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Banning this, that and the other Nan

It was totally disappointing that the President decided to accede to a request by the Catholic Bishops and banned the film Da Vinci Code. In the opinion of many barring the Catholic Bishops, Roman Catholic nuns and a couple of Roman Catholics who do not see films, this decision of the President is rather disappoining, to say the least.

Banning of two films

This ban follows closely on the footsteps of a ban imposed by the Minister of Culture and Heritage on a Sinhala film – Aksharaya. I don’t even know the story of the film, but the banning was due to the fact that incest was included in the film, unwitting though – the incest I mean – and a bath taken together by a growing son and his mother, in the nude probably, and the son attempting some foul play on his mother.

Even here in the case of the Sinhala film, banning by an individual Minister when the film was passed by the Censor Board, was unethical. Of course these arty films about which arty people rave are often not suited to Sri Lankan audiences. But banning is a tremendous decision and must be taken with the strictest of criteria being followed and never unilaterally and never ever to gain popularity or seem holier than thou. So the better mode? Allow screening of such a film very strictly for adults and discourage the exhibition of films produced with a view to winning foreign awards and depicting totally alien habits or customs and the outrageous bordering on sleaze. This latter could apply to Director Handagama’s Sinhala film of 2002 – Flying with one Wing – where a woman acts the man, works in a garage, marries a young woman, deceives her in bed with a rubber device and then exposes herself full frontal in the last scene of the film. Clever story, superb acting but actions and a story alien to Sri Lankan society in general, and meant to shock and titillate too in all probability. OK for a carefully screened adult audience but not for general public viewing.

You may well ask why we Buddhists make a big noise about a statue of the Buddha over the door of a bar or his name being used as the name of a restaurant in a non-Buddhist country. Well there we are justified in asking that the offending picture or name be removed since it’s pure commercialism and a cheapening of the name and image of a great person.

In the case of Da Vinci Code the banning to me is unjustified. Jesus is supposed to have had a relationship with Mary Magdalene and fathered children and a secret religious sect kept it secret. So what? What’s so bad about marriage and fathering children? The Son of God came down to earth as a human, so human he turned out to be. If Catholics on seeing the film will lose their faith in Christ or the religion, then they are not intelligent enough to understand what fiction is.

Now many readers will accuse me of bias and pose the question, what if the Buddha were depicted in a fiction story and film as a man who married twice or thrice or whatever. We’d see the film/read the book and keep in mind it is fiction and the story is not thought to be blasphemous. Our belief in his teaching would not suffer in the least. And we would appose its ban by the monks or by the President, himself

And to think that though the film Da Vicni Code was critiqued sharply it had a huge opening box office earning. The book continues to be high on the bestseller list. And no country except some mid east countries have banned the film; not the Philippines nor any other country considered Catholic. The book has been read by the many, so why not allow the film to be seen by those who wish to and those Catholics whose belief in their religion is too well founded to be shaken by a fictitious tale transferred to the screen.

What censorship should be

"Censorship is the prohibition of the production, distribution, circulation or sale of material considered to be objectionable for reasons of politics, religion, obscenity, or blasphemy. The decision to censor is usually taken by persons empowered to act by federal, national, state or local law."

Applying that definition to the two cases of banning that is being debated ‘obscenity’ and ‘blasphemy’ are mentioned. There is a very thin razor line between what is art and what is obscene. Fiction is not blasphemous, as was the case in Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. It is not so in the Da Vinci Code. If the book was allowed on sale freely why not the film? The ban is because the impact of a film is stronger and immediate. But if a person’s religious faith can be shaken by a work of fiction, then that faith is already very shaky. Also DVD can be seen by the many and the many will increase just because of the ban.

In the definition given above it is mentioned that the decision to ban is taken by persons empowered to act by law. In both cases being discussed, the Censor Board, the body empowered by law to ban was over-ridden or not even considered. With the greatest respect, my very small voice says that the President should have told the Catholic Bishops who requested the film Da Vici Code be banned that he would refer the matter to the Public Performance Board. And that body must be extremely careful not to emerge biased, prudish, philistine or politically influenced.

Banning and censorship should be extremely carefully considered before imposition. Freedom of expression is almost a sacred issue. A ban must be most carefully considered and imposed only if the conditions in the definition given above are transgressed with the entirety of adult society being considered.

Other attempts at banning

The attempt to have an Act of Parliament passed on the conversion of persons to any other religion, in this case to the Christian faith, and the sale of liquor within certain distances from schools, places of religious worship have mercifully gone under, it looks like. In the first flurry of yellow robes entering Parliament there was a hue and cry, mostly by these new MPs to ban this, that and the other. If they suddenly awoke to some event taking place which could not be banned through proper channels, meaning censored officially, then they resorted to hunger strikes resulting in total mayhem. Remember Shah Rukh Khan’s concert in Colombo?

Remember how a very popular monk whose ideas were generally very sensible took a great dislike to women’s black skirts which led to black dresses being almost totally banned from Buddhist temple premises. Dress is one’s prerogative. Black is as unadorning as white and a black skirt very economic for young girls who travel by bus and have limited resources to spend on clothes. What was in force by tradition should have been emphasized, not turned into a ban. Buddhists usually wear white to temple or pastel shades. This preference should have been re-activated. Vilifying women for wearing other colours to temple was an infringement of their fundamental right to wear what they wished to. Of course a dress code is important, such as too little on one’s body or too clingy or transparent, or too much exposure of flesh, being verboten, but more by choice and sensibility than lawful banning. But here again, it is the people who should know what to wear, how to dress when entering a place of Buddhist worship with foreigners being noticed to observe such a dress code.

The contention of many women whose opinions I reflect, is that banning by law is to be considered very, very carefully. We must not be hemmed in by this DON"T and that YOU CANNOT and YOU WILL NOT, accompanied by the dire threat of punishment. Just as freedom of expression is a must, freedom of life too is of paramount importance within the laws we already have which assure society it can be protected from that which is dangerous etc.

I also fear that make up could be banned – too expensive and eating into our foreign resources; creating a divide between the rich and poor; and too aping of the west. Women of ancient days used local oils and sandalwood, so back to those.

Holding hands in public is alien to our culture. So ban that. Catch offenders and put them behind bars for a couple of days, weeks or months. Never mind that so much worse is being perpetrated by those in power, by the layers down of laws themselves. Corruption, adultery behind expensive closed doors, rampant prostitution, pedophilia etc are OK but not innocent expressions of love in public.

Maybe someone will go to the President and say that the already polluted air is being polluted more by people easing themselves. So ban people answering calls of nature But never mind the gross habit of spitting, specially betel saliva on walls, pavements and in public places like hospitals.

Yea, censorship and banning could reach the depths of stupidity. So let’s beware!



June 4, 2006 - Posted by | Media Journalism, News and politics, South Asia, World News

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