In what must be a world record, the name of a TV programme was changed on the day of its launch this week. Colors renamed its Punjab-based family social from Gurbani to Bani, evidently to avoid religious backlash. For those who don’t know, Gurbani (meaning religious compositions of Sikh Gurus) is the name of the lead female character in the show. Naming a character Gurbani could possibly not connote anything but respect for the religion.
In October last year, Sushma Swaraj picked up the “issue” of the name “Radha” being used in a song from Karan Johar’s Student Of The Year. At a public event, where she was presumably representing herself as a leader of the nation, she spent considerable time wondering why the girl in the song could not have been called something else. The crowd, obviously representing her party’s support, cheered her on.
That the song went onto become one of the biggest chartbusters of the year and continues to still feature prominently on the charts is another matter altogether. I believe Johar just got lucky. Some other day, right-wing groups may have forced him to change or delete the song from the film. Remember what happened to Wake Up Sid (Bombay vs. Mumbai) and My Name Is Khan (SRK’s comments on Pakistan cricketers being a part of IPL)!
Crime Patrol has run into trouble twice this year, when court orders stayed telecast of episodes based on Delhi gangrape and those involving political bigwigs from Haryana. Blogs and social networking accounts are suspended or forced to shut down routinely, often for reasons laughably fragile. And of course, there’s the recent case of Vishwaroopam too.
Today, if I look at some of the content we used to produce in the 80s, I am amazed how that ever got through. But that’s the reality. That social and political intolerance in our country has increased with each passing decade.
What worries me considerably is that none of this intolerance represents any legitimate view. It is not the mass public opinion and it is not a constitutional view either. It is merely the view of a section (often miniscule) of the society, trying to make their presence felt, to gain publicity and further their agendas.
But here’s the catch. If it had been some other media, say newspapers (or even news channels), the legal system would have to approve of it as “freedom of speech”. But when it comes to entertainment, managing to obtain a stay order or sending a threat note (sometimes both come coincidentally on the same day) is child’s play.
Producers and channels are increasingly concerned about this growing phenomenon. Many have Plan-Bs ready as a part of their pre-production, to handle resistance if and when it comes. In effect, the industry is now beginning to administer self-censorship, out of plain fear.
It’s easy to say that broadcasters or filmmakers allow this to happen to them, by giving in. But ask a channel on the Monday of a launch, or a producer on the Friday of his film’s release, and he will tell you that his options are limited to just one in number.
The I&B ministry has to think about moving from a regulatory mindset to a growth mindset for the entertainment business. Otherwise, we should charge them for showing apathy to a key element of popular Indian culture – mass entertainment. And let them get a stay order on that!
This post first appeared on mxmindia.com, on my weekly column ‘TV Trail’