Ban is a three-letter word but costs crores(IANS Column: B-Town)

The Indian diaspora spread all over the world has mostly stayed connected to its roots. And one of the institutions that keeps this connection alive is Indian cinema. These films could be in Hindi or in any of the South Indian languages.

The Indian film market is spread far and wide, but Indian films also have to conform to the local culture and sensibilities, mainly of the religious kind. We do not make films that are against any other country or its culture, but when it comes to religious sentiments, considering the mixed population we have, Indian films feature characters from different religious backgrounds. Yet, Indian films cannot always please all people.

Almost all countries exhibiting films have their own censorship bodies. It is also not uncommon for them to occasionally ban films from theatrical release. The reason could be a vulgarity, nudity or religious sentiments being hurt.

Films are most commonly banned in Islamic countries. Banning vulgar and other objectionable content is understandable, but a factor peculiar to Islamic countries is that a film with content against a friendly country, which means another Islamic country, is frowned upon.

Generally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a lucrative market, is quite open and liberal about viewing films as just a means of entertainment. But when another Islamic nation objects to a film, the Emirates government respects its sentiments. Besides, which country wants a film to ferment restlessness among its people, especially if it has mostly expatriates from various countries!

The latest film to be banned in the UAE is ‘Fighter’. Losing the UAE business means a goes chunk out of your recovery, considering that 60 per cent of the Emirates population is from the sub-continent. And, also considering the fact that the film is said to have cost a mammoth Rs 400+ crore.

The film is not against Islam, but it deals with the fraught relations between India and Pakistan. Still, there’s no reason for one Islamic nation to spoil its relations with another for the sake of one film. Pakistan keeps banning Hindi films off and on, but these don’t always get banned in other Islamic nations.

Akshay Kumar’s ‘Baby’, banned in Pakistan, was allowed to be screened in other Islamic nations because the villains in the film were not specifically designated as Pakistani. ‘Udta Punjab’, too, was allowed in other Islamic countries because it focused only on the Pakistani drug trade in so far as it affected India.

Also banned in Pakistan, but not elsewhere, were ‘Pad Man’, ‘Raanjhanaa’, ‘Naam Shabana’, ‘Tere Bin Laden’, ‘Mulk’, ‘Raees’, ‘Neerja’, and, of course, ‘Gadar: Ek Prem Katha’ and ‘Gadar 2’!

Can’t always find a logical explanation for this banning business, be it in India or Pakistan, or any other country!

Other films banned in the Middle East included Salman Khan’s ‘God Tussi Great Ho’, besides ‘Beast’, ‘The Kashmir Files’, ‘Bell Bottom’, ‘Kurup’, ‘The Killer’, ‘Padmaavat’, ‘The Dirty Picture’, ‘Oh My God’, ‘Tiger 3’ (Kuwait, Oman and Qatar), and ‘Samrat Prithiviraj’ (Kuwait and Oman).

Can you imagine, ‘Delhi Belly’ was banned in Nepal! Of all the countries, Kuwait found ‘The Dirty Picture’ objectionable for its bold content. And, for whatever reason, Mani Rathnam’s ‘Bombay’ was banned in Singapore.

The Rudalis of Social Media

There is a new ‘rudali’ (professional mourners) brigade on social media! All along, we have seen bots engaged along with people to promote films and, then, go on posting fake box-office collection figures. The activity starts from the day a film’s promo is released till the film is hailed as a box-office success / hit / blockbuster, and now, with ‘Pathaan’, ‘Jawan’ and ‘Animal’, the term used is India’s greatest hits, benchmark setters, and so on!

Hrithik Roshan’s ‘Fighter’ was expected to be another of those illusionary Rs 500 crore+ blockbusters. And those, warming up to post Rs 50 crore figures with every post till they crossed Rs 700 crore, were lost. More than the cine goer, the film had let the brigade down!

So, they have now taken to writing paeans for ‘Fighter’ and insisting that the viewers have done injustice to it, though it was a fantastic film. The same audience who rejected or ignored it, the ‘rudali’ brigade prognosticated, will end up calling it a masterpiece when it is released on OTT!

One such ‘rudali’ also goes on to say that people will then realise they failed as an audience (in appreciating a right film?).

Yet another so-called film critic posts a message for Hollywood with the poster of ‘Fighter’ in the backdrop: “Hollywood should take lessons from Bollywood on how to make a masala action film!”

Hey guys, why do you assume the people who rejected a film in cinemas will watch it on OTT? And rate it as a masterpiece? It is the same audience but more discerning if you checked recently on what works on OTT platforms. Sycophancy seems to have found a new level.

Films Vying for Election Season

Film releases have been planned in a way that helped them to cash in on festivals and national holidays. Diwali, Eid, Independence Day, Republic Day and the Christmas week have been the most favoured for film releases. They assured decent opening collection figures.

In the last decade or so, even the themes of films are such that they pander to nationalism, patriotism and social issues promoted by the ruling dispensaton.

And films such as ‘The Kashmir Files’ and ‘Kerala Story’ worked with both the critics and the box office. So a lineup of such films was to be expected.

Now that the national general election season is here, some more filmmakers are ready to roll out films along the same lines. A string of new releases has been announced in the hope that they would get noticed at a time when the political atmosphere will be surcharged.

These include films such as ‘Palayan Kab Tak’, ‘Mirg’, ‘Article 370’, ‘Veer Savarkar’, ‘Sabarmati Express Report’, ‘Accident Or Conspiracy: Godhra’, ‘West Bengal Diary’ and ‘965’. And they all expect to stir up some media attention during the pre-election season.