By Radhika Bhirani
New Delhi, June 9 (IANS) Acclaimed filmmaker Shyam Benegal has said “Udta Punjab” does not denigrate Punjab and that it’s a “laudable effort” by the filmmakers to bring to light the state’s vulnerability to drug abuse.
“It’s a well-made film. It brings to attention a very serious problem, that of drug use among young people, which can, if we are not careful, become a rampant problem. It’s a laudable effort,” multiple National Award winning filmmaker Benegal told IANS over phone from Mumbai.
“But people are misreading the film,” he said. “They are under the impression that it is anti-Punjab. I don’t think the film is anti-Punjab at all.”
Benegal, who heads the government-appointed revamp panel of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), watched the Abhishek Chaubey directorial on Wednesday in Mumbai following a row between the movie’s makers and the censor board.
The censor board has demanded 89 cuts, including references to Punjab and expletives in the film. Censor chief Pahlaj Nihalani has denied suggestions he acted under political pressure.
Assembly elections are due in Punjab next year. The opposition has made the drug abuse in the state a major campaign issue, upsetting the ruling Akali Dal-BJP coalition.
On Wednesday, Nihalani suggested that co-producer Anurag Kashyap had taken money from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to make “Udta Punjab”, triggering an angry reaction from the film makers and Bollywood.
Benegal said he was speaking as an individual filmmaker, not as head of the CBFC revamp committee.
“If the question is of the use of dialect and language, there is a great deal of obscenity being used (in the film),” he said.
“But you see, there are certain sections of our population that use obscenity as punctuation in the language.”
Having said that, Benegal asserted that he would not recommend the film for a universal audience.
“It cannot get a ‘U’ certificate, and I am told the producers never asked for a universal certificate.
“They only asked for an ‘A’ certificate. So, in terms of age and maturity, the film is only meant essentially for adults and not people younger than properly grown adults,” said the 81-year-old.
Benegal said that in essence, “Udta Punjab” makes an important point.
“Punjab is vulnerable. Unfortunately, it happens to be extremely vulnerable because it’s a border state and it’s a doorway to India. So, drugs that come in from outside, have to pass through Punjab…
In his career as a filmmaker, Benegal has fearlessly touched upon socio-political issues and handled the sensitive subjects deftly in movies like “Ankur”, on class differences; “Nishant”, on the power of the rural elite and the sexual exploitation of women; and “Mandi”, a satire on a tiff between prostitutes in a brothel and politicians.
As compared to his times, has it become tougher for filmmakers to bring socio-political issues to the big screen?
“See, when you are critical of an establishment at any given time, there would always be a response. You can’t expect it not to be there. If I am critical of you, you will definitely react, no? So, same thing. That has nothing to do with what happened 30 years ago or what has happened today. It has always remained that way,” Benegal said.
The only difference, he pointed out, is that the matters snowball into controversies because now “media tends to exaggerate” the issue and since there are multiple channels of communication, news and views become more magnified than before.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at email@example.com)