This Article is From Jun 09, 2016

Karan Affairs: I Am Begging On Bended Knee For Freedom For Films

So, I wake up in the morning and I first go meet my therapist (yes, yes, it's true, but we all have personal problems, I'm just smart enough to address them). He had quite a few things to say. Then my GP had concerns about my blood pressure. My medication has been upped. They asked me why. Why was I so stressed? Why was my anxiety level rising? Why was I roaming around with a hollow feeling in my stomach?

They heard me out and their diagnosis was that I am suffering the side effects of a relatively new affliction: Censorrhoea. Also known as Censoritus. And it might be about to become an epidemic. 

I then call a friend of mine, an American filmmaker, and he's all "Why are you so stressed, isn't there freedom of expression?" I say, "Sure". Except it depends on what you're expressing.

So yes, I'm deeply stressed as a filmmaker, and I know I'm not alone. The censorship crisis, the moral policing, the politics of it has most of us on edge. I'm scared to use certain words: like if I use "Bombay", will there be a problem? (Scratch that: yes, it already happened.) I am not supposed to use the word "beef", I heard somewhere even Masterchef is swapping beef for, well, beep. And now, Punjab is apparently off limits. And to that I can only say: hahahaha, what on earth is happening?! It's a place I love and I'm Punjabi and now, should I not be talking about Punjab myself?

Are we supposed to say that drugs aren't being consumed in parts of the country? No, no, everyone's just high on mithai. Is baby powder what's being sniffed by available and interested nostrils? Rarely do mainstream stars step out of their comfort zones to do films that reflect reality, now you're scaring away those that do. And it's back to the drawing board.

Are we expected then to just lie? Do we not allow cinema to reflect the truth?

And do note who's asking the question. Me. And I come from a space where I make happy films, I may not have to face big problems with censorship. Not on the scale of what's happening to Udta Punjab. I direct films that have joie de vivre in them, I don't touch dark and gritty themes. But that doesn't make me safe or free from this, it just makes me less versatile. So why am I writing this? Because I realize that the filmmaker next door is suffering. And so that brings me to my next question: if all of us, or too many of us, are silent, will that just amplify the noise? The noise we shouldn't be hearing? The noise that's trying to drown us out. 

And so my plea (several of them actually). First, to my colleagues: do you think it might be time for us to become a real industry, a community? Could we consider going past just wishing people on twitter (because texting is so passé) or fake hugging on red carpets? Ours is an industry which, let's be honest, has thrived and grown on the back of clichés - the more tried, the more tested, the better; and with the most basic one, we struggle. It's not difficult to remember the old trope: united we stand, divided we fall. And the last time I remember we stood together was at a funeral and, that too, not for too long, because, you know: busy. Phones were beeping, notifications were flashing. Forget the dear departed, we have tweets to think about, WhatsApp statuses to be updated, and Facebook to scour. I have taken steps. Am cutting down my phone time by an hour a day! 

Because we're up against quite a bit. Offence is no longer defence - it's a full-time profession. Every one is so offended all the time. The new police force that we weren't told about: the moral police. No qualifications, no training, no understanding of actual morality, but they have a degree in the art of being offended. And mind you, if there's an MBA, we're heading fast towards it. 

So let's stop. Because there is a solution and it is so very simple: give us certification. Don't censor-certify. 

And maybe while you're at it, adhere to those greats who gave us our constitution, who gave us freedom of speech. We had great men in great rooms who made great rules. Can we honour that already?

Can I beseech you for certification for censorship not censor? I was told to respect seniority, to bow down to it, so I have no shame in begging. On bended knee. Give us the freedom to do what we do, and to do it well. 

Otherwise, and this is the best I've got: can you please just take the same pill my therapist gave me? It's called nexito. And its meant to take away anxiety. I am offering it to the people in power.  And no, before you ask, this is not a promotion and, no, I am not Brand Ambassador. It's just done me a world of good-and I'm happy to share the wealth. 

See I'm a patriot too. I love my country, what we have stood for. Trouble is we're not standing for it anymore. So really, can the scissor-happy please take that chill pill? It really works. I can attest. 
(Karan Johar is one of India's best known film and television personalities)

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