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Star India CEO Uday Shankar slams 'growing intolerance' against creative people

Uday Shankar, who is also chairman of FICCI's entertainment committee, expressed concern over the 'disturbing trend of increasing censorship' in India.

Shriram Iyengar

Star India chief executive officer Uday Shankar has warned that growing intolerance towards creativity might harm the film industry.

News reports said Uday Shankar took a stand against the growing 'intolerance' against creativity at the FICCI Frames event in Mumbai, a gathering of some of the most powerful voices in the industry, yesterday. He said, "There is a disturbing trend of increasing censorship, which in the long run is likely to undo a lot of gains we have made in the last few decades. Can more and more censorship help our creative minds respond to the pace of rapid technological changes and evolution in creativity?" 

Pointing to the increasing number of films 'censored' this year, he said, "I understand that in 2015-16 the censor board refused certification to 77 movies, and only 23 the year before.” The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), popularly known as the censor board, has yet again run into controversy by denying certification to Alankrita Shrivastava's internationally acclaimed film Lipstick Under My Burkha.

Uday Shankar, who is also chairman of the entertainment committee of FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry), pointed out that this tendency to censor things is also increasingly prevalent in the country's social atmosphere. Referring to the recent violence against director Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Padmavati project, he said, "What is more alarming is that even the very fora that we seek redressal at are inclined to bless the street-side censorship than speak for the freedom of expression."

He went on to give the example of the Akshay Kumar-starrer Jolly LLB 2 (2017) which was accused of offending lawyers. The makers of the film had to hold screenings for lawyer groups to avoid problems. He said, "This was despite the movie having been certified for universal release by the board. And this is just one example. There is a long list of instances where the creative community has been bullied into changing its output to suit the needs of someone or the other."

Censorship was not the only issue that drew the ire of the Star India chief. The growing call for the national anthem at film screenings also appeared to have irked him. "By creating elaborate formal ceremonies around it, are we taking the joy out of one of the most loved and celebrated lyrics in our country?" he said, while expressing fear that the court order could become another weapon in the hands of any goon keen to stamp his authority. 

The speech, while honest, might have proved uncomfortable for Union information and broadcasting secretary Ajay Mittal, who was also present at the event. Shankar, however, continued by comparing the state of the film industry 'censors' to those of Hollywood in the 1930s.

"We seem to be following the script that Hollywood had written almost 100 years ago," he said. "In the early part of the 20th century, Hollywood had decided to regulate itself. It adopted a production code and insisted on its enforcement for almost 25 years. The code covered the use of profanity like 'hell' and 'damn', any suggestive nudity, wilful offence of any nation, race or creed, and any ridicule of the clergy, among other things. Doesn’t it sound familiar? The similarity with our own moral code is striking.”

Surprisingly fiery, the speech must have rattled quite a few members of FICCI. FICCI Frames ends on Thursday.