Sunday, December 02, 2007

dancing in the dark

Once more unto the breach. I'm not sure what we've done to deserve the media we have, but since have them we do, I'm going to wonder when they're going to stop covering all manifestations of identity politics as an 'us v/ them' thing and start treating these things with both the seriousness and the sensitivity they deserve. Much of the coverage of the Aaja Nachle fracas [the film banned in two states because of a casteist line of lyrics in the title song] has decried the heavy-handedness of protesting forces, taken a steady stance in the 'freedom of expression' picket lines, decried the vote-bank politics that are without a doubt at the bottom of the issue, and generally made a lot of urbane, genteel noise. Today's Times of India and all its attendant glossy supplements are filled with opinions from people who have no idea what the fuss is about and have no notion of why the lines that were called into question were offensive at all.

And then you wonder why societies concerned with Dalit rights had to take the extreme step of getting a film banned to wake you up?

In the interests of clarifying my position, I disapprove on principle of banning anything just because it offends someone. I especially disapprove of what likely motivated Mayawati and her people into drawing attention to themselves [and the song lyrics] by slapping a ban on it. But I also have to wonder what might have happened had the offended parties who first noticed the line done the gentlemanly thing by, I don't know, sending Yashraj Films a polite letter about it, instead of flexing their muscle. In light of the production house's behaviour in the wake of the ban we must give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that their response would have been just as cringingly apologetic and promptly corrective as it has been over the last two days - but something makes me doubt that.

And yes, it offends me that a film print had to be cut like that at all. It really offends me that 'gorments' are sticking elbows and lathis into the matter of what a lyricist should or shouldn't write, what a film should or shouldn't depict, and what an audience can or cannot see. But I also see that I live in a country where virtually every culturally dominant force and media outlet, so alive to insensitivity and muzzling of expression when it happens to people they can identify with [almost always victims of white privilege, here or abroad], had no idea why a line about cobblers aspiring to be goldsmiths might have a hurtful history for some of their own people. Where journalists, poets and opinion-makers don't see what the fuss is about. Where all these enormously clever, influential people don't seem to understand that racism isn't what a dominant class decides it is.

It's really hard for me to feel like I or the art I patronise are being made the victim here.

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More on the film itself soon, hopefully: needless to say [I have mentioned before that Madhuri Dixit = queen of my entire childhood, right?] I enjoyed it muchly. Having caught that seasonal SRK star vehicle Om Shanti Om last week, it made me laugh to see his storied star-power retrospectively pale in the light of the magnificence of La Dixit.