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Friday, December 24, 2010

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(Published in on 23 December, 2010, as 'Why Can't We Indians Laugh at Ourselves, retrieved from

There are two things we as a country cannot seem to take lightly – sex and religion. I’m not talking about erotic sculptures in temples. We consider those a tourist attraction for now. But if someone were to show them in films, chances are that several groups would go up in arms, over the breach of different ideals.

Come Friday, Kamal Haasan’s romantic comedy Manmadhan Ambu will release in theatres – sans the song Kannodu Kannai Kalandhal. The reason? The lyrics are offensive to the religious sentiments of Hindus.

This isn’t the first time the actor has had to fight the saffron brigade. His movie Dasaavathaaram ran into controversy over the depiction of Shaivaites desecrating a Vaishnavite temple. Hey Ram fell foul of a legion of Gandhi’s fans, despite the endorsement of his descendant Tushar Gandhi.

But religious sentiment seems to get hurt far more easily in our nation than anything else. Remember the controversy over the line “Paanv ke neeche jannat hogi” from the song Chaiyya Chaiyya in Dil Se? Well, clearly we don’t like people dancing over the Heavens, whether we believe in them or not.

In fact, the one thing that seems to unite the various religions of our ‘secular’ nation is sex. Television channels simply couldn’t get enough of the sight of an array of religious and spiritual leaders, subscribing to various powers, united in their condemnation of the amendment to Article 377 a year and a half ago.

The country came together in protesting against Fire and the lesser-known Girlfriend (we don’t believe women can find each other attractive) and against Kama Sutra (uh, we don’t believe people should have sex?)

It’s a country of a billion people, and stands to beat the world with at least one statistic. Come on, storks aren’t flying in all those babies!

But, we have a Censor Board that monitors morality more closely than a mediaeval monk, and whatever slips past it has to pass through a series of filters held out by the enforcers of our faiths.

I wonder which the last film that made it to the screen without any cuts was. Probably an animated, educational series funded by the government.

No wonder movie piracy is so rampant in India. Try watching Gangs of New York on the big screen. You wouldn’t figure out why the gangs were attacking each other unless you knew the story already – the most crucial dialogue of the movie takes place in a brothel, and yes, in the middle of another exchange.

The climactic scene of The Last King of Scotland happens during a...well, climactic scene too.

Why is our country so puritan and sensitive? As Rex Harrison’s character might say if My Fair Lady were to be remade in India, why can’t we Indians teach our children how to laugh at themselves?

If we could allow everyone a say, and take it lightly, we might spend less time demolishing monuments of religious significance. Our politicians would spend less time courting arrest, and our security personnel less time checking bags.

Can you imagine the ramifications if a movie like Monty Python’s The Life of Brian were to be attempted here?

First, the funniest lines would be deleted by the Censor Board, and it would be given a ‘U/A’ rating.

After the audio release, when millions of people had already bought the music, a group would suddenly object to the equivalent of the song Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, and then it would be removed from the theatrical release.

All scenes that could possibly offend the beliefs of every religious minority or majority present in the country would be removed, leaving about five minutes of footage.

On the day of the release, a group would picket movie theatres anyway, baying for the blood of the writer, director, producer and actors (which might all be the same, of course).

A list of cases would be filed against the cast and crew of the movie, which they would probably evade by joining the ruling political party in the state where the movie was made.

Furious at the losses they have incurred over the movie, the cinema owners and distributors would demand that the actor or actors reimbursed them.

The media would immediately take up the torch for the right to remain secular.

Then, of course, emails would be forwarded, revealing a deep, dark nexus between the media organisations in the country and the global headquarters of the religious bodies that fund them!


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