Acclaimed Bollywood filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, a highly vocal opponent of the controversial proposed amendments to the Cinematograph Bill, has explained why he thinks big actors like Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan remain “silent” and fail to criticise the Centre on critical issues affecting the film industry.
For example, last month, the Centre proposed amendments to the draft Cinematograph Bill, which gives itself carte blanche to re-examine films, already given the nod for release by the Central Board of Film Certification.
The Centre had asked the general public to comment on it and submit their views by July 2. This move angered the Indian film industry, who saw it as an attempt to curb their freedom, and a host of filmmakers, actors, and other technical staff shot off a letter to the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
Bollywood directors like Vishal Bhardwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Farhan Akhtar, Mira Nair etc., and a host of south stars such as Kamal Haasan, Suriya, Vishaal, Karthi, Karthik Subburaj openly voiced their dissent. However, Bollywood superstars Aamir Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Salman Khan have been silent on the issue.
Bhardwaj too had called the new proposals a “super censor law, totally wrong and unnecessary”. “What is the meaning of a censor certificate if the film can be re-examined on anybody’s complaint?” he asked, quoted media reports.
However, while discussing the ramifications of the proposed amendments to the Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in an interview with Mojo Story, Vishal Bhardwaj told journalist Barkha Dutt in Hindi that “earlier, Aamir Khan used to say things. Now even he is silent”, Hindustan Times reported.
Bhardwaj pointed that star power exists. “People actually listen when they speak,” he said. But according to the filmmaker, superstars like Shah Rukh Khan cannot speak up because if they do say something and they get trolled for it, 300 people’s careers who are linked to him, will also get affected.
He added that the money to the tune of ₹100-200 crore that a producer has invested in his project will also be adversely impacted. “Personally, if you meet Shah Rukh, he has his voice, he has his conviction, and he articulates it so beautifully — both Aamir and Shah Rukh — but the fear is that their words will impact the lives of 300 others. If they were solely to be held accountable for their words, I think they would still speak,” he said candidly.
Vishal said that in the aftermath of the ‘Tandav’ controversy, his series about the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC 814 was canned by a streaming platform, said the HT report.
Meanwhile, Tamil cinema’s superstar Suriya tweeting his opposition to the proposed amendments bill said in Tamil, “the law is to protect freedom of expression, not to strangle its voice”. And, he had urged people to file objections against the Cinematograph Act.
The actor shared a link that contained a statement against the proposed changes.
The statement read: “Undermining the sovereignty of the Censor Board and the Supreme Court, this provision will effectively give the Central government supreme power over cinema exhibition in the country potentially endangering freedom of expression and democratic dissent. This will also render filmmakers powerless at the hands of the State and vulnerable to threats, vandalism and intimidation of mob censors.”
While his brother, actor Karthi, tweeted, “The Cinematograph (Amendment) Bill 2021 (draft) allowing the Centre to cancel a film’s censor certificate at any time will create insecurity and severely impact business prospects for every film and hurt the industry, hence such provisions must be dropped”.
While Karthik Subburaj said that it was a “big blow to freedom of speech in art”, Pa Ranjith said that the Union government was following their overall position of “curtailing dissent” and have set a dangerous precedent stifling freedom of thought and speech in cinema. And, asked for this particular amendment to be revoked.
According to media reports, a lot of the artists who objected to the amendment were from the south Indian film industry, while the big-wigs of Bollywood were surprisingly silent.