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The Rediff Special/ Savera R Someshwar

'Why doesn't the Censor Board realise its view could be wrong, that maybe the world knows better'

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Shekhar Kapur is upset. Again.

He has just arrived on Indian shores, flying almost 24 hours, from Los Angeles, with a stopover at London. This is an SOS visit, thanks to the Censor Board of India which, a week ago, granted the Oscar-nominated Elizabeth an Adults Only Certificate, subject to three cuts.

"It is not easy for someone who has not seen the film to imagine how three cuts will affect it," says Kapur, sounding rather exhausted. "But each of these cuts, if they are not done with care, will affect the viewer's perception of the film. The only way it can be done is if I go back to the editing table and remix the film all over again. But I don't have the time to do that. And a badly done cut can affect the continuity of the film and take the viewer completely out of the story."

But the Censor Board is adamant. The scenes have to go if Kapur wants its certificate. But they were, apparently, sympathetic when the director spoke to them. "They suggested I take my case to the higher authorities," Kapur told Rediff On The NeT in an exclusive interview. Which, in this case means the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal headed by retired Bombay high court judge, Justice Bakhtawar Lentin.

"What I don't understand," says an irritated Kapur, "is why films should be shown to a lower authority if the final decision will be taken by a higher authority. Why isn't a decision taken by one authority?"

At the same time, he has immense faith in Justice Lentin. "I have had, and let me emphasise this, the pleasure of dealing with Justice Lentin during the days of Bandit Queen. I must say he is a very fair man and has a great understanding of cinema."

But the Censor Board's decision is already showing a ripple effect. The reception by the British Council in Delhi (scheduled to be held on August 3) as well as the grand premiere that was to be held at the Siri Fort auditorium has had to be cancelled. "I have sent an apology to both President K R Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee who had kindly agreed to grace the occasion," says Kapur.

"It would have been an unforgettable show," mourns Sanjeev Bhargava, the distributor for the film in India. "Everyone would have been there -- people from the government, politicians, creative people, people from the art circles... we were expecting an audience of at least 1,500 people."

Another casualty has been Sir Richard Attenborough, (he plays Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth's trusted advisor) who has cancelled his trip to India. "Sir Richard was keen attending the Delhi premiere, since both the President and the prime minister would have been there. But that is not happening any more."

Golden Globe Best Actress winner Cate Blanchett has also cut Delhi from her itinerary, and will now be seen only in Bombay. "But," Kapur offers a consolatory thought, "Joseph Fiennes will be there in both Delhi and Bombay and we will be holding a screening for a very select audience."

Then comes it unexpected hiatus as Kapur and the distributors wait for the CFAT's decision. "We have not," says Kapur, "formally appealed to the CFAT as yet. Unfortunately, the process involves a lot of bureaucratese, a number of documents and many forms that require my signature. And I hate forms."

Kapur, though, has kept his dislikes aside and started setting pen to paper. It took him a year, and three cuts, before Bandit Queen finally hit the screen, but he hopes the present film will not take as long. Not the least because the hype created by Blanchett and Fiennes's visit will fizzle out.

Of course, the film could benefit from the publicity of the controversy, with audiences swelling as more people flow in to see what the controversial scenes were all about. At the same time, there are other factors to be considered.

The film was originally scheduled for an August 6 release in both Bombay and Delhi. The best of theatres had been shortlisted, keeping in mind the kind of screen and the quality of production and acoustics. "It's not," says Bhargava, "that we are losing money or anything. All these kind of arrangements are subject to the Censor certificate arriving on time." At the same time, they know that these shortlisted theatres may no longer be available when the film is finally released.

Despite these problems, the decision to appeal to the CFAT was taken only after Kapur reached India. When Rediff spoke to Bhargava last night, he made it very clear they were waiting for Kapur, who was then on his way to India, before any decision was taken. Also, he was keen not to create any "international embarrassment since India was not such a big international market anyway."

"See," he continued, "it is Shekhar Kapur's film and we are behind him all the way. He is the creator of this film and he does not want it to be mutilated. This is not Bandit Queen, for which Shekhar fought so hard, but it is still a landmark film for India. I have seen the film and I agree with Shekhar that the form and structure of the film will suffer if these cuts are made."

At the same time, he hopes that other plans for the film, including a tie-up with the British Tourist Authority, will not be affected. "The film has been shot on extremely beautiful locations and we are planning a contest based on that. It will involve an innovative contest based on the film, and the winning couple will enjoy seven luxurious days and six nights in these beautiful locations."

It was obviously that neither the director nor the distributors had expected any trouble with the Censor Board. "When we heard the Board's decision," says Bhargava, "we were aghast. After all, this was a film that had won a number of coveted awards. It had been nominated for the Oscars. It has been screened all over the world. It was screened at the Hyderabad Film Festival earlier this year to a seven minute standing ovation."

A response that prompted the President to request a special screening at Rashtrapati Bhavan. Both Kapur and Bhargava say the President quite liked the film. "This," Bhargava adds a safety codicil, "was his personal opinion."

Meanwhile, Kapur stands firm. He will not accept any cuts to his film. Nor will it be released under an 'A' certificate. "Look, the film has been released all over the world. In Britain, school children have made bulk booking to see the film. When the whole world has one opinion about the film, why doesn't the Censor Board realise that its view could be wrong, that maybe the world knows better than them. But they are sitting there and making a judgement..." he stops furiously.

Kapur has gone through a lot of trouble to bring the film to India. He has convinced his stars to be here. "They didn't have to come," he says, "but they made themselves available." The distributors have ordered six prints at a cost of approximately 2,000 pounds per print. They have also incurred a pre-publicity expense of Rs 1.5 million to Rs 2 million. They have waited until the end of the World Cup to release the film here. There are plans to dub the film in Hindi.

"But first," says Kapur, who is hurt at the seeming unappreciation, "the film has to be released for a general audience." He is not happy with the idea of a UA certificate either, but is willing to consider it if anyone over 15 can see the film -- without any cuts!

"Come on, if they could release Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan without any cuts, then they can release Elizabeth. We have a mature audience. Let them decide. Let's get rid of this prevalent gora people are better than us syndrome."

What the Censors want cut

The Rediff Specials

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