Saibal Sen & Priyanka DasguptaSaibal Sen & Priyanka Dasgupta, TNN | Apr 20, 2012,

KOLKATA: The Bengal governmentcontinues to play moral guardian with an obsolete tool of the Seventies, guiding people on what posters to see and what they should not.The state has been debating ‘obscenity’ since the days of celebrated Bengali writer Buddhadeb Bose‘s novel ‘Raat Bhor Brishti’ that went to press in 1968. Author Samaresh Basuhad to face the same censorship and went through a protracted legal battle till the Supreme Court lifted the ban on his novel ‘Projapati’ in 1985.The debate still continues – this time it’s over two posters of Vikram Bhatt‘s ‘Hate Story’, releasing on Friday. One has its main protagonist Paoli Dam sowing her “bare back” and another in a “compromising position with a man.” A ban has been imposed on these two posters under the West Bengal (Compulsory Censorship of Film Publicity Materials) Act, 1974 (only Tamil Nadu has a similar law). The West Bengal Board of Censorship allowed six posters only after Paoli’s bare back was covered up in blue paint.

The Act was passed nearly 60 years ago in the Bengal assembly for primarily two expressed reasons – and another unsaid. The Cinematography Act 1952 does not directly cover “obscene” posters and hence a local law was required. The other was to stop the seemingly obscene B-grade film posters flooding Kolkata in the ’70s. The unsaid reason, many believe, was to give the government control over what posters can be “shown in public places” and what not.

The then information and cultural affairs minister Subrata Mukherjee doesn’t recollect the precise reason why he brought in this law, but stresses that all talk of it being an Emergency-era law is wrong, “Emergency was imposed in June 26, 1975, much later,” he said. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee looks after the department now, with Mukherjee a key member of her cabinet.

People have changed over time, but not the law. Celebrated filmmaker Mrinal Sen says: “It is childish and should be considered in context of all that is happening now. There is censorship in every form. I feel this is insulting and should be rejected outright.”

“The law has no relevance now. How many films bank only on posters for promotion? Television, audio channels and internet now rule film promotions,” says Jadavpur University’s professor of film studies, Sanjay Mukhopadhyay.

Debananda Sengupta, I&CA deputy director and the state’s censor officer, argues, “In the pre-1974 phase there was a voluntary form of censorship. But with more films being produced there was felt a need for control. The law is only applicable to film posters and publicity material which are displayed in pubic places. Within the confines of a cinema hall, people can watch the film in its entirety. When it is in a public place, everyone watches it.”

Sudhasatta Banerjee, who had moved Calcutta high court on behalf of the ‘Hate Story’ producers, pleading that this law be termed unconstitutional, says: “Once a film is cleared under the Act any part of it can’t be deemed obscene if displayed publicly. The posters are part of movie stills. Second, the state’s 1974 Act doesn’t specify what is obscene – it is left to the discretion of a few officers. This is arbitrary.” The court has asked the state to file a reply to his petition and the case will come up for hearing again, said Bhattacharya.

Director Mahesh Bhatt, whose ‘Murder 2’ posters had met with a similar fate said: “While I have no problems with cultural sensitivity, I wonder what’s happening to Bengal that has been an epicenter of all kinds of subversive thoughts. How can the state support a repressive philosophy? We are living in the 21st century where gay relationships are getting recognised by the apex court, where men are into sperm donations and women are open to surrogate motherhood. How can a bare back of a woman offend sensibilities?”

Pritam Jalan, the distributor of “Hate Story”, says: “The government should consider abolishing this archaic law. I can distribute the posters in Ranchi but not in Kolkata. Isn’t that strange?” Producer Vikram Bhatt said: “I am not opposed to the government’s views but it’s important to have a holistic view. If you can allow a sexual deodorant, contraceptive or lingerie ad, how can you have problems with a movie poster? Won’t kids ask what a condom is when they see an ad? Going by this logic, the Bengal government must ban YouTube and all Internet porn sites.”