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Thursday 20 February 2020

Liberalise BJP

It’s time the Bharatiya Janata Party evolved to being an organisation of liberal or — at least — liberalised, middle class people. The brouhaha over supposed misleading lines on goods and services tax mouthed by a character in Tamil film Mersal, featuring actor Joseph Vijay Chandrasekhar, does not behove the stature of the political party that has been seeking pride in being the largest in the world, a party that now rules a majority of the States of the Union of India. It is nobody’s case that the tinsel town is full of men and women of letters who are capable of entering an enlightened discourse on the political and economic affairs of the country. However, the Central Board of Film Certification — rightly or wrongly referred to as the censor board — is the authority competent for pulling up filmmakers for misleading content, if any, in their creations. Since this board is always dominated by a motley group from the industry that is close to the ruling dispensation, perhaps the BJP should have taken the matter up with their government in search of a recourse. As Mersal passed the scrutiny of the CBFC, the party had no business seeking cuts in the film. Whether director Atlee (Arun Kumar) would agree to the proposition is irrelevant. The issue with GST is economic, a subject that hardly stirs a hornet’s nest. The BJP has clearly gone over the top — more so because a constituent of its core supporter base, the traders’ class, is as disturbed by the new tax regime’s erratic nature as fans of the opposition.

In the broader perspective, cinema, painting, literature and all creative forms must be free of censorship. The freedom of expression can only be absolute, with a licence to hurt the sentiments of some people. If one does not accept the idea of being hurt by someone’s creation, he loses the right to advocate or defend another creation that hurts the other side. Caricatures of Islam’s prophet in some European magazines, for example, and merchandising of Hindu gods by some American vendors cannot have two different yardsticks of judgement. Importantly, the definition of this freedom should be known to one and all. First, while the only restriction applicable to freedom is ‘mine ends where yours begins’, there is no physicality involved in the act of viewing a film, which would encroach on the space of another individual. A work of art is unlike the use of loudspeakers which causes noise pollution, factories and fossil fuel-run vehicles that cause air pollution, and industrial effluents that cause water pollution. And scientifically provable pollution affects all beyond doubt. There can be no right or freedom to pollute. Feeling is an abstraction, an unquantifiable entity. Neither can the sentiments of somebody be ascertained authoritatively nor can the excuse of hurt feelings be allowed to stunt creativity. Within a community, a section might be outraged about a creation while another takes it in its stride. In fact, such differences are witnessed within otherwise politically united sections of a community, too. A pro-Kannada group is up in arms against the movie while some doctors in Tamil Nadu are trying to affect its business by advocating piracy. Who all can a creator please in the course of his creation? The second restriction on creative freedom is the law against libel, defamation or slander. A real person — unlike a legend — cannot be alleged to have committed a crime without incontrovertible evidence in support of the accusation.

Even electorally, enjoying the goodwill of the urbane is unexceptionable for the BJP, as its traditional base alone is not enough to make it win elections. The discomfiture of the middle class has been reflected well in the opinion of actor Rajinikanth, whom the BJP is looking up to for paving its way into Tamil Nadu. The party may rest assured, the orthodoxy among its votaries will come around in support of the liberal transformation sooner or later. In the recent past, sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat has spoken on numerous occasions in favour of modernising the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is known to take the liberal view that is not coloured by prejudice seriously, must exhort the party cadre to work on their short fuses. The faction of the film fraternity that is right-of-centre knows already that the most befitting response to a bad film is a good film.

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