By Peerzada Salman
KARACHI: After the passing of the 18th amendment, the central board of film censors has been devolved to the Sindh culture department with the wherewithal to give the green (or red) signal to any film for screening.
The censor board watches films and decides what the public should or should not watch. It`s not the issue of cancelling out `undesirable` parts in the script with the red pencil. It is primarily to do with morality. If a scene on the screen looks vulgar (according to those who know best what constitutes obscenity) it gets chopped off. If it`s violent (whose definition is as wide as the English Channel) it is edited out.
This begs the question, what is the efficacy of a censor board in a country in which barely a dozen films are made on a yearly basis, and that too of a standard that can hardly be pitted against films made in any other part of the world?
An official of the board`s Karachi office, who doesn`t wish to be named, says, “These days we mostly watch Hollywood and Indian films and then see if they`re fit for showing. Not many local films are being made. Obviously we go through the local stuff for the same purpose.”
Visiting the board`s Karachi office is an experience unto itself. Off M.A. Jinnah Road near Tibet Centre, it is situated on the third floor of a building that doesn`t give any vibe whatsoever of having anything to do with the film business. The staircase is so narrow and steep that it may put many into an awkward position while climbing the stairs.
Back to the censor board devolution, the official says, “The Central Board in Islamabad has stopped functioning, and now it`s the Sindh Censor Board and the Punjab Censor Board which will examine movies. If one board approves or disapproves a project, the rest of the country will have to follow suit. Paper work for the Balochistan Censor Board is still on, whereas for Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Islamabad is still vetting Pushto films on a temporary basis.”
When Pakistan came into being, there were two such bodies, one for East Pakistan and the other for the western wing – in Dhaka and Karachi. Once General Ayub Khan shifted the country`s capital from Karachi to Islamabad, the board was also relocated in Islamabad.
What exactly does the censor board look into? The official says, “Usually we look at two things: vulgarity and violence. I`m talking about the pre-18th amendment phase. For example, there was a film Abba Gujjar, for which we gave an adult certificate because of its violent content. As for the people who are members of the board, they include intellectuals, government officers and journalists etc.”
It is hardly to believe that some journalists show great keenness to become members of the censor body for a paltry amount of Rs450, which is given to them as petrol honorarium.
“With the new setup we`re also going to vet legal telefilms which will be thrown into the market or are available at Rainbow Centre for commercial viewing,” says the official. Dostana
Film director and actor Javed Shaikh says, “If I make a film in Lahore and is deemed fit for the rest of the country as well, then I don`t mind. The thing that bothers me is that an Indian film like is given the go-ahead by the censor board. I saw that movie in Mumbai and thought to myself that no way this could be shown in Pakistan without being truncated a great deal. It didn`t happen.
“We have our own culture and we should keep that in mind. India is an advanced country; they can show certain things with impunity but we can`t do that. I think it is right that our board members should consist of people (intellectuals, journalists) who can judge the content of the film, and leave aside its technical aspects.”
Censor board or no censor board, the bottom line is that unless quality films are made in Pakistan (or efforts are made in that direction), provincial culture departments cannot do wonders.