KEECHAR VERSUS GULALby Satyabrata Ghosh February 27 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins, 30 secs
Satyabrata Ghosh analyses the following words spoken by the Prime Minister of India in parliament: “Keechar uskey paas tha, mere pass gulal.”
Indian Cinematograph Act of 1918 was implemented after World War I based on the British Cinematograph of 1909. One of the main purposes of the act was to ensure the safety of the audience since the nitrite-based celluloid used, then, by the pioneers was combustible. Quite a many halls and tents were ravaged by the fire where people watched movies. Many lives were lost when the colonial government of the time began to issue a license based on the safety standard maintained by the hall owners so that no incident could happen by the highly combustible films being burnt due to heat generated by the projectors, or the callousness of the projectionists.
Strangely, this very Act was amended time and again, to suit the British government, which could ban movies that even had a hint of anti-British sentiments. The main purpose of the Act, that of ensuring the safety of the audience became secondary post-1918.
In 1920 Censor Boards were established in Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and Rangoon since it had became mandatory to secure a certificate from the government before projecting the films to the public. It was a ploy to nip anti-sentiments in the bud. And to a large extent, they succeeded to repress and cower down the filmmakers who intended to convey a message to unite the people against the draconian role of the colonists.
Even more strangely, the Act and the Censorship Board remained operative when India became independent. In 1949, the Cinematograph Act was amended to distinguish the major and minor audience in terms of age by issuing ‘Certificate A’ for adults and ‘Certificate U’ for universal projection. Again, the British legacy was followed, which became strengthened when in 1952 the new Indian Cinematograph Act was amended. Now the pretext for the Act was changed from the safety of the audience to ensure the films be exhibited ‘within the limits of tolerance of Indian society’ by the provision of Article 19(1)(a) and 19 (2) of the Constitution of India.
And these legal bindings keep the filmmakers almost religiously stick to public entertainment only. Amusement became the keyword instead of enlightenment, which the medium can effectively spread among the audience, a large part of who were still under-privileged, under-nourished, almost illiterate and lived mostly in villages.
The Films Division of India (FDI) was established in 1948 to produce and distribute films made under the strict supervision of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. And in the years that followed, Indians have witnessed how the contemporary reality of India had converted into a propaganda machine till in 2022, the Division was officially shut down. In a real sense, FDI, with its strict adherence to the governmental stand for the status quo, has seized to be relevant even as a propaganda machine now.
Because even the ardent devotees of the Prime Minister of India should accept that the most loyal devotee of his, is he himself. At least, these devotees could not undermine what was evident when he spoke in the Parliament recently for 78 long minutes. He was supposed to answer a simple question asked by the opposition(s) in the two houses and across the country: How does Modi describe Gautam Adani’s association with the Prime Minister of the country? In reply the Prime Minister eschewed them squarely by quoting a poem: “Keechar uskey paas tha, mere pass gulal.” Film medium with all its nuances and might cannot convey the cunningness with which a parallel narrative can be woven.
During the Emergency imposed in 1975, the government became highhanded and suppressed independent expressions of the filmmakers who dared to make political statements through the films. The film cans and even the film negatives were confiscated and allegedly lit fire to just as villagers often do to the beaten and almost deadly snakes. Interestingly, many of who protested against the iron hand of the Indira Government have managed to secure power to steer India, now, in the way they want. And the processes they have adopted are not dissimilar to Indira and Sanjay Gandhi’s 47 years ago.
The analogue paradigm of filmmaking by now has entered the digital domain, which can make both content and information 'viral' thanks to the internet and social media. While the screens of laptops and mobiles are well adapted to pornography, and heart-thumping gory violence to an extreme level, the reason and knowledge system to catch hold of the political and social realities are choked indiscriminately by the men and women in power.
The BBC Documentary on the 2002 Godhra Riot is immediately a case in point. While the entire country is aware of the reality of the perpetrators, the main characters involved are active in the ‘Sanjay Gandhi way’ to create a veneer of denial of the wrongs they have committed. YouTube links are banned in the country and when the efforts are apparent in various parts of the country to stream for mass viewing in universities, unabated violence is perpetrated by the brute power of the state.
But then, that is expected, isn’t it? As it is often said, ‘go to the basics’ to understand why the social root of India has become so vulnerable in the last eight years. We, the people of India are at crossroads again because complexities keep growing. We now live in a time when everything has become Modi-driven. And we are under such a government, which is unabashed to make us forget everything we know, to ‘unlearn and relearn from those at the helm of all affairs. Wealth is no longer money or gold – it is the vote bank, which supremely handles the optics for 'the public'. The present government will decide when and to what the people of the country should respond to.
Modi is enough, on his own, to rubbish the accusation of his connivance with the former ‘third richest man in the world’. The same man in the 2019 election campaign claimed, “Naa khaunga, naa khane doonga’ (Neither I will take any share, nor will allow others to have it), but has allowed the Adanis to grow exponentially during the time that India and the rest of the world was dealing with pandemic lockdowns. And, with a chequered past, Modi learnt one thing straight – the only obstacle to remove when reaching the pinnacle of success, is to erase the past.
The BBC Documentary on the 2002 Godhra Riot is a case in point. While the entire country is aware of the reality of the perpetrators, the main characters involved, have officially banned the YouTube links so that fewer Indians can look back into the murky past. Isn’t the method a known one? The days when Indira Gandhi imposed the Emergency Act 48 years ago, which Sanjay Gandhi along with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting crudely executed, have been brought back, however, unofficially imposed.
We now live in a time that everything is driven by just one person. The government who let the rate of unemployment soar in the last eight years, inflation to reach the threshold of stagflation and the insecurities due to the mounting polarization of society push people to the abyss, is unabashed to make live with tunnel visions. The manipulators now supremely handle and teach us how should we see life, society and religion. Every aberration that we will be pointing at, will be snubbed and rubbished as ‘keechar’ because the game of numbers favours the rulers.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who once wrote in his eulogy, “One can say unhesitatingly that Lord Dalhousie was a good administrator. He was accused of more wrongs than he actually committed. He was a mere servant of an imperialist regime who sent him as an obedient emissary to execute his duties for the royal blood,” has become Vir Savarkar, the hero of a nation plagued with an unprecedented quantum of insecurity among the common people with loss of jobs, unemployment, and religious divisions.
While history is being rewritten, contradictions mount. The ‘Lord’ who Savarkar praised, is the man who had been the sole force to amalgamate the princely states as British territories in India. He was the one who plundered the Kohinoor diamond to gift it to his queen of England. His obstinacy brought in the Sepoy Mutiny.
We live in a time when the age-old Mughal Sarai station is now Deen Dayal Upadhyay, Allahabad is Prayag Raaj and soon Mughal Garden in Delhi will officially be on Amrit Udyan. This is not at all the new India that we aspire for. It’s a changed India that erases not only the past but also the difference between the ‘keechar’ and the ‘gulal’.
Is this the legacy we leave for our children to live with?