indicts the Opposition !
Cut No.6 is the clincher. Under the heading GENERAL is the amazing diktat: "Delete the entire visuals and dialogues spoken by Political Leaders including Minister and Prime Minister." The censor board has deemed it unnecessary to pinpoint exactly which leader's visuals and dialogues they disliked so much that the public should be protected by suitable deletions.
The heading GENERAL applies to all. The Censor Board deems it illegal to report the speeches of Ministers, Prime Ministers and all Political Leaders. Do we have a new Secrecy Act? Should Messrs Vajpayee, etc wear a mask from now on, and speak only in code? Or should only those who elevate every word of politicians into gospel and visualize these politicians only when they are the politician's wearing halos, be allowed to film?
War and Peace begins and ends with the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. (Perhaps this too is now illegal as it could come under the Cut No.6 dispensation).
Focusing on the danger of nuclear war in the Indian subcontinent the video goes on to describe the problems faced by people living near nuclear testing and mining sites, the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the culpability of the USA in using Atom bombs on a nation that was about to surrender, the globalization of the arms trade, but most of all it derives its power and emotional appeal from the growing movement for peace both in India and in Pakistan.
Unfortunately in both countries there is an invisible force that does not want peace, a force that has come to power precisely by spreading divisiveness within the country and the sustained threat of war outside it. This force has cynically used concepts of religion and patriotism to hide its own hate-corrupted psyche and has sought to muzzle the voices of all those who speak out for health, harmony and peace.
So it will not be enough to demand merely that films like War and Peace be passed without cuts. Officials of the Censor Board must be made to understand that their brief cannot be to wield their scissors in the interests of particular ideologies. We must demand that the Censor Board and all the vital institutions in our country be freed from the undemocratic grip of "the invisible force".