Censorship can never be an option in a democracy, and nothing can be worse than curtailing the rights of journalists. But that is exactly what seems to have happened in Chennai on July 8. At a meeting between Producers Council and Public Relations Officers, it was decreed that those film critics who were critical of a movie or a director or an actor/actress would no longer be invited to Press shows, “success meets” and trailer as well as audio launches. The “order” has been enforced with immediate effect.
This is a very sad state of affairs in Tamil Nadu, which produces about 250 movies a year, and often there are multiple releases every Thursday or Friday.
Although for most films there are Press shows, more often than not they coincide with the first theatrical screenings. At best, a Press screening may be held a few hours before the first commercial show, which is normally around noon.
So, technically, a critic who may be kept out of a Press show does not stand to lose much. Not at all, in fact. Also, as renowned director, writer and cinematographer, Rajiv Menon, whose recent Sarvam Thala Mayam premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival late last year and commercially opened some months ago, followed by a Netflix slot, told me that even if one were to keep some journalists out of Press shows hoping that their reviews would not be out in time to supposedly mar a movie, “how are you going to gag the social media”. Wannabe critics begin to Tweet and post on other social platforms even as the first scenes of a film begin to unfold. “The word is out in no time, and nobody, however powerful he may be, can stop this”.
Nice move 👍In a meeting between Producers Council and PROs in Chennai it has been decided that those who criticise movies and actors to huge extent will not be allowed to attend any cinema related events. This includes press shows, success meet, audio and trailer launch. pic.twitter.com/AqcRGbHolA— Atul Mohan (@atulmohanhere) July 8, 2019
A senior member of the cinema fraternity, who did not wish to be named and who has been promoting art movies for a long time, laughs at this whole idea of censorship. He said that publicity, even if it is bad publicity is good, because “your films gets talked about...what is worse is when your work is ignored”.
Another moviemaker averred on condition of anonymity that there were rotten apples in the basket, like any other profession. And they do demand exorbitant sums of money to promote a film. Otherwise, they threaten to mar a movie. But these men were few and far between between, and just because there were a few bad apples, are you going to throw out the whole basket – or keep professional journalists out, he asked.
Incidentally, the whole scene in especially Chennai is vitiated by dozens of so-called critics trooping into Press shows or audio/video launches for a free screening (in a State where cinema ticket rates are the lowest in India!) and free food. Not just this, reportedly money also changes hands with producers freely patronising those journalists who are pliable. Some, is said, demand and get insanely high amounts.
Be that as it may, producers, directors, actors/actresses and PR professionals must realise that this form of censorship can merely defeat the purpose. After all, what is going to stop an independent minded critic from buying a ticket, watching a movie and writing about it? Nothing, just nothing.
Let us take a look at history. A legendary film critic who transformed into a brilliant moviemaker, Francois Truffaut, was banned from the Cannes Film Festival for an edition many, many years ago. The Festival felt that he was brutishly critical of French cinema. But there was an overwhelming resentment against this decision, and the very next year, when Truffaut made 400 Blows, Cannes invited him, and the jury gave it a top prize. Cannes realised the futility of keeping down a well-meaning and honest critic. And a great director.
Also, there was a time in France when French critics were kept out of Press shows, because it was felt that they were very critical of French cinema. But the critics bought their own tickets and wrote what they wanted to. The purpose of the ban was completely defeated. And the proscription was lifted post-haste.
Likewise, will the Tamil Nadu Producers Council and PR teams be able to stop honest film critics from buying their own tickets and watching movie?
Finally, a work of art, cinema included, lends itself to varied comments and interpretations, and an artist, movie men included, must have the strength of conviction to believe in their own creations – and not let themselves be bogged down by criticism.This merely affirms how weak they are.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)