When veteran filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan declared "This is the worst time to make films" at the Hyderabad Literature Festival on Friday, some may have assumed that he was speaking about the growing culture of intolerance towards artistes and intellectuals who disagree with the political class.
However, Adoor made the remark because of the number of statutory warnings and disclaimers that films are required to carry. Speaking on a panel, the Dadasaheb Phalke and Padma Vibushan recipient alleged that the government is doing everything possible to stop good films from being made. According to him, the warnings distract the audience from their cinema viewing experience.
“There is a terrible picture of a cancer patient being shown before the screening of the film saying smoking causes cancer. Who told them (government) so? Who gave them the authority to say that? I know several people in their 80s and 90s who are smoking and don’t have cancer. My wife, mother and sister-in-law died of cancer, they never smoked in their life. How can the government say this? They are scaring everybody. If you are particular about caring for the health of the people, ban the use of tobacco. Don’t use cinema as a wallboard," he said.
The government made it mandatory from November 2011 for movies and TV programmes to carry a 20 second disclaimer explaining the ill-effects of tobacco. While the decision left several in the film industry unhappy, many who work in health services welcomed the move. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies tobacco smoking, tobacco smoke, smokeless tobacco and second-hand tobacco smoke as Group 1 carcinogens (carcinogenic to humans). Carcinogen is any substance that promotes carcinogenesis, the formation of cancer. Several studies have proved a clear link between tobacco smoking and a number of cancer types.
Continuing his tirade, Adoor said, “After statutory warning against liquor consumption, now the government also needs a statutory warning for violence against women. What else is there left for the filmmaker to show?” he questioned.
The requirement to display the "violence against women is punishable under the law" statutory warning was enforced in Malayalam cinema in 2018, after the State Human Rights Commission directed the regional office of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to do so for scenes that show violence against women.
This move had drawn sharp criticism even from advocates of women's rights. Many pointed out that it was not the representation of violence against women that was a problem, but the glorification or romanticisation of it. And a disclaimer wasn't going to resolve the issue unless filmmakers themselves considered such depictions to be problematic and changed the narratives.
Hitting out at the CBFC, which demands a “No animals were harmed” declaration in case the film features an animal or bird, Adoor alleged that corruption has increased because of it.
“Recently, a friend of mine made a film and wanted to showcase it. His investment was Rs 5-6 lakh. Then he went for certification. The film had a scene featuring a cat. The certifying authority asked for the name of the cat. It was a stray cat. They asked who is the owner of the cat. How it was brought to the shooting location. Was it hurt etc. You can escape all these questions if you bribe an agent in Haryana, they will provide the certificate," he claimed.
Adoor went on to say, “There should be no cats, no women. Then what else is left? Just men sitting and talking.”
The filmmaker also slammed the jury which selects films for the prestigious National Awards.
“At the National Awards, people who belong to a particular party are presiding over the judgement of these films. They become the juries. They have never seen a good film in their life and judge your film. Even for the selection of the movies to be sent for international film festivals, even that is being presided over by people who have never seen a good film in their life. They are deciding what is good and bad," he alleged.
He claimed that the poor taste of these juries was why Indian films were not selected for international film festivals.
Further, Adoor said that the disclaimers in Indian films gave the impression to international audiences that the country is under a dictatorial regime.
Mocking the government for thinking on everybody’s behalf and “working for their interest,” he said, “When the government wants to advertise all these… (violence against women as crime, cigrette smoking) why can’t the government pay the filmmaker for the advertisement?”
Speaking about streaming platforms, Adoor said that he is unapologetically a “cinema purist” and that streaming platforms are "killing" cinema.
“Cinema is shown in the drawing hall or bedroom and it is not shown like cinema. The viewer should not just be interested in what happened. It’s not just about the story. Cinema is an experience," he said, terming it the "end of cinema".