Arts and Entertainment

Censorship and Freedom of Expression

- Sophia Pande
Censorship and Freedom of Expression

Nov 9, 2014-

The other day I was in the theater watching “Gone Girl” the latest, racy, Oscar-contending thriller adapted from a fairly risqué bestselling novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn. Unsurprisingly but irritatingly, and to the detriment of the film, much of the more ‘adult’ scenes had been removed in chunks, and that too, fairly clumsily, causing the film to jar and the plot to suffer.

A book of this kind, adapted into a film, would be a nightmare to our highly conventional censorship board. In addition to explicit jokes, frequent expletives, and references to sex, there are, in the book and the unadulterated film (pardon the pun) quite a few highly detailed unambiguously R-rated scenes. Our censorship board in its eagerness to promote decency has eliminated everything it deems ‘dirty’, in the process leaving scenes of extreme violence untouched. I hate to state the obvious, but is violence then less offensive and more damaging than sex?

That being said, why is the censorship board bent on cutting out scenes rather than just introducing and enforcing a ratings system that ensures that only adults (who hopefully, in a democracy, can be allowed to choose for themselves) have access to films that have ‘adult’ content.

Aside from this kind of meddling in the cinemas, Nepal doesn’t have a terrible track record when it comes to censorship; that being said, it has had some less than proud moments when it comes to defending both freedom of speech and expression.

In 2012 Manish Harijan’s paintings of Hindu gods and goddesses depicted in super hero costumes and innocuously hanging in  the Siddhartha Art Gallery were deemed ‘offensive’ by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad - Nepal (VHP) and the gallery was shut down by the police. The artistic community was shocked; somehow, despite Nepal’s finally becoming an inclusive secular state, artistic freedom was being blindsided by religious extremism. Parallels to MF Husain, the great late Indian painter, who was similarly hounded by extreme right Hindu groups in India must be drawn. We may quibble on the extent of Harijan’s talent but never on the imposition on his creative freedom.

Then, in 2013, Film South Asia (FSA), the biennial documentary film festival, asked me to review a few films in their always edifying line up. Among the most striking (and disturbing) was “No Fire Zone”, a documentary by Callum McCrae, indicting the current Rajapaksa government in Sri Lanka for its slaughter of Tamils during the final push in a war against the Tamil Tigers that had raged for 26 years. The film was a standard for rigorous journalism, a resounding call to action against egregious human rights violations, and a must-see for all post conflict nations.

Yet when the Sri Lankan government asked Nepal to stop the film from screening at the festival, our government, instead of standing up for its sovereign rights, bowed its head and accepted. The documentary was later screened, bravely, by FSA’s organisers in a private screening open to the public.

I have used these two appalling lapses by our very own government to highlight the necessity for dialogue at a time when such crucial issues are being written into Nepali law as we speak.

Fighting for the right to say and write what you feel is not an easy subject. Everywhere in the world the debate still rages, is there such a thing as too much freedom of expression? For example: how do we stop people from inciting violence through hate speech? Then again, without proper legislation how can we stop government bodies claiming to act on our behalf, from curtailing our fundamental freedoms? Some of us would prefer our films uncut and for art to raise important questions. Why should we try to avoid controversy, especially at the expense of knowledge and education?

Nepal must not take these particular lessons from India and China. We must, as a new nation with new hope, move forward and support the freedom of artistic expression and freedom of speech. If artists and writers are frightened, and adult audiences are treated like children, how can we address difficult but necessary subjects?

Published: 09-11-2014 09:00

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