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Debating Art

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Sometimes it becomes difficult to distinguish fact from fiction, particularly when politics gets involved. For some, art is also a political statement meant to influence people’s minds on important issues. In many cases, even facts are interpreted in a manner to suit the fiction. There are others, however, who believe that art must have the ability to see all sides of a situation, thereby providing the opportunity to obtain an objective understanding of issues. This has become a moot issue in Indian film-making these days as ideologies vie fiercely to dominate the narrative.
The history of Indian film-making has had occasions when politics got in the way of a movie’s making or release. The most extreme examples were during the Emergency when government paranoia had reached ridiculous levels. Overall, however, there were fewer challenges to the Censor Board’s decisions, with filmmakers finding enough space to make movies without hitting the extremes. With the expansion of telecommunications technology and social media, however, the fringes of public opinion have become even more censorious than the authorities. In a blurred reality, people are finding it difficult to distinguish between characters on the screen and real life.
One example of this is the controversy that has hit Anurag Kashyap’s hit Netflix series ‘The Sacred Games’. BJP MLA Manjinder Singh Sirsa has filed a case against Kashyap for ‘hurting the sentiments of the Sikhs’ when the lead character in the series played by Saif Ali Khan throws his ‘Kada’ into the sea in a moment of existential crisis. This has been construed by Sirsa as an insult, instead of an incident in a fictional narrative. Sirsa has also mentioned the casting of certain characters in negative roles as an attack upon religion and particular communities.
It must be noted that Kashyap is an award winning filmmaker, whose work has received, both, critical and box office recognition. His work has been path-breaking in many ways. He is not exactly some amateur attempting to garner eyeballs by clumsily generating controversy. He has a complex body of work to show, which cannot so easily be interpreted in political terms. It would be difficult to put him in the category of ‘urban naxalite’ that makes the conservative right see red. His work is provocative, even disrespectful of the status-quo, but that is not a crime. Is he soft on the Left and Islamism, as is alleged? Does art not provide that much freedom?
Basically, the way to deal with unacceptable art is to trash it in the reviews, expose it at the intellectual level, reveal the hidden agenda, and use the remote to move to a different channel. Cases should be filed only if there is direct incitement to hate or violence. Otherwise, let the artist work out his or her inner demons through a chosen form of non-violent expression. The wrong path will, inevitably, lead to empty halls and zero ratings. If, however, they strike a chord, the politicians should ask themselves, why?