While many Indians may not have heard of David Fincher, he does have a cult following here. One of his most famous movies is Se7en (1995) featuring the all-star cast of Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Gwyneth Paltrow.
In the climax Pitt is presented a box with the severed head of his pregnant wife (Paltrow) by Spacey. This is staple fare from Fincher. In Fight Club (1999), the hero sucks the nipples of a male friend and in the climax blows part of his face with a gun to smile for a happy ending.
In Gone Girl (2014), Rosamund Pike (who shot to fame in the 2002 James Bond film Die Another Day) shoves a bottle in her private parts to present evidence for a fake rape and then seduces Neil Patrick Harris only to kill him by slashing his throat and claim that fake rape.
In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), there’s a gruesome rape scene of the heroine and she takes her revenge on her tormentor by tying him up and raping him with a dildo and making a video out of it to blackmail him.
It’s not as if Fincher is a B-Grade director but one of the most influential and artistic Hollywood directors today. As of writing this article three of his films were in the IMDb Top 250. (Fight Club—10th, Se7en—27th and Gone Girl—170th). His movies which made it to the same list after release but fell out since are: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Facebook story The Social Network (2010) and Zodiac (2007). Quite a collection one must say!
But there’s no way India would ever produce a Fincher. Most of his movies are heavily censored here and his refusal to drop the rape scene in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo led to it being banned in India. (That time we had a Congress government so there was hardly any outrage over the ban)
Even if we try to go maybe 10% of what Fincher attempts, then all hell breaks loose in the censor board and many conservative groups in the country. The latest example is Udta Punjab, which is much ado about nothing.
Udta Punjab shows the grim reality of the drug situation in Punjab. It lays bare the system that involves politicians and cops. What is wrong in showing that reality? The drug situation is discussed openly by all and sundry.
Op-eds and articles are written and even Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi publicly claimed that 7 out of 10 Punjabi youth have a drug problem way back in 2012.
So what’s the problem if it is shown in the film?
Here’s the paradox. If Udta Punjab shows reality, then you can’t ban it. If it doesn’t show reality, then well… isn’t the film world fiction in the first place? And yet we got news of 89 cuts being proposed which came down to 13 which finally came down to 1 at the insistence of the Bombay High Court.
Many Punjabi songs glorify drugs and the youth them idolize there. Udta Punjab on the contrary shows how a pop star ending up going bust due to drug abuse. What’s the problem with that?
The message of Udta Punjab is loud and clear: Drugs are bad and they have to be eradicated. But still all and sundry were offended. In the above mentioned films, the bad girl gets away in Gone Girl and the killer is never caught in Zodiac.
In Udta Punjab, everybody gets their comeuppance.
Udta Punjab is also full of swear words, but again that is the reality of the country. Indians swear so frequently that many words have lost all meaning. They abound even in schools and colleges.
Why be hypocritical and ban them in just movies? Our Censor Board still carries a banned list. Hollywood started doing away with its banned list in the 1930s and here we are still holding on to it in the 2010s.
Look who’s associated with the film: Bollywood stars Kareena Kapoor, Shahid Kapoor, Alia Bhatt and Punjabi star Diljit Dosanjh; saas-bahu queen Ekta Kapoor and avant-garde directors Anurag Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane.
This is not some B-grade team attempting sleaze. Pahlaj Nihalani himself came out with some sleazy and double entendre films of his time and he probably wants us to be stuck in the rut. But then all censor boards before him have been like that. Why blame just Nihalani?
The censor board was set up in the 1950s under the Prime Ministership of Jawaharlal Nehru when we were a virtual pseudo-Communist State. In 2016 we are in a new India where the exposure to sex and violence on the Internet is ten times greater than what Bollywood shows.
Censoring and banning makes absolutely no sense because all those things are there everywhere.
India aspires to be a superpower. There is focus to do that on the military and science front. But you also have to give full freedom on the science and culture front. I am in no way saying that just bold films are the answer to this, but an aspiring country has to give full freedom to all its artists, writers and filmmakers.
I am not referring to the fake #AwardWapsi campaign, but true freedom to operate, ideate and create.
Udta Punjab may be nothing by Hollywood standards, but it pushes the envelope as far as Bollywood standards are concerned. We need many many more Udta Punjabs to be taken seriously as a film industry but mainly to mature as a society.
The Bombay High Court by pushing Udta Punjab with just one cut has made a landmark decision and now one is sure that many Indian filmmakers will start ideating projects that will be far more ambitious than Udta Punjab.