Nothing gets hurt as fast — and as frequently — in India as religious sentiments. Cinema, being a mass medium, naturally ends up stomping on those fragile sentiments, making them crack like eggshells, even when filmmakers don’t intend to do anything like that.
In the long line of Bollywood films that have unwittingly “hurt religious sentiments”, the latest are Behen Hogi Teri (starring Rajkummar Rao and Shruti Haasan) and the animation film Hanuman Da’Damdaar (voiceover by Salman Khan).
The first film outraged an upright citizen for showing the lead character dressed as Lord Shiva and sitting on a motorcycle, even though the character’s job in the film is to dress up as Lord Shiva. A police complaint was filed and one of the producers was arrested, along with the director of the film.
In the second case, the ‘lingo’ used by Hanuman was considered objectionable by Pahlaj Nihalani, chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification, informally the Censor Board. Several cuts were demanded before the film could get a U/A certificate. “The trendy language applied to religious characters may not be taken in the right spirit by everyone… better safe than sorry,” said Nihalani.
Ruchi Narain, director of Hanuman Da’Damdaar, says, “I don’t really think it’s the audience that’s the problem… There’s some kind of a fear factor being created about what can be shown and what can’t be shown. Technically, it’s not the censor board, which it has become; it’s supposed to be the certification board.”
Amul Vikas Mohan, one of the three co-producers of Behen Hogi Teri, says that it was really strange when his partner [producer] Tony D’souza and director Ajay K Pannalal got arrested. “I feel India’s favourite pastime is to get offended. People get offended about anything and everything,” he says. “I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s there right now and we have to live with it.”
Actor Mandira Bedi, who had a criminal case filed against her once for getting tattoos that were Sikh religious symbols, says, “I’ve been the target of all this, so I know how it feels. I don’t see anything offensive about these films. India is very sensitive about lots of things, but I really feel one needs to calm down. There are people who look out for things like this, and make a big deal out of that. Why should filmmakers not be able to tell the stories they want to tell?”
The socio-conditions of a country probably make the people cling more to religion, says trade analyst Omar Qureshi. He cites a couple of other examples (outside India) in which films caused widespread outrage. “The line between ‘cinematic liberty’ and ‘hurting sentiments’ shouldn’t blur but it shouldn’t damage anyone either,” he feels.