I got seriously worried when I read a friend’s tweet some days ago. “Hope to live to tell the tale…see you on the other side”. Worried for his life, I immediately called him up, like a good friend should, to check on him. Was he in some sort of mortal danger? Did he decide to take on all the evil in this world single-handedly like a superhero? Was he suicidal after overdosing on Himesh tracks?
“Chill, buddy, I’m watching Padmaavat. That’s the answer I got, in a whisper of course. My friend had “dared” to book tickets, first day, not sure if it was the first show, of a movie which really turned out to be the most used fuel for small talk all over the country! A movie that had movie-goers biting their nails at the thought of clicking on the ‘book now’ button on the booking sites. A movie that made politicians say, “Hey, we’re better off with sleazy movies on our phones in the Parliament than this vote-bank eradicator”. A movie that said, “There is no ‘I’ in controversy”. A movie called Padmaavat.
Now that all the hullaballoo has settled down, with quite a sum of money that the movie made, it’s time we all sat back and looked at the whole episode in retrospect. Yet again, has our freedom of expression come under mob fury? It’s not just about censor boards and censor chiefs anymore (I can hear a certain Nihalani laughing away right now). It’s about what pleases the mobs. I think it’s time our directors got together and worked on new formulae to crack this code!
It might go something like this:
-Never EVER keep an “I” in the title spelling. Please. But always keep an eye on belly buttons shown in the dance sequences, lest they have to be digitally covered later.
-Replace the script and dialogues with real history text books. So what if the mob hasn’t even read these. No, let me correct this. So what if the mob can’t read at all. It has to be historically correct. After all, they have a time travelling ability to go back in time and fact check!
-Make sure you invest in a big sheet of bubblewrapping paper, so that you can wrap yourself up in it while you shoot the film. Who knows when you’ll be assaulted. Let the bubbles do their thing and keep you safe.
-Replace the juries and panels for movie screenings and awards with our extremely cinema-centric political parties. Who better than them to judge movies and pass them! We’d get movies like ‘Hum aapke hain Neta’, ‘Hum Haath Haath hain’ and the like.
-School buses should be made movie-compliant. Although not related, they still have an uncanny link.
As an artist myself, I shudder to imagine what kind of reactions would be in store for me in case I do try and even garner the courage to create a comic book based on some historical figure. It’s a good thing that comics distribution is quite limited in India, guess the mobs definitely won’t have ‘going to a book shop and buying comics to judge them’ on their to-do list. But seriously speaking, what does an artist do in such a hostile scenario? Here we are, claiming to be full of ideas and having the want to showcase it to the world. But would we really be able to do that? What if we offend someone? God forbid, an entire faux-cultural outfit which thinks stoning school buses is an act of protest.
I remember a show on TV in my school days called ‘Who Dares Wins’. Consuming art in India today is unfortunately that. I say this since it’s not just the artist who is walking on a thin layer of ice, it also has made the lives of everyday people difficult. It’s seemingly ok with certain politicians questioning Darwin’s theories of evolution, claiming there was no ape! But it’s not ok when a semi-fictional story takes a bit of artistic liberty with its storytelling. I’d rather teach the ape to act in a film now, ‘coz that’d be evolution. Or should I say, evolution in reverse. And on this point, I do agree with that politician who questioned Darwin. There was no ape in the past…we are becoming it!
(The writer is a comic creator, illustrator and animator)