‘Udta Punjab’ Controversy
The ‘Udta Punjab’ controversy has freshened in my mind the devious role, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting plays in ‘controlling the media; print, electronic and visual. Films and documentaries come under the last category and in light of ‘Udta Punjab’, I am referring to that. I & B Ministry have a set of written guidelines as also a set of ‘unwritten customs and conventions’. Written guidelines are framed in legal language and appear to be on up and up though, they at certain places, can be interpreted either way, giving rise to the ‘unwritten customs and conventions’, which hide under the legal cloak and have been paving way for undue governmental / political pressure. To ‘misquote’ the famous jurist A. V. Dicey, ’political control over media thrives under the cloak these legally correct rules’.
‘Reasonable’ restrictions can be imposed if any movie or channel endeavors to show some thing against public and social morality or which may spread religious, social or communal discord, amongst other things. In case of doubt, ‘advice’ of the ministry is sought, either in writing or even verbally. All controversial issues are also referred to the Ministry in writing which may constitute a ‘specialized group’ to give its opinion. This small group pre-views the film in private, gives its opinion, based on which ministry takes the final decision. I remember that in early eighties such preview used to be held in a small movie auditorium, of the ministry, located on Mahadev Road, adjacent to the All India Radio premises on the Parliament Street, New Delhi. This auditorium was located in a very inconspicuous location and somewhat difficult to locate. I had gone there to pre-view a movie based on the ‘Sakhis’, which have an honourable place in Sikh history, tradition and way of life. Ten odd member ‘review group’ consisted of Sikh religious personalities and representatives of some political parties besides a couple of guys, including me, who belonged to a certain intelligence organization. The purpose was to assess the possible socio-politico-religious fall out of the movie. Most of us took objection to the ‘clearance’ of the movie because in the movie which was though produced by some Sikh gentleman, Guru Nanak Sahib’s role was played by some human character which is against the tenets of Sikh religion. No living person can act the role of any Sikh guru. It is blasphemous. Guru Sahibans can be symbolized only as a ‘light’ or ‘halo’. We rejected the movie which later was amended as per the religious tenets and then released. I have no idea whether the auditorium is still located there or not.
Knowledgeable friends in the Ministry and Media maintain that subsequent to the ‘information’ given by the Censor Board, which anyhow consists of the Government nominees and who owe their allegiance to the government, the film ‘Udta Punjab’ was also previewed by the officials of certain intelligence agencies as also some politicians belonging to the parties whose electoral prospects might get hampered in Punjab elections scheduled for early 2017, in case the movie is released at this juncture. They all unanimously decided that the movie will indeed harm the ruling alliance in Punjab. The ministry then decided to ‘ban’ the movie on the ground that it might influence the mindset of modern youth who want to be in a perpetual high. Adverse political and social reaction to the proposed ‘ban’, then led to a way out in the form of innumerable cuts. It is a sad commentary not only on the working of I &B Ministry but on the political climate of ‘intolerance’ which has been pervading the country. Freedom of expression and speech can not be curbed in an authoritarian way. People are mature enough to decide for themselves. Admittedly, the movie might be an exaggeration and dramatization, but then that is what the celluloid is all about. Are government sponsored documentaries and visuals not absolutely unrealistic and absurd?
So why crib about ‘Udta Punjab’ on account of political considerations?