Bandit Queen returns
By Jivraj Burman
SHEKHAR Kapur feels vindicated by the Supreme Court’s judgement vacating the Delhi High Court’s interim ban on Bandit Queen. He feels that if he were not a commercial filmmaker and had Bandit Queen not been made as a commercial proposition, the film would not have been so controversial. “A section of the people always tends to view commerce with scepticism and, in their eyes, a commercial filmmaker is always a suspect,” he told Screen.
Surprisingly, the chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). Shakti Samanta, feels equally vindicated by the apex court’s verdict. He says the SC has, in effect, upheld the Board’s earlier decision to clear the film, albeit with a few cuts. His argument is that even though the examining and revising committees had initially raised objections to the film’s depiction of sex, the Appellate Tribunal nevertheless overruled them and passed the film with some cuts. “Now that the SC has vacated the ban order With a reference to the film’s delineation of sex in positive terms, it is as much a victory to the film’s maker as it is to CBFC,” he said. (It must, however, be remembered that the Delhi .High Court’s ban order on Bandit Queen had nothing to do with its depiction of sex. The film was ordered to be withdrawn only because the court deemed that it cast a slur on the Gujjar community.)
Of course, not everyone supports Samanta’s claim. Many believe that the CBFC has no reason to feel triumphant at the Supreme Court’s judgement because. Bandit Queen’s release was made possible only because the Tribunal cleared it, and the Tribunal is not part of the CBFC. but an independent body with judicial power.
Kapur, however, does not feel that the judgement is tantamount to an indictment on the CBFC’s examining and revising committees. But he strongly feels that the members of the two committees lack the courage of their convictions. “During the review of the film, several members told me in private that while they supported the way I had handled the rape scenes, collectively, they could not clear the film uncut, because the CBFC guidelines did not permit that. I told them that guidelines are just that - guidelines and not rules. But, while they agreed with me in private. they hesitated to put into practice what they felt.
They reviewed a film only in the light of the audience’s likely reaction to it, rather than interpret the guidelines on a broader plane and judge the film without preconceived notions. Guidelines are not rules which cannot be subjectively interpreted. A CBFC member’s interpretation of the guidelines would of course, depend on their intellect. But the level of intellect in CBFC is evidently far below that of the three-judge bench of the Supreme Court, comprising Chief Justice A.M. Ahmadi. Justice S.P. Bharucha and Justice B.N.Kripal, which, while quashing the Delhi High Court’s ban order on ‘Bandit Queen’, looked into the film’s merits in proper perespective, quite unlike the narrow outlook with which the members of the examining and revising committees had judged it,” Kapur commented.
Samanta disagrees. The CBFC chairman says that under the present circumstances the board did its best. According to him. they are now more liberal than ever. “The CBFC’s job is not to judge a film from the producer’s point of view, but to see it through the audience’s eyes, keeping the guidelines in mind. Interpretations of the guidelines vary from member to member, and from film to film. On Bandit Queen, the consensus was that certain scenes would offend a susceptible audience. Objecting to these scenes was the natural thing for the board to do, considering the fact that it had to act within the parameters of the guidelines. If anybody is unhappy with the guidelines, let him or her suggest an alternative set of guidelines and invite the authorities for a discussion. Recently, on my own initiative, I pointed out tricky portions of the guidelines to different organisations of producers, hoping that they would come up with alternatives. But no one wrote back to me. What more can 1, as CBFC chairman, do? As a filmmaker, I know what I would have liked those guidelines to be. But as CBFC chairman, I can’t eat the cake and have it. too.” said Samanta.