Who cares for the censor board when there’s YouTube
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When Ashvin Kumar started putting together 300 hours of footage containing  testimonies of Kashmiris, he knew the finished product would not go down well with the Government of India. That his documentary, Inshallah Kashmir: Living Terror, which features ex-militants narrating stories of human rights violations at the hands of Indian forces, would face stiff resistance from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC).

Ashvin knows that by experience. His last film Inshallah Football was initially refused certification by CBFC, and released with an ‘A’ certificate after a year-long legal battle, in December 2011.

This time, Ashvin has decided to take a detour. On 26 January, he will release the 80-minute documentary on YouTube for 24 hours. “This way, I am defying the censor board,” he says.

“This is a film about the crisis in the Indian democracy. Since the message of the film is not popular with the government here, I am releasing it online; let people decide for themselves,” he says.

A stills from Ashvin Kumar’s ‘Inshallah Kashmir: Living Terror’, which will be released on YouTube on 26 January.

He has already created a buzz online. On 18 January, Ashvin uploaded a seven-minute preview of the film and posted the link of the same on various social networking sites. In fours days, the preview got more than 5,000 hits.

Unlike the time when CBFC was the last word on what film to watch with whom, the Internet allows one to tell a story to the world without any cuts and certificates. Many see it as the route to bypass moral policing.

Rakesh Sharma, the maker of Final Solution, a critically acclaimed documentary on the Godhra pogrom of 2002 and many other award-winning films, writes on his blog: “There is the Indian censor board followed by extralegal censors — political groups, goons and fundamentalists — who prevent screenings, disrupt them or threaten venue-owners and organisers.” This is compounded by what Sharma calls, censorship of the market. “No theatrical release for documentaries, no mainstream DVD distribution and no Indian TV channels interested in showing hard-hitting political films!” he writes.

Web becomes particularly important in current times when filmmakers are toying with bold subjects and catch-lines never encountered before. If the subject is politically sensitive, taking the film to the public becomes  challenging, and at times, even more daunting than making the film.

Atul Tiwari, who wrote the dialogues for Hazaron Khwahishein Aisi and Mission Kashmir, says, “For a film such as Gandu (Quashik Mukherjee’s full-length Bengali feature film, 2010), which does not stand a chance with the Indian censor board, Internet comes handy.”

In 2011, Gandu won accolades at film festivals in Seattle and Slamdance.

The film’s Asian premier was scheduled in July last year at a multiplex in Mumbai. At the last moment, the screening was cancelled as the state police said the film could lead to law and order issues.

Gandu remains one of the most-watched films on the online circuit.

“Inshallah Kashmir: Living Terror is unique as this is the first film where the Kashmiris are openly speaking about the atrocities committed on them all these years. And what they are narrating is really harsh, but true,” says he. The film has not gone to the censor board.

Lack of resources is another factor that constrains independent filmmakers and  makes them rely on the Internet.

Sudhish Kamath made That Four Letter Word with three-and-a-half lakh rupees. After managing a limited theatrical release of the film in Mumbai and Chennai, Kamath put it online for free viewing. His Good Night Good Morning, a black and white, split-screen film was released yesterday by PVR’s alternate programming label Director’s Rare.

Ziyaussalam, who was a film critique with The Hindu for 10 years, says the reason why many directors are turning to the Internet is that it allows them to reach a niche audience. “The film audience in small towns of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan cannot differentiate between ‘reel’ and ‘real’. This why when actor Jaya Prada contested elections in Rampur, a majority of the women went with her screen persona and became a significant factor in her victory in 2004 and 2009. On the other hand, the online audience is an urban phenomenon. The viewer is intelligent and receptive to change,” he says.

Aanand Patwardhan is one of the filmmakers who still believe in the conventional release over online, even if it means fighting it out in the court. Patwardhan falls short of calling the Internet the easy escape route. “When you challenge the ruling of the Board, you broaden the definition of freedom of expression and thereby, set a precedent for the upcoming filmmakers,” he says.

The CBFC examining committee has wanted six cuts in Anand’s film War and Peace On the grounds of law and order. The Board’s review committee proposed a total ban. Second review committee asked for 21 cuts. In April 2003, the CBFC give a ‘U’ certificate to the film without any cuts in compliance with a high court ruling. War and Peace won the National Award 2004 for best non-feature film.

“Indian constitution guarantees the freedom of expression. By taking the censor board in the loop and getting the film released without any cuts, we can make this guarantee functional,” says Patwardhan.

Bold themes and an ever-increasing internet penetration make a solid case for releasing films online. It is a safe bet at least till the time India talks of online legislation. “Those who want to escape the boundaries of the law will find ways to do it and the keepers of the law will keep on making new boundaries. It is a cycle, you see,” says Atul Tiwari.

 

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