Imagine having planned to watch a film in the weekend and it is quietly pulled away from the theater, because the state doesn’t want it to be screened. Or imagine listening to a Kishore Kumar song on AIR and it suddenly stops midway.
Forty years back, around this time, on the whim of Mrs Gandhi and her group, emergency was imposed. And Kishore Kumar songs were banned on AIR. It was as crazy as that. What was Kishore Kumar’s fault that the IB minister V.C Shukla muzzled him? Apparently Kishore Da had refused to sing the 20 point plan of Congress. What would people do when there were check points on creativity? Quietly sing Kishore Da’s ‘dukhi man mere sun mera kahana, jaha nahi chaina vaha nahi rahana’ and wait for 21 long months to breathe in free air? Or use creativity to question the government?
During emergency, writers were muzzled and arrested, film cans burned, creativity stifled. And this was also the phase that saw resilience of our heroes. Putting everything at stake these superstars filmmakers and writers of yesteryear’s have left a legacy of undaunted struggle.
As insecurity of the ruling party peaked, a writer was asked to take permission from the home ministry to publish her book. Her producer who was to make a film on her book vanished over night. The writer was Nayantara Sahgal.
Our popular actor’s and film makers did not have it easy either.
Manoj Kumar Saab was livid when asked to make a pro emergency documentary on a script surprisingly written by Amrita Pritam. He turned it down immediately and faced repercussions later. When his film Dus Numbri was banned, the legendary actor did not give in easily. He in fact stationed himself in Delhi and fought a case against the emergency and its methods. After the emergency ended in 1977, he went on to win the case, the only filmmaker to have achieved that feat.
In the East, Satyajit Ray declined to make a documentary on the emergency. Ray had already gained an international stature by then and probably the government did not dare to touch him. Uttam Kumar had also voiced his displeasure about the state of things.
Our much loved Dev Anand Saab is better known for all the magnificent movies he has give us. But there is another side to the matinee idol. Not only did he deny being part of a pro emergency campaign, he had also formed the Nationalist Party of India to protest against the emergency. The shoot of Des Pardes wasn’t smooth sailing, but he had the Anand brothers Chetan and Vijay, Shatrughan Sinha and Danny Dengzongpa who rallied behind him. Chetan Anand took it a step further and had dared V. C Shukla to arrest him. Here it is needless to say that any film featuring Shatrughan Sinha was also banned.
Maybe mainstream cinema of the 70’s did not talk of social issues like the films of today, but this pack of fighters have left a legacy of courage for all newcomers.
Coming to India’s favourite film Sholay, how many of you seethed when Thakur let Gabbar go in the end? Didn’t you want him to kill the man? (Not bringing a sentimental Human Rights issue here.) Well that was the original ending. It was the tyranny of the state that gave us an ending where the police takes Gabbar away. Maybe it would cut a picture of police inaction had he been killed by Thakur. Or maybe a former police officer meting out vigilante justice would lead to a collapse of our democratic fabric.
Aandhi was banned, and no one bothered to even find out whether the film was at all a biopic. Gulzar Saab later shot and inserted scenes to make it clear that it was not a biopic on Indira Gandhi. But it was only in 1977 that the film was released. It went on to win the Critics Choice Award at the 23rd National Film Awards.
Probably no other film crew has suffered as much as that of Kissa Kursi Ka. Banned for spoofing Sanjay Gandhi, not only was the film denied a clearance by CBFC in 1975, a show cause notice was also sent to Amrit Nahata. The original print and the re print were burnt by supporters of Sanjay Gandhi. The film was reshot with different actors and the court found Sanjay Gandhi guilty in 1979. Nahata never took to film making again.
These creative battles have left a legacy that today helps us to be more courageous. Today forty years later, we can pick up their films, books and songs and honour them for their courage. Also as Kishore Da had sung, ‘Ye public hai ye san janti hai, Ye chaahe to sar pe bitha le chaahe phenk de neeche’ . How we react to these violations on speech and creativity is up to us!